When Mao Zedong came to power in China in 1949 he quickly expelled the foreign missionaries and began a long programme of persecution against Chinese believers with the purpose of wiping out Christianity in the atheistic Mao cult state. After his death in 1976, it became apparent that the very opposite had happened, and a vibrant underground, authentically Chinese New Testament church was flourishing.
One of the best known hero Christian leaders, Pastor Samuel Lamb, who pioneered through this era died lat Saturday in Guangzhou, aged 88.
Lamb was arrested during one of the first big waves of persecution in Mao’s 'Great Leap Forward', imprisoned from 1955 to 1957. At the time, the estimated number of believers in China was in the low millions.
The only way to stay out of prison for church planters at was to compromise and bring their churches under the control of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, the state-regulated Protestant Church. Refusing to take this step, and as the leader of an illegal church, Lamb was sentenced a second time in 1958 spending 20 years in labour camps.
Giving up everything for the sake of his call, Lamb saw his wife for the last time during the five months that he was on remand. She died in 1977, a year before his sentence ended.
In 1979 Lamb pioneered his house church in Guangzhou. Numbers grew quickly, mirroring the fast and exponential growth all over China in that decade. Lamb was able to move his congregation to a bigger building in the same city, but to this day they remain an illegal house church congregation, only tolerated by the authorities.
World Watch Monitor make the following tribute: Suffering played an important part in many of Lamb’s sermons. He was famous for repeating: “More persecution, more growth”. That phrase had not only to do with numbers of believers, but also with spiritual growth.
Lamb saw that China has changed in the past decades and that Christians are now granted more freedom. Still he wanted to make sure that Christians do not too easily assume that nothing will happen to them. Even though his congregation was still illegal, it hasn’t been raided in years but he always remained cautious about the government.
He always warned: “We must be prepared to suffer. We must be prepared for the fact that we may be arrested. Before I was sent to prison, I already prepared a bag with some clothes, shoes and a toothbrush. When I had to go to the police station, I could just pick it up. I was ready. People are still being arrested. You don't know what will happen tomorrow. Today the authorities are not bothering us, but tomorrow things may be different. I pray that we will receive the strength to stand firm.”
His death leaves a hole in the Chinese Church. Together with other renowned figures like Wang Mindao and Allen Yuan, he symbolised the bravery of a Church that grew at an unprecedented speed in world history.
Long after his passing it will be said in many churches that more persecution only has one outcome: more growth. Simultaneously, he became an example for millions of believers in China, where today estimates say there are now about 80 million Christians – some estimates claim one tenth of the population is Christian.
Samuel Lamb's story of steadfast resolution and determination has also inspired and encouraged millions of Christians around the world.