Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

His name is Lin Xian Gao. He is known in the West as Samuel Lamb. He is the pastor of what has to be the largest house church in China. In fact, the term "house church" is a bit of a stretch, because he preaches every week to 3000 people. Like all other Christian churches in China, he is required to register and become a part of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement. But like many other house churches, he refuses to do so. This makes his situation somewhat tenuous, because his house church could be cited for violation of the government policy on religious affairs.

Samuel Lamb's father was a Baptist pastor who grew up in Detroit, Michigan. Samuel himself was born in Macau and received his early education in Hong Kong. He started preaching when he was 22 years old. He was arrested the first time in 1955, for about a year-and-a-half. He was arrested again in 1958, and released in 1978, when he was in his early fifties.

Friends in Beijing had gotten me the address for his church, so I asked Fengwei to call and see if it would be possible for me to visit him. Samuel Lamb's house church is located in a small, tight neighborhood in old town Guangzhou. The building has three or four stories, and does not look like the kind of place that could hold an audience of 3000. Actually, the Sunday sermon is preached four times through the week. This accommodates the needs of people with varying schedules.

Samuel Lamb is a very friendly, outgoing man. He told me that before he was first arrested in 1955, his church had 400 people. After he was released, it grew to 900 people. "Persecution is good!" He related how several different times, pressure and adversity have caused the church to grow.

I asked him why he refused to register. He said that if he did, he would immediately come under the restrictions of the Three-Self Movement as to what he could or could not talk about. I have never been able to nail down, in hard and fast terms, exactly what these restrictions are, so there wasn't much I could say to this. I think that as a general principle, Christians should abide by the laws of the country in which they live in so far as it is possible to do so. But in the case of Samuel Lamb, my sentiments are definitely with him. He spent twenty years in prison for preaching the gospel. If they are not going to compensate him for having taken such a huge chunk of his life, the least they can do is leave him alone to live his last days in peace. In fact, that is what they appear to be doing. It is impossible to predict, of course, especially with the new regulations on religious affairs which just went into effect in March, but I don't think they are likely to give Samuel Lamb a lot of trouble. It would give China a whole lot of the wrong kind of publicity.

While we were talking, a PSB (Public Security Bureau) officer walked in. He asked Samuel Lamb how he would be affected by the death of John Paul. Samuel Lamb responded that they would not be affected because they were not Catholic. Then he gave the police officer a booklet on the difference between Catholicism and Christianity. Perhaps the cop was just curious. Or maybe he wanted to check out the foreigner he had seen wandering around the neighborhood. The Public Security Bureau keeps a pretty close eye on this guy, and I guess I can't blame them. They're just doing their job.

But this is a good man. As I said, I have mixed feelings about this, because I believe that Christians should abide by the law. I go to a Three-Self church in Beijing, and I do not believe that the Three-Self churches are just puppets of the government. But I can understand how the house church folks feel, too. The vast majority of them are decent people, and if they occasionally have some unusual ideas, they are not dangerous people.

Samuel Lamb gave me a pile of literature...booklets and articles he had written, as well as three music CD's, and a collection of hymns he had written while he was in prison. I had known that Samuel Lamb had a passion for the Gospel. But I did not know that he was also a lover of classical music, and had a passion for Beethoven.

Samuel Lamb has had a hard life. He has "paid his dues," so to speak, and is not easily intimidated. But I think a large part of his overwhelming sense of confidence and optimism is his belief in the power of prayer. Several times during our conversation, he said, "Please pray for us." So I prayed for him before I left.

If you ever happen to be in Guangzhou, his church would be worth a visit, although I don't think they provide English translation. But if you can understand Cantonese or Mandarin, he would definitely be worth listening to. Samuel Lamb has a warm, engaging personality. Cozy as the day is long.

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