BLUE EARTH - "I really feel that God has laid China on my heart as a burden," says Johanna Hocker, who just returned from her fourth trip to the country.
During her first two trips, in 2000 and 2001, she found the atmosphere "more controlled; now you can go where you want."
Her most recent trip was part of a tour called the Missionary Trail Trip and was sponsored by China Service Ventures, a group based in St. Paul. The trip included climbing the Great Wall of China near Beijing and cruising the Yantzke River, but the high point for Hocker was seeing where the missionaries of Norwegian/American descent lived and worked from the late 1800s to the early 2000s.
BACK FROM CHINA — Johanna Hocker of Blue Earth brought back several souvenirs from her most recent trip to China, and has developed a PowerPoint presentation about religion in China based on her four trips.
"One of my things is I'm a history buff on anything Norwegian and especially Norwegian missions," Hocker said.
The tour's guide, Dr. Paul Martinson, was born in China and is a scholar of Chinese church history and Christian church history.
"I just found out about this: in the 1930s, everything changed regarding what the missionaries were doing," Hocker said. "Repentance was sweeping the land.
"The revival in the 1930s was incredible," she said. "All outward expressions of faith were punishable by prison. People still carried their faith in their heart. Most people buried Bibles. If found, they were confiscated and burned. There were very, very few Bibles.
"In 1978, they started opening the churches," Hocker said. "There were three times the number of believers than [there] had been in 1949, when the missionaries left. It was the revival of the '30s that kept the faith alive."
The religious climate in China has continued to evolve.
"Now there are five religions in China: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestants," Hocker said. "There are no denominations like Baptists, Lutherans or Presbyterians.
"On a Sunday morning, you could have 3,000 people going to services," she said. "Usually 1,000 a service, usually three services; there can be as many as five services.
"Anybody can go to a service. It's no different from going to church here in the United States," Hocker said.
But there is a huge difference from the States.
"The government does spend a lot of money building churches," Hocker said.
"All the churches we were in, I just had a sense of being alive - if the churches here would be so alive," she mused. "They know it's a privilege and worship could be taken away from them as it was previously."
Just because the Chinese government recognizes five religions doesn't mean those are the only ones thriving in China, Hocker said. "House churches" also have sprung up.
"The underground church feels the government controls the registered churches," Hocker said. "To a certain extent, that is true. Unbiblical doctrines were creeping in.
"Leaders of house churches are getting arrested and persecuted - they are illegal," she pointed out. "They are more alive and dedicated in the house churches."
Although Hocker didn't get to attend a house church on this trip, she did meet a house church leader, Dr. Allen Yuan, on a previous trip. She calls it one of the highlights of her life. Dr. Yuan has since died.
Hocker is so enthusiastic about what is happening in China that she has developed a PowerPoint program to present to churches and other groups. She can tailor it to fit into any required time schedule.
"My focus is on the changes in China I have seen over the years," said Hocker, who combines the spiritual aspect with the history of the country. "What China is like now, and the mission work now."
For more information, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (507) 526-4673.