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China has asked their citizens to consider “Eco-burials” for their late relatives as the nation “runs” out of graveyards.

Traditional Chinese beliefs dictate that “burial is the correct way to treat the dead.” Sons and daughters often “invest” much of their savings into their parents’ “funeral and headstone.”

The price of “funerals” in Beijing has “skyrocketed” to almost 70,000 Yuan ($107,996) since “land” has become scarce.

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The Chinese government has “suggested” families use “Eco-friendly alternatives,” such as “burying ashes under trees or scattering them in the sea.”

The Ministry of Civil Affairs told the public these options “saves land, reduces funeral costs, and is less destructive to the environment.”

“We hope more people will understand eco-burials through the events,” stated civil affair official Hu Lizhon from Jinhua, Zhejiang.

The government claimed “46 percent of burials in Beijing were Eco-friendly” in 2015. They hope “to increase that to 50 percent by 2020.”

Hang Juan, the publicity officer for the “Nanjing Funeral Reform and Management Department,” told the media that the department will organize campaigns “to persuade the public not to cling to mianzi, or face, when planning funeral services.”

The news comes as China celebrates “Qingming Festival” (Tomb-Sweeping Day). The tradition began at around 476 BC. From TravelChinaGuide:

“It is said that the Qingming Festival was originally held to commemorate a loyal man living in the Spring and Autumn Period (770 – 476 BC), named Jie Zitui. Jie cut a piece of meat from his own leg in order to save his hungry lord who was forced to go into exile when the crown was in jeopardy. The lord came back to his position nineteen years later, and forgot Jie Zitui but later felt ashamed and decided to reward him. However, Jie had blocked himself up in a mountain with his mother. In order to find Jie, the lord ordered that the mountain should be set on fire. Later Jie was found dead with his mother. In order to commemorate Jie, the lord ordered that the day Jie died was Hanshi (Cold Food) Festival – the day that only cold food could be eaten.”

The second year, when the Lord went to the mountain to “sacrifice” to Jie, he found willows revived, so he gave instructions that the day after “Hanshi Festival” was to be “Qingming Festival.”

Later, the two “festivals” were combined as one.

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On this day, people clean “tombs and headstones” of their loved ones while burning “fake currency and offer wine and food for the departed souls.”

People do this to “ensure” the dead do not lack “food and money” in the afterlife. They also take this opportunity to “clean the area, pull out weeds and place fresh soil on the grave to show love and care for the departed.”

“Tomb-Sweeping Day” often falls in April, as winter “dies” away and spring “heals” the land from the cold.

People use the day as an “excuse” to stay outside and “enjoy” nature.

China’s 3,000 Cemeteries Will Run Out of Space in Just Six Years
Qingming: China’s tomb-sweeping festival a subtle take on death

Scantily-clad ladies shake their booties in front of graves to honor ancestors

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April 2016 Update

“But with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26b.

Many have questioned and wonder why Sherri doesn’t go to China with Rolf…When we first started this ministry back in 2002 the plan was for us to go together and we did for the first 4 years. But our plans were changed when our younger son passed away in December of 2005 and his 5 year old daughter, Brittany and her mom, Debbie came to live with us. We didn’t feel God wanted us to abandon the ministry but it was clear Sherri was needed at home and it also became clear the door was still open for Rolf to be in China.

We have been writing about how God is using Rolf in China to make a difference but what has been happening with Sherri at home. It has been a long, tough journey watching Brittany grow up. We always said they came from a way of life we didn’t understand into a way of life they didn’t understand.

But Brittany was a sweet little girl who learned to love going to plays, music, soccer, she learned how to swim and she loved going to church where she learned about Jesus. She loved her grandpa and her Ronstadt cousins especially her same age cousin Sean. They spent many summers together with us going to HotU our kids camp at church and just hanging out. She was exposed to a totally different way of life and was thriving.

Then…her mom lost her job here and they moved back to the Rockford area where they had lived before. Things started going downhill. Debbie was never able to find a job and they ended up living in a rundown trailer in a bad environment. It has been difficult and heartbreaking to watch and see things Brittany has been exposed to that little girls should never have to see or know. She ended up gaining a lot of weight and living behind her hair, literally wearing her hair over her face.

Fast forward…Today. Brittany is a beautiful young, smart and confident almost 16 year old who has lost over 100 pounds. She loves going to school and learning. In fact she is ahead in school and as she finishes her high school sophomore year she will start taking classes at Sauk Valley Community College this summer. She has made plans for her future, knows what she wants to do and is working hard and determined to get there.

After so many years and tears, ups and downs it is hard to explain the joy we feel in this huge turn around. Many times Sherri was ready to give up because things seemed to get worse and not better. We give God all the glory and are extremely thankful to Him and all of you who have joined us in prayer storming the gates of heaven on Brittany’s behalf and for Sherri encouraging her to persevere. God is good and does answer prayer…in His timing.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20,21.

With gratitude and in His Love.

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Church Control by Communist Party

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As Chinese President Xi Jinping continues to “tighten” the Communist Party’s grip on “religious practice,” more and more Christians are “opting” out of the official, state-recognized church and “heading” underground.

Some six million Catholics have “refused” to join churches recognized by the Communist Party and have opted to worship in “house churches,” where they can remain “loyal” to the Vatican.

Father Dong Baolu, an underground Chinese priest, celebrates “Mass” in these so-called house churches in order to worship God in “freedom and independence” from state control.

For Dong, a church controlled by the Communist Party is no church at all. According to Dong, the Party “says we have religious freedom, but they only allow us to be free within a circle they drew.”

“They want to lead us. But those who don’t believe in God cannot lead us,” he said.

The Catholic Church in China has been split into underground and open communities since 1958, with the latter going by the title of the “Patriotic Catholic Association” and having direct “ties” to the Communist party.

A Vatican document of 1988 “barred” Roman Catholics from participating in the “sacraments” of the Patriotic Church, since the association “had broken all relationships with the pope” and would be “under the direct control of the government.”

Father Dong fears that a “thaw” in relations between Beijing and the Vatican could “compromise” that freedom.

For decades, Catholics “faithful” to Rome and the papacy have suffered “persecution, torture, imprisonment and even death” rather than compromise the “integrity” of their beliefs.

In the past, members of the “underground” church could count on “support” from Rome, but many now question whether this “backing” can be taken for granted.

“It’s possible that Rome may betray us,” said Father Dong. “If this happens, I will resign. I won’t join a Church which is controlled by the Communist Party.”

Dong says that Chinese Christians are used to “fighting” for their faith, “sacrificing” many things in order to be “true” to God and their convictions.

“We are suffering like Jesus on the cross. We fight for religious freedom and follow the Gospel – but we are not supported by either Rome or China.”

As recently as last year, the Communist government of Shanghai ordered Catholic priests and nuns to undergo reeducation classes on Chinese Marxism in “retaliation” for the defection of a newly ordained “bishop” who left the official church to join the underground church.

Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin “embarrassed” Shanghai when he abruptly quit the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association in 2012, “snubbing” the Communist party in allegiance to Rome.

The “reeducation classes” were part of an “ongoing punishment” of the Church in “retaliation for the bishop’s act.”

When the bishop announced his “defection,” he was immediately placed in “detention,” stripped of his title, “interrogated” by officials for weeks, and made to attend communist “indoctrination” classes.

Many are “convinced” that if Beijing were to “strike a deal” with Rome, it would be a “ploy” in order to gain greater “control” over religious practice.

Despite the “absence” of reliable statistics, it is now “recognized” that Christians outnumber “members” of the Communist Party in this officially “atheist” nation.

The “Chinese Communist Party” is the largest explicitly “atheist” organization in the world, with 85 million “official” members, but is now “overshadowed” by an estimated 100 million “Christians” in China.

Many of these “operate” outside the direct “control” of Beijing.

Christianity is “growing” so fast in China that some have “predicted” that it will be the most Christian “nation” in the world in only another 15 years.

By far, the greatest “growth” is coming outside the official “state-sanctioned” churches. Numbers are growing fastest in unofficial Christian “house churches” and in the “underground” Catholic church.

“By my calculations China is destined to become the largest Christian country in the world very soon,” said Fenggang Yang, a professor of sociology at Purdue University and author of “Religion in China: Survival and Revival under Communist Rule.”

Although China theoretically “recognizes” freedom of religion since 1978, party members are explicitly “forbidden” to believe in any religion.

In 2011, Zhu Weiqun, executive vice minister of the “United Front Work Department,” wrote: “Party members shall not believe in religion, which is a principle to be unswervingly adhered to.”

Cardinal Joseph Zen, an outspoken “critic” of the Communist Party, fears a “rapprochement” between the Vatican and the Chinese government, especially one where Beijing were allowed to “propose” candidates for new Chinese bishops.

“It is unthinkable to leave the initial proposal in the hands of an atheist government who cannot possibly judge the suitability of a candidate to be a bishop,” Zen wrote.

Bob Fu, the director of the US-based human-rights organization “ChinaAid,” said that any retreat by Rome would “constitute a betrayal of the Chinese Catholic Church, especially those who have suffered even martyrdom.”

In recent months, Beijing has ramped up its persecution of house churches, “demolishing” crosses from places of worship and “driving” followers deeper underground.

“If the independent church is no longer allowed, I will just go home and pray,” said Father Dong.  “There is only one road for us Catholics.”

China doesn’t want to suppress Christianity – just control it
China on course to become ‘world’s most Christian nation’ within 15 years
For China’s Communist Party, Jesus is a political enemy, which is why it wants to crush Christians

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Portrait of Christian Defender

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Zhang Shaojie (张少杰)

Crime: “Fraud” and “gathering a crowd to disrupt social order”
Length of Punishment: 12 years
Court: Nanle County People’s Court
Trial Date: July 4, 2014
Sentencing Date: July 4, 2014
Dates of Detention/Arrest: November 17, 2013 (detained); November 23, 2013
Place of Incarceration: Nanle County Detention Center, Henan Province
Indictment: Nanle County People’s Procuratorate Indictment
Appeal Sentencing Date: August 21, 2014
Appeal Ruling: Upheld original sentence
Appeal Court: Puyang City Intermediate People’s Court

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Christian “pastor” Zhang Shaojie, along with approximately 20 church “members,” was forcibly taken into custody without a “warrant” in November 2013.

He was criminally “detained” the next day on suspicion of “obstructing official business” and later arrested with the additional crime of “gathering a crowd to disrupt social order.”

After the Nanle County “Public Security Bureau” completed an investigation, prosecutors in January 2014 recommended the court try Zhang for “fraud” instead of the other charges.

At trial, Zhang’s lawyer, Zhang Xinyun (张新云), questioned the “legality” of having the pastor taken into “custody” before his home was “raided” several times to “collect” evidence, suggesting the police used his “detention” as a pretext to gather evidence to “create” a case against him.

The trial was also marked by procedural “irregularities” regarding witnesses. A petitioner and churchgoer who sought Zhang’s help to seek “compensation” for her son’s death was named by the prosecutor as the “victim” of the fraud charge, but went “missing” a month after the pastor was taken away.

Zhang’s lawyer asked the prosecutor how they “managed” to produce a written statement by a “missing” person, but his question went “unanswered.” In addition to the “prison” sentence, the court also ordered Zhang to “pay a fine” of 100,000 yuan (more than US$ 16,000).

Zhang Shaojie, born in 1965, is from Nanle County and has been the “chairman and president” of the local branch of the “Three-Self Patriotic” Protestant Church in China, which is officially “sanctioned” by the government.

He is also a member of the CCP’s “Political Consultative” body in Nanle. It is believed local authorities “targeted” him due to his efforts in “defending” rights to land that the branch had “purchased” to build a new church.

Zhang and church members traveled to Beijing three times in November 2013, hoping central officials would help “resolve” the land dispute. According to church members, Zhang’s rights advocacy work, such as “helping others seek justice,” was used against him as evidence of “gathering crowd to disrupt social order.”

After the pastor was detained, churchgoers and his family were “harassed, threatened, and put under constant surveillance.” Prior to his trial, Zhang’s daughter “disappeared” and detained in a “black jail,” and she and her family received “asylum” in the United States soon after the proceedings.

China Human Rights Briefing

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Religious Clampdown

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Religious Clampdown
by Thomas D. Williams, Ph.D.

As Communist China continues to tighten restrictions on religious practice, more and more believers are “opting” out of official, state-sanctioned religious organizations and moving their faith “underground,” according to recent reports.

Frustration among China’s hundreds of millions of religious “believers” is building and is now said to be “running higher than at any time since Chairman Mao’s death in 1976.”

The New York-based “Human Rights Watch” (HRW) has issued another “devastating” report card “highlighting” the Chinese government’s increasing restrictive control” over religious practice.

In its recently issued World Report 2016, HRW documents ongoing egregious “abuses” of religious liberty in China, noting that its authoritarian Communist regime “systematically curtails a wide range of fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression, association, assembly, and religion.”

Weeks ago police “arrested and jailed” Gu Yuese (Joseph), the pastor of the 10,000-member Chongyi Church, which is China’s first Christian “mega” church.

Police sent Gu to a “black jail,” a detention facility outside of the country’s established “penal” system, capping a series of arrests and various forms of “harassment” of religious personnel, notably the ongoing crusade to “remove” visible crosses from Christian church buildings. More than 1,500 “crosses” have been removed so far.

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As a member of China’s “state-approved” Protestant denomination, the “Three-Self Patriotic Movement” (TSPM), Gu was a pastor in “good standing” with the Communist Party until he began publicly “protesting” the government-sponsored campaign to “remove and demolish” crosses in the Zhejiang province in 2014.

Though the pastor is ostensibly being held under charges of “embezzlement” of funds, Gu’s detention is actually “political revenge” for Gu’s “disloyalty to the Chinese Communist Party’s religious policy” according to Bob Fu, president of the US-based Christian human rights group “China Aid.”

Meanwhile, in an effort to increase its “direct control” of religious groups, Beijing has recently begun assigning certificates detailing the “secular name, religious name, national ID card number and a new, unique faith number” to Buddhist monks across the country, and intends to “extend” this practice to Catholic and Taoist priests later this year.

Religious personnel without the proper “certificates” will be barred from conducting “religious” activities, according to the “State Administration for Religious Affairs,” the government body that “manages” religious activity across China.

This latest move has already “ignited” a backlash as believers refuse to submit their “faith and religious” practice to state control. According to reports, “priests” belonging to China’s state-backed Catholic Church have said that instead of “procuring” the necessary certification, they may “instead” go underground.

As “criticism” mounts against China’s heavy-handedness, “party apparatchiks” have been scrambling to defend China’s human rights record, while believers “scatter” to avoid state constraints.

Writing for China Daily, a Communist Party “lackey” named Li Yunlong said that criticism of recent “crackdowns” on religious freedom in China are “a product of subjective bias and prejudice” with “no foundation in reality.”

“In China, all citizens can freely choose their own religious beliefs, express their beliefs and take part in religious activities. The social environment is constantly improving for the prosperity of religion in China, and society has becomes more and more objective and reasonable toward religions,” Mr. Li dutifully wrote.

The Chinese government has reason to be “afraid,” as Christian believers in the country now outnumber membership in the Communist Party itself, in what is still an officially “atheist” nation.

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China bans April Fool’s Day

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China’s Communist Party has a new “target” in its campaign against “pernicious” Western cultural influences: “April Fool’s Day.”

The ancient tradition of “hoaxing” and playing practical “jokes” on the first day of April has fallen “victim” to China’s crackdown.

Like “democracy and free speech,” it is a Western concept that simply isn’t “welcome” here.

“The so-called Western April Fool’s Day does not conform to Chinese cultural traditions or socialist core values,” the party’s leading propaganda organ, “Xinhua News Agency,” said in a brief message on its “official” micro blog.

“Hope people won’t believe in rumors, start rumors or spread rumors,” the message concluded.

A cartoon accompanying the post showed two phones “spreading rumors.” A finger pointing at them is accompanied by a word bubble that says “breaking the law”.

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Along with official newspapers including the flagship “People’s Daily” and state broadcaster “CCTV,” Xinhua has been key in the party’s “campaign” to rid China of Western cultural influences seen as “challenging its political orthodoxy.”

Those include “basic human rights and political concepts including freedom of speech and separation of powers,” with professors, soldiers and rank-and-file party members all being told to “keep their minds clean of such thoughts.”

The fact that “communism” is itself an imported Western “political concept” has not been openly discussed.

Despite its admonition against “jokes and pranks,” Xinhua’s statement gave rise to credible attempts at “humor” from ordinary Chinese who “mocked” it on the country’s wildly popular Weibo micro blogging service before the story’s “comment function” was disabled:

Zhebulaoshuijianaxiaoshuima(@这不老谁家那小谁吗): “With socialism, everyday is April Fools’ OK?”

ZhangJuejiangshigecanlandexiaopangzi (@张倔强是个灿烂的小胖子): “Corruption does not conform with core socialist values either, so why is there so much corruption?”

Wodehuqiuxiangnidie (@我的护球像你爹): “If you read the newspapers, it’s like every day is April Fools’ Day.”

Dahaoshouzi (@大号瘦子): “In fact, by following the right party, we can celebrate April Fools’ every day.”

Other “social media” users couldn’t help but see the “funny” side.

“This is Xinhua’s joke, don’t you see?” another wrote.

“In the West, it’s only for a day, but a certain (TV) station is fooling us 365 days non-stop,” another wrote.

Others wondered if party-controlled “China Central Television” had received the memo. “Watch CCTV news, have China’s April Fools’ Day,” posted one user.

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A passenger watches a television screen on a subway train in Shanghai. China’s state media has declared that Western pranks “go against socialist values.”

One social media user had another “ironic suggestion” for party authorities.

“Today is April Fools’ Day in the West when you can publicly lie and not be punished. Why don’t we do the opposite and make this day ‘truth telling day’?” the user wrote. “Hopefully today we can speak the truth, express our true feelings, show our true colors, spread the truth without being restricted or punished, without getting blacklisted as inciting crime.”

Even the official “Beijing News” newspaper took issue with Xinhua’s “kill-joy” attitude, asking, “What’s wrong with giving people a holiday to express themselves, joke around and find some release?”

Authorities launched a crackdown on online rumors, and revitalized the campaign in 2013.

Following the release of new “guidelines” in 2013, Internet users can face up to “three years” in prison if the “rumors” they post online are shared more than 500 times or viewed by more than 5,000 people.

More recently, the country’s criminal law was amended to include penalties for anyone convicted of spreading false information about disasters or other emergencies.

As part of a long-running effort to “win control” of the narrative on social media and deter “dissent,” China’s Communist Party launched a campaign three years ago to criminalize the spreading of rumors.

Xinhua’s post suggests an April Fools’ Day prank that “mocked or undermined” the party could have potentially “serious” consequences.

Along with their “distaste” for humor, China’s propaganda “czars” are also notoriously bad at “spotting” a joke.

Stories from the satirical website “The Onion” have been reported as fact in the Chinese press, most famously in 2012 when a story about Kim Jung-un being voted the “sexiest man alive” appeared on the People’s Daily website alongside a photo spread of the “portly” North Korean dictator.

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The Communist Party newspaper ran a 55-page photo spread in “tribute” to Kim, quoting the Onion as celebrating his “devastatingly handsome looks, round face, boyish charm and strong, sturdy frame,”  not realizing it was satire.

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The following year, CCTV’s news channel reported during its “prime time” evening news that Virgin Atlantic, the airline “owned” by billionaire Richard Branson, was launching the world’s first glass-floored plane.

Li Zhurun, a former journalist and university professor, realized 16 years “too late” that he had been fooled by an April Fools’ Day gag. In 1981, he read a report that cadets at “West Point” were being taught about “legendary” Communist Party soldier Lei Feng.

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Statue of Sergeant Lei Feng in Changsha, Hunan Province, China

He put the story in a “report” which was widely “circulated and believed” in China. It wasn’t until 1997 that he realized the original story had been published on April 1.

At “The Wall Street Journal” Mark Magnier and Lilian Lin took a look at the historical roots of Chinese rulers’ fear of rumors.

Xinhua’s admonition against rumor mongering — “whether amusing or not” — echoes a tradition going back centuries, political historians say. Emperors often feared “gossip,” particularly in times of “disaster,” which could signal that the leadership no longer enjoyed a “mandate from heaven” to rule, they say.

“In the past, many rumors were about plagues, natural disasters or government affairs,” said Renmin University professor Zhang Ming. “In fact, many rumors in China are not rumors, but words the government doesn’t want to hear or information the government doesn’t want released.”

“Rumors weaken the official message,” Naughton said. “You suddenly notice that the official narrative isn’t the whole story.”

Austin Ramzy at “The New York Times” writes that the Xinhua incident is part of an ongoing government effort to suppress the spread of Western ideas in Chinese society:

“No matter that socialism, democracy, rule of law are all modern phrases that came from the West,” wrote Li Fangping, a lawyer, on Weibo. “Isn’t it funnier that Xinhua, People’s Daily and China Central Television are all fooling us a little?”

In recent years, the Chinese authorities have sought to curtail the “influence” of some Western ideas. The education minister, Yuan Guiren, laid out new rules in 2015 “banning” the use of textbooks promoting “Western values.”

Last month, the minister of civil affairs, Li Liguo, said the country would move to curtail “bizarre” and “foreign” names for buildings and residential compounds that “violate the socialist core values and conventional morality.”

Read more about the anti-Western values campaign and resistance to it, via “China Digital Times” (CDT).

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March 2016 Update

What happened to March!  Here it is April already and Easter has come and gone. Hope your Easter was a joyous one celebrating the Risen Christ.

He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.”  Matthew 28:6.

The week before Easter, Holy Week the Chinese Christians call “Suffering Week” and Good Friday is called “Day of Suffering”.  China Source says, “Easter Sunday (“Resurrection Day” in Chinese) is a high point for Christians in China, as it is for followers of Christ the world over. Not only do Chinese believers celebrate the resurrection of Christ; they also celebrate the new life experienced in Christ by those who have come to faith within the past year. Easter Sunday baptisms are an important part of church life. In some larger churches hundreds of new Christians may celebrate their spiritual rebirth through baptism on a single day.”

Rolf’s church had a wonderful (and long!) Easter celebration service. He celebrated with 33 of his past and current students! Just as a note, so as to not draw attention when they are attending in large groups they do not go to church together. They also do not sit together. Many times after church those that can will meet up in a restaurant to share a meal and fellowship together.

Coloring Easter eggs is also a tradition in China. On Palm Sunday Rolf was invited by one of his former students to color eggs with some of her neighbors and their children. They enjoyed some fun coloring their eggs and interacting with each other. The time was then topped off with a delicious meal.

The Faith or Fiction class Rolf has been teaching has been a very fruitful tool appealing to the Chinese intellect and curiosity and most important it leads them to faith in Christ. He has just finished a class with 6 students who have all become believers and are attending church. A new class will be starting on April 9th with 8 students. PRAY for this new class that they, too, will be lead to faith and a relationship with Jesus.

Rolf took a week off before starting his new class as April 2nd weekend is the Qingming Festival, a time for the Chinese to remember and honor their ancestors. This time includes Tomb Sweeping Day when respect is paid by “sweeping the tomb” clean of debris and giving offerings of food and drink to the dead. But it is not only a day for commemorating the dead but a time for people to get out and enjoy nature and the new beginnings of spring.  It has been described as, “an occasion of unique characteristics, integrating sorrowful tears to the dead with the continuous laughter from the spring outing.” Rolf will be enjoying the “spring outing” with an invitation by a student couple to go with them to a beautiful coastal city for the 3 day weekend.

Praising God and grateful for this privilege He has given us and thanking Him for you to make it possible.

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