The Art of the Gospel

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CWN.com - SONG ZHUANG, China - People all over China are embracing Christianity like never before.

A recent survey found that nearly 40 million Chinese profess to be Christians.

One small farming village east of Beijing is witnessing an especially powerful move of God.

There's an old Chinese proverb that says, "The sky is high and the emperor is far away."

It means that the farther you are from the country's seat of power, in this case Beijing, the freer things become.

In the spring of 1994, it became clear to a small group of popular Chinese artists that freedom of expression could only be found outside the city walls.

That year, authorities in Beijing had unleashed a severe crackdown on all cultural and political dissent.

To escape the political turbulence, they moved out of the city and settled in Song Zhuang, a small village east of Beijing.

Zhu Jui Yang, a Song Zhuang artist, said, "They knew that if they wanted to do art, they had to move to some place small and remote."

Thirteen years later, Song Zhuang is the most famous and biggest community of artists in China.

"Song Zhuang has more than 1,000 artists," Yang explained. "We have some of the greatest artists in the country living in this village."

Yang is just one of the many professional painters who moved here several years ago. He joins other artists including sculptors, photographers and musicians.

Yang said, "Like other artists around the world, we wanted to live together in the same place and share ideas."

But shortly after moving to Song Zhuang in 2002, Yang discovered there was another reason that he moved here.

"I realized God had been guiding my steps all along. It wasn't an accident that I had moved to Song Zhuang," he said.

Having just become a Christian the year before, Yang says he felt a calling from God to begin a ministry to his fellow artists.

"There are no Christian themes in Chinese art," Yang said. "So I began painting Biblical scenes on the canvas. I wanted people to know that there is a God who loves us and wants us to worship Him. Here you can see just how hopeless the person is in this picture. He is drowning, but in the background you see the sun rising. This is a symbol of hope. I want people to see how hopeless you can be if you don't have the Lord."

So many of Yang's paintings today have very strong Biblical themes, but trying to communicate this message in this village is no easy task. In fact, he faces a lot of pressures.

He said, "We live in such a God-less culture. People find talking about God very uncomfortable. As an artist, I struggle with how to adequately express my faith in Jesus without being overtly evangelistic.

Yang says that what God has been doing in Song Zhuang the last couple of years is nothing short of miraculous.

"There used to only be one Christian in this village but now so many are becoming Christians. This is a miracle!"

Today, he leads a small group of artists keen to learn more about Jesus Christ.

"My goal is to lead more people to Christ," Yang said, "and eventually, build a church where I can serve people."

People like musician Bei Zi.

"I used to play in a rock band and smoke dope all day," Zi said. "I lived at the bottom of China's music world. I tried everything, but inside I was suffering."

But all that changed the day he met Yang and was introduced to the man called Jesus.

Zi said, "Today I play a different tune. God brought me here and put me in this place to play His music. I feel honored not because I live in this community with such great artists, but because God lives in me."

Life in Song Zhuang is not easy. This is, after all, a farming village. Artists live in farmhouses and share water, food and the land with peasants.

Most of the artists don't have a stable job so they have to live by selling their works.

"We choose to live here because the cost of living is low," Yang said, "The rent is cheap. Some of the artists have done well for themselves but others live very simple lives. Most of the Christian artists here live by faith."

You won't find a newspaper here. People don't watch television either. Computers are a rare thing, and if there's one around, it's mainly used for sending e-mail.

The artists, however, do maintain a website showcasing their various talents. There are several studios in the village that play host to annual international art festivals.

For many of Song Zhuang's artists, the tranquil and unrestrained way life of the countryside is what brings them the most joy.

But for Yang and the other Christians in the village, bringing the light of the Gospel is the ultimate thrill.

Zi said, "I want China to hear the sound of God."

*Original broadcast March 16, 2007.

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