BEIJING - They were arrested, tortured and killed for their faith, but more than 40 years after the cultural revolution, Chinese Christians are getting bolder about sharing their faith in public.
For example, in different corners of the country, Christian businessmen are openly dedicating their companies and their lives to spreading the gospel-- despite the risk of government crackdown.
A few blocks from Beijing's famous Tiananmen Square, at shop number 37 on Liullichang Street, Liu Xixian and Chen Zejin are doing just what they want to do, but it wasn't their original goal.
"Our dream was to open a shop and make lots of money," Liu Xixian said. "But soon after we opened, our perspective started to change. We got a new vision."
The couple went from selling antique furniture and paintings to owning one of the largest and most popular Christian stores in Beijing.
"My husband and I decided that our business was going to be a ministry," Xixian explained. "A place where we can share our faith in Jesus Christ openly."
So now they sell everything from books to wall hangings to handicrafts to various Chinese artwork.
"We combine traditional Chinese culture with strong Biblical themes. We have Bible verses everywhere," she said. "I want people who come into our store to know and learn about God. I want them to be attracted to Jesus Christ."
A 'Real' Ministry
The family opened up their shop along Beijing's most famous antique market back in 1994 and since then business has been thriving. But today they have another ministry-- a ministry that can be found in the backroom."
They say this is their "real" ministry. Tucked in a corner of the shop, a small group of new Christian converts are learning how to thrive economically in the new China.
For a few hours every week, men and women gather to worship, pray and study how to manage their finances from a Biblical perspective.
"We are teaching them how important it is to be a good steward of their money," Liu said. "God wants us to be honest and ethical with our finances. Otherwise, God won't bless us and we in turn cannot be a blessing to this nation."
Delivered from Evil
Across town, on the west side of Beijing, another entrepreneur, Joshua Zhou, is only now tasting the fruits of that blessing. But it wasn't always like this.
"I used to lie, cheat and steal. I made shady deals and bribed people all the time. I made money, and lots of it," he said.
A couple of years ago, Zhou was living the life of a millionaire, but on the dark side of China's economic miracle.
"I drank, did drugs, gambled and cheated on my wife," he recalled. "My business was thriving, but most of that was because I didn't pay taxes."
But he still felt empty inside.
"I felt so hollow. None of these worldly pleasures satisfied me," he remembered. "So I tried religion. I become a Buddhist, but that didn't satisfy me. I even hired a spiritual leader to say prayers over me."
"That didn't work. I was getting desperate," he added. "My marriage was falling apart. I wanted to kill myself."
Then one day, a friend invited him to church.
"That was the first time I had ever heard about Jesus," Zhou said. "That day Jesus saved my life, my marriage and my business."
Gathering for Christ
Zhou took his multi-million dollar pharmaceutical company and turned it upside down.
"I don't make as much money as before, but at least I don't cheat anymore. I pay my taxes," he said. "Everything I do now is about telling others what Jesus has done for me. That's the purpose of my company."
He has more that 200 people working for him. The majority of them have converted to Christianity because of his testimony.
Staff members gather every morning for prayer and worship in the company's conference room. He and his wife, Grace, also hold weekly Bible studies.
"I believe that the nation that trusts God is a blessed nation," she said. "We want to instill these godly values in our people and in our business. That's what we are praying and preparing for."
The Zhous are part of a small, but growing group of first generation Christian business entrepreneurs, who meet regularly in different parts of the country to grow and develop spiritually.
Benny Yang of LDI Training helps coordinate the small groups.
"We encourage each other, pray over each other and study the Bible together," he said.
Other Christians Follow
Yang says so many Christian men and women are transforming the business culture by bringing Biblical principles like truth and integrity into the marketplace.
"By that, I think the whole business community will be changed," he proclaimed. "You see the integrity level, you see the way they are doing business is changing."
A change the Chens and Zhous hope will one day transform their nation.
"I walked through the valley of the shadow of death. I know what it's like to feel empty and hopeless," Zhou said. "But I also know what it's like to experience freedom and hope. Jesus is the answer and I want to tell others about Him."
*Original broadcast February 16, 2009.