By Debby Hagar
Some may ask “Who is Samuel Lamb?” Pastor Lamb was a pioneer of the house church movement in China. He is a 21st century hero of the faith who was imprisoned for over 20 years in a Chinese forced labor camp because he refused to bow to demands to merge his illegal house church with the official government Three-Self Church. During the many years of his ministry, the number of Christians in China grew astronomically—from just a few million in the 1950’s to an estimated 80 million by 2010.
In the 1980’s China began to open up and Samuel Lamb gradually became known in the outside world. Over the years stories about him were covered by major international news papers and television networks. Despite all this world wide acclaim when Moses, my husband Richard and I set out on a mission trip that included a trip to China in the spring of 2010, we had never heard of Samuel Lamb––but this would soon change.
Our host in the Philippines, had also organized the travel in China. The plan was to visit Hong Kong and Macau and then go into mainland China before traveling on to the Philippines. We were all very excited about the prospect of going to China for the first time. Our host had promised a Chinese speaking guide to meet us in Macau and accompany us on the trip. But when the guide was delayed, first one day and then two, we decided to strike out on our own to purchase bus tickets from Macau to Guangzhou. We found a ticket office just two blocks from our hotel, and it was a beautiful day for walking. Once in the office we realized that no one there spoke a word of English. But there was a map and a fee chart with Arabic numbers and I acted out pulling a roller bag to inquire if the bus could accommodate our luggage. By God’s grace we managed to understand each other well enough to complete our transaction.
With tickets in hand and having finished our ministry in Hong Kong and Macau we were ready to depart for China just after noon the following day. All we needed was to meet our long awaited guide.
Late the next morning our host announced that he didn’t know what had happened but the guide would not be coming, all contact had been lost. The Filipino team was willing to travel with us, but only Moses, Richard and I had visas for the Peoples Republic of China. It appeared we were stranded in Macau.
Moses remembered a small piece of paper he had received from someone attending the Macau Conference. The man who gave it to Moses had received it from a friend. He passed it to Moses saying my friend said “you should look up Mr. Lam when you get to China.” Mr. Lam was written in Ball Point Pen in the margin next to the other contact information typed in Chinese characters with a few Arabic numbers. Best we could understand was that Mr. Lam could speak English and would introduce us to some English speaking pastors.
If we wanted to go to China on our own our host assured us that we could use the information on this paper to make contact with Mr. Lam. Our promise of a bilingual guide had just diminished to a scrap of paper written in a foreign language, with a name scribbled in ball point pen. It did not seem feasible for three people who basically did not know where they were going, or how to find “Mr Lam,” to enter communist China unaccompanied.
It was Sunday and our flight to the Philippines was not until Wednesday so I scurried downstairs to see if if it was possible to extend our stay. By the time I returned with the good news that we had additional days Moses had called Richard and told him we would travel to China. Richard’s reaction was “How can we go to a Communist country without a guide?” Moses reply was simple––the apostle Paul went to places without a human guide because his guide was the Holy Spirit. And God had already made provision of bus tickets and a hotel reservation in Guangzhou. We had no choice but to follow Moses trusting that the Lord was leading him. There was just one caution–– Moses said we should all remove our Riding The Death Train gospel tracts before entering China.
So off we went to the office where we bought our bus tickets. They placed destination stickers on us like the ones they stick on you when visiting a tourist attraction and led us to a van that looked like it was left over from the 1960’s. As our luggage was loaded into it I wondered if this ancient vehicle could make the trip inland to our destination in China. Then we were on our way chugging through the streets of Macau. Without notice the van stopped and the driver very unceremoniously unloaded our luggage and plopped it on a small grass median. Before we could shut our mouths he was gone. We assumed the very large building sitting by itself in front of us must be the border crossing. The Chinese characters on the face of the building probably read entry and exit…but that was just a guess and even so which was which?
Before we knew it a 6’ tall Chinese man came over to us and began loading our luggage onto his full sized dolly and tied it down neatly with a rope. We followed this angel of mercy for he seemed to know what to do. Once inside we observed that he knew everyone––and had special cards to swipe to get him through different checkpoints. We were with him so we were OK! He demonstrated how we should keep our shoulder bags in front of us for safety. We surmised that he had a small business purchasing duty free cigarettes and articles and selling them on the other side––we were just an add on to that enterprise.
What a blessing he was. We stood out two men, one black and one white, and one white woman. Everyone else was Asian and only had a backpack or a small tote while we had enough luggage to stay for a month. We were obviously foreigners and could have been an easy target but we were under the protective wing of our God and His messenger.
Once we passed the center line marking the border between Macau and China our guide was going to leave us, but for a small fee we negotiated for him to take us all the way across. As we descended the stairs into the Chinese side we waked through a sea of cell phones. A large room was set up with display cases arranged in squares that seemed to stretch as far as one could see and in them were thousands upon thousands of cell phones with specialty phones of all kinds including “Hello Kitty!” I certainly wanted to get a picture of that scene but was confident that a camera in the Peoples Republic of China was a bad idea.
Gabriel––as I named our 6’ tall angel of mercy––took us to the waiting area for the bus. He had to explain to them that we were late and had missed our original departure and arrange a later time for us. We were to sit in the waiting area until our destination was called. Guangzhou was the name we were waiting for. Finally the call came and we went outside where an attendant sorted us into the real busses (not the 60’s van) by the stickers we were wearing. Not one word of English was spoken by anyone––we were working on educated guesses for everything we did.
Once aboard, our trip followed the Pearl River, a beautiful scenic drive of about 70 miles. Upon entering Guangzhou, a city of 12 million, we were surprised to see a Sam’s Club with a McDonald’s on the side…and a Cadillac dealership. Lots of tall buildings and cranes everywhere reminded us more of Dubai than China. I have never really understood the modern day merging of capitalism and Communism. But there was evidence of it all around like the small quaint restaurant with lanterns and a fish tank on the patio nestled right in front of a glass sky scraper––the old and new side by side.
The bus had several stops and we didn’t know where to get off since no one spoke English. The second to the last stop one of the bus workers boarded the bus and sat close to Moses who asked him “Do you speak English?” He replied “a little.” He understood enough for us to communicate our dilemma and he told us to get off at the last bus stop which was a hotel. Richard and I watched the luggage as the bus worker took Moses into the hotel. There he found an employee who was fluent in English who secured a cab driver for us and and gave him written instructions to our hotel in Chinese. Our hotel was across town and no cab driver in our area was familiar with the words “Holiday Inn, City Center.” We had completed the first phase of our journey and were relieved to be in our hotel with staff that spoke English! God had safely delivered us. But He had more work to do. We were in Guangzhou, but where in this vast city could Mr. Lam be?
We settled in and called the number on the paper and asked for “Mr. Lam.” He asked us to call back tomorrow because they were currently having church. So the second day we called again and asked him to come visit us in our hotel––not knowing protocol and not wanting to put anyone in danger. He told us he couldn’t come to us but we could visit later that day. When the Concierge looked at our small paper he said the address was just 10 – 15 minutes drive from the hotel and he arranged a taxi to take us there.
That little piece of paper that was our lifeline––or actually a small thread–– linking us to the Christians in China.
Our instructions were to stand at the intersection of the main street and an alley after being dropped at a designated address. We were to stand on the sidewalk with Moses holding his cell phone to his ear––not calling, just holding the phone. We waited on the beautiful tree lined street in front of the shops displaying their goods behind their large glass windows, waiting and wondering if we had been dropped at the right place. After some time of standing and praying a small man in a bright plaid shirt approached us. He signaled us to come with him…so we did.
We crossed the street and he led us down the alley past men and women sitting outside playing mahjong, then we turned left to a more narrow interior alley with laundry hanging overhead from on side to the other. Then a right turn, till finally we came to a wall with a small dark blue ceramic marker and the number 15. Our guide opened the door and we stepped inside a small courtyard. Right away I could see through another door and there were pews. We were in a house church!
Then we were directed up a narrow flight of stairs. At the top of the stairs there was a large room with more pews and a long table with an elderly Chinese man seated behind wearing a Western style suite and tie. He was all at once ordinary and elegant as he bid us sit down.
This was “Mr. Lam.” Little did we know that we were having an audience with Samuel Lamb a modern day hero of the faith and a leader of the house church movement in China. He spoke to us for about an hour telling us of his 20 years in prison for his refusal to submit to the government sanctioned Three-Self Church, of his prized official Oval Office Pen hand delivered by an aide to U. S. President Ronald Reagan. The following year he received more gifts from President Reagan and Vice President George W. Bush, his favorite being a Bible signed by Ronald Reagan. He told us “persecution good – every time I go to prison church grow.” Moses and I were stealing glances at each other as if to say “who is this guy?” He regaled us with tale after tale of Gods grace, mercy and provision.
The current church building was three stories tall and two homes wide with a door cut to join them. This would seat about 1,000 people with closed circuit television in the other rooms. Long ago they requested to join the buildings but the authorities would not allow it. Then one day the police came, interrupting a service, and told them that the fire marshall required them to cut a door between the two buildings. God had delivered them once again! Pastor Lamb gave us many books––some about his life, some with his Bible lessons.
The church schedule posted on the wall indicated that the following morning there was a worship service. Church services were held four times a week with about 1,000 attending each time. The times varied to allow people with different work schedules to attend. Excited at the prospect of worshiping with our Chinese brothers and sisters in Christ, we decided to come to the following morning’s service. Once that was all arranged we requested Pastor Lamb who spoke both English and Chinese to call a taxi for us. When he asked us where our hotel was located we realized we had no idea! Finally I discovered that my room key sleeve had a small map in Chinese printed on it. They directed us just to go back to the road we came in on to catch a taxi.
The few taxis we saw were full so we walked to a main road. So many taxis flew by but they all were full of passengers. Finally after much time we got a taxi. Once back at the hotel I dashed to the room and immediately googled Samuel Lamb to see who in the world we had been speaking to. Can you imagine how amazed we were when we found that he was one of the main leaders of the house church movement in China and God had delivered us right to his doorstep!
Armed with this knowledge we were even more excited to join the 8:30 service the next morning. It was packed and even with Samuel Lamb speaking Chinese it was plain that he was teaching verse by verse from the Bible (The Arabic numbers were our clue). The large table where he had received us the day before was now filled with Bibles and paper and pencils for note taking. After service many people came and collected CD’s of recorded messages to take back to others. It was obvious that his ministry spread far and wide.
A man approached us speaking English. He was Chinese and had been living in the United States for the last 25 years and had just returned to China. He asked if we were free that evening to attend an English speaking Bible class for college students. We gladly accepted, getting his phone number and some instructions.
We left the church and wove our way back down the three adjoining alleys, under the hanging laundry, past the mahjong players to the main street wondering how we would ever procure a taxi remembering yesterday’s ordeal. Just as we reached the street a taxi pulled up right in front of us and out jumped its three occupants––essentially delivering an empty taxi right at our feet.
That evening we took a taxi into the dark, trusting the concierge to instruct the driver to the right university. Once we were dropped off in an empty parking lot we went to a building but it was locked. We wandered through the campus from building to building but could not find our host. After several phone calls and much wandering we found him. To our great surprise he was located in a Christian Bookstore and in the back room a Bible Study was in process. Yes, a full scale Christian Bookstore in China! We are still amazed.
After the study we had a wonderful fellowship with the owners and the students. Our host invited us to a restaurant nearby. We selected dim sum from the delicious and exotic looking buffet and ate outside under the stars and strings of lights hanging against a backdrop of the elaborate neon signage.
Remember those tracts Moses told us to leave behind? God tricked him! When we unpacked Moses was stunned to find out that he had about a dozen tracts hiding in his suitcase! We had just enough to give to pastor Lamb and everyone at the Bible study.
Early the next morning the concierge arranged a car to take us directly to the Airport in Hong Kong to catch our flight to the Philippines. God had directed us right into the hands of Samuel Lamb and our brothers and sisters in Christ in China. This was indeed a “beyond all you can think or imagine” experience. Every minute of our trip was utilized as if we had come with a preplanned itinerary. Clearly God was directing our paths as He filled in all the blanks that we did not know.
For more on Samuel Lamb read Bold as a Lamb: Pastor Samuel Lamb and the underground Church of China, by Ken Anderson (Zondervan,1991).
Left Macau Sunday noon – arrived Guangzhou Sunday night
Monday afternoon – Audience with Samuel Lamb
Tuesday am Church – Tuesday pm Bible Study
Wednesday back to Hong Kong airport – fly to Philippines