Bible School in the Wilderness

You’re too late, Jesus already came to me in a dream last night.”

Joy-Welcome to Ron’s Adventures,” the podcast that highlights the adventures Ron Pearce has experienced throughout his 30-plus years following God around the world. In the past, we’ve heard some funny stories, a few harrowing ones, as well as some inspiring tales of Buddhist monks. Today with me in the studio are Ron and Charis Pearce. Welcome back guys, it’s always a pleasure to do Ron’s Adventures,” a little more fun, a little more light. I can’t wait to hear what you have today.

Ron- Thanks Joy, this is going to be one of those stories from China today.

Joy- So maybe a little more inspiring than funny?

Ron- Yeah, there are not many laughs in this one. This is more one of the most exciting things I have ever experienced, places I’ve been, EVER in my life. It was a few years back and we were in a certain location in China, I won’t give too many details, and they said, Would you like to go to a very special place?” I said, Of course!” So we packed up, it was dark, it was well after midnight and we drove to this village. We pulled up in a darkened van and I still remember pulling down this alleyway in this tiny little Chinese village. We pulled in, stopped the car, and we just sat there in the dark, in the van for 10 or 15 minutes. I could hear dogs barking in the background, no one was moving around, everybody was asleep.

Joy- And so at this point are you thinking the very special place might not have been the greatest?

Ron- Well, you never know. You just sort of wait there and hope. So after that they said, Okay, now, go! Keep your head down.” I was totally dressed in black, I had a black hat on, and they said keep your head down and don’t say a word because anybody speaking English would highlight the fact that there was a stranger in the area. So we shuffled off into this little house and met an elderly lady. We talked for a few minutes and then they said, Okay, follow me.” The brother took me out, 30 feet away from this tiny house, and there was a little building that used to be the beginnings of a cold storage cellar. What it was now was a labyrinth of tunnels underneath and when they took me in, they were taking me into the first underground Bible School in China after the Cultural Revolution. It was called the Bible School in the Wilderness.

Joy- Wow! Wait, the very first one ever?

Ron- The very first one ever. And when we got there, I had goosebumps.

Joy- Did you know where you were?

Ron- I knew when we got there and they explained to me where it was and what it was. I knew the significance but I didn’t even know it existed prior to this and that we could get there and so this was a surprise. I’ll back up here just a little bit and give some background on it. It was 1982, the Cultural Revolution had come to an end, the Chinese Communist Party tried to wipe out Christianity, brutal persecution, trying to destroy every Bible that was in the land and all these sorts of things. But the Church really grew under that and when they came out of it they knew they had to have training. This one lady in a Christian family, one night she had a dream, and Jesus appeared to her in her dream in 1982 and said I want you to be the house that leads many, many people to Christ in China today. The Lord said I want you to build an underground Bible School, and gave her the plans in her mind in the dream. She woke up, told the family and the next day representatives from the house church movement in China came to her and said, We would like you to house a Bible School.” She said to them, You’re too late, Jesus already came to me in a dream last night, and we’ve already started.”

Joy- Do you know why they came to her?

Ron- No, this was just the guidance of the Lord in two different ways. One is in a dream and the other is that God gave these guys the word to go and it was a confirmation. So what they did, the husband, wife and two boys dug for six months out of the underground cellar, this labyrinth as I call it, of tunnels and that was the training center that over a thousand students went through in their training to become pastors in China. At one point they housed over 200 people down there at one time! They had a conference you might say. Usually, there was about 30, 50 people, something like that, down underground. So I went down these steps…

Charis- And this was all dug out by hand, just the four of them.

Ron- All dug out by hand just the four of them and how they did it I didn’t even want to know but these tunnels were big. When I say that, I’m over six feet tall and I could stand up and in the one area it was probably 66” and probably I’m going to guess ten feet wide and there were reinforcements down there and various things like that. There were other parts of the tunnel that was narrow but still tall, I could walk down maybe hunched over a little bit. Let me describe it this way, there was one big meeting/​training room and in that meeting room there was a wire that came down with a light attached to it from upstairs, above ground. There was a handmade chalkboard on the dirt wall of the cave, underneath the light and this was something very primitive shall we say, very rough, but it was the chalkboard where they trained all these students that came through the school. Some of the best leaders in all of China today in the house church movement, came through this school. This was really significant.

Joy- So the chalkboard was there? You saw the chalkboard? Or that was described to you?

Ron- Oh no, the chalkboard was still there. Everything had been taken, I’ll get to that in a second, everything had been taken but that’s there. We went down this one little tunnel and they said the girls would stay down in this area, and another tunnel on the other side, that’s where the boys stayed. And you could see that still up against the walls were the mats made of long grass that they would put on the ground to lay on. They would go down for up to six months at a time and they would be underground for three to six months without ever seeing the light of day.

Joy-They wouldn’t come back up?

Ron- No, they would even cook down there and there are ways of dissipating the smoke from cooking down there and washrooms were down there. They hauled out all the waste in pails in the darkness and dumped it probably in an outhouse sort of situation. They would live underground. And then they showed me this tiny little tunnel within a tunnel and it was almost just two and a half feet high and two and a half feet wide and maybe eight feet long, it was a hole in the wall. They said this is where the guest speaker would sleep. The person would crawl in there and sleep, it was a teacher, so that was the honored room. Everybody else slept on these mats. They didn’t have baths for months on end, wore the same clothes, very small rations, water was just in pails. So they showed me all these places and then they said this, at the end of this tunnel was a place where somebody was always praying and they prayed there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week while the Bible School was in operation. And when I say that, not the same person, they would take shifts but somebody was always praying in that spot as long as this Bible School was in operation. Down another hallway was where they read the Bible. Somebody was always reading the Scriptures out loud down that hallway at that point, again, taking turns doing it, night and day. Therefore, they were praying and reading the scripture underground and the students would study long hours. They would only get small amounts of sleep and they would memorize so much of Scripture. Bibles were smuggled in there and they would all share a few copies of God’s Word and they would all commit it to memory. Sometimes memorizing a half chapter of Scripture per day and they would tuck it away. And so I’m walking around in this place and they were telling me the story of all that was going on, literally, and I know this sounds strange, but you could sense the lingering presence of the Holy Spirit in the place.

Joy- I was going to ask you that, it’s not strange it’s amazing!

Ron- I know but some people might think so, but this was real. This was where you could sense God’s presence in that place as you walked around. There was still, I don’t know, it was an aroma of something so deep, so sincere, so spiritually given by the Lord that you could sense it and nobody could take it away.

So what happened was six years this was in operation, over 1,000 came through and then it was raided, they (the police) found it. It was shut down in 1988 so it ran from 1982 to 1988, and they took the father to prison and they tortured him mercilessly. They released him after a month and he died shortly after that. The police started rumors, it was well known around the countryside. Police came in from Beijing a long ways away, they came in to see this and there were over 100 police officers there to shut this place down. It was known as far away as Hong Kong. What they called it was the Bible School in the Wilderness and the police made a big thing of trying to make everybody believe it was a house of prostitution that the Christians are running. Nobody believed it. Not only that, but the police sold tickets for people to go down and see it.

Joy- The police sold tickets?

Ron- The police sold tickets. So I’m looking around this place and everything is gone, everything in the whole place had been taken as I say, all that was left was the holes in the wall and the mud, and, this chalkboard. And I’m looking at this chalkboard and it had a hole burned in it because of the bare lightbulb that rested against it and the heat of the lightbulb over time just baked a hole right through it. And I’m looking at this thing and there was chalk still written on it but there were scratches all through it in the forms of X’s.

Charis- Like somebody had taken a knife to try and clean it off.

Ron- Exactly, they were so angry at this that somebody had scratched it with a knife. So I said, What happened to the chalkboard?” He said, When the police came in they took their knives,” like you said Charis, and they just started to carve this thing up.”

The chalkboard is about three and a half feet wide by about two and a half feet tall. And I asked, What does that say right there?” And he said, That is the word for grace in Chinese.” You could still see it on the chalkboard. Then the leader said, They couldn’t destroy grace.” I thought, oh my goodness, there is the illustration of all time.

Joy- It doesn’t get much better than that.

Ron- So then they asked us if we could smuggle it out of the country to take care of it. And I said, Yes,” and to me that item that the police didn’t take, it was the hand of God to leave it there for all these years, shall we say 25 years or more underground. So we took it out of the country, I won’t tell you how, but we took it out very carefully and it now sits at our offices here at Empower Ministries, on the wall in my office. I consider it to be the Mona Lisa of Christian missions because in that chalkboard that is now in a display case, that tells the story of what missions is like in China. It’s talking about the grace of God, it’s talking about the anger that is launched by the world against us and it talks about the dedication of these incredible saints that would give up so much of creature comforts of this world to study the word of God, learn who God was to tell their countrymen about it at all cost. You can’t put the Gospel in a better framework than this.

Joy- Can anybody go to this place, is it still there? They haven’t filled in the holes? Do people know about it?

Ron- I understand that it is no longer there. That’s what I understand but I’m not sure. The conditions in China are not good and I’ve been told it’s no longer there.

Joy- I mean if the police at one time were selling tickets I don’t know how they could get away with that.

Ron- That only happened at the beginning, afterwards it was just left. They didn’t think anything of it. You know, these things come and go and the police thought well, we wiped that out, because the Church grew massively after this.

Charis- It was like the turning point.

Ron-It was the turning point. It was the beginning. They suffered and the church did grow under the persecution but then once the persecution ended from the Cultural Revolution it took off. And that’s why we’ve got, what it is, 120 million believers in China today.

Joy- Since 1986?

Ron-Well, the biggest growth came after that point in time, there were still millions probably before that but that’s when it really took off.

Joy- How does it feel knowing that you got to see that?

Ron- The responsibility is twofold; to tell the story of what it was like from their point of view, the perspective of what real Christianity is like, the dedication, the love for the Word of God, just everything that I saw there, the prayer, the fact that no amount of persecution would stop them from their task, all of that. Plus the fact that we now have the Mona Lisa of missions in the office and we will preserve it. I may have mentioned this to folks before, but years ago we also had the opportunity to receive a hand-written Chinese Bible, the best one they said, that had ever been produced, it was on a child’s notebook and we’ve got that here, as well. Those are two prizes that we have to preserve because for generations to come, as long as this world lasts, it’s going to be necessary to point to the history and say this is what happened back then and these are the museum masterpieces of what it was all about.

Joy- Well, thank you, you have been listening to another episode of Ron’s Adventures,” the podcast that reminds us that no matter what, grace cannot be destroyed. Thanks for listening, I’m Joy Kita.

The Lord said I want you to build an underground Bible School, and gave her the plans in her mind in the dream.

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