Aubrey Johnson was born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1957. His father and grandfather were both homebuilders and Aubrey was expected to continue the family business, but he decided to help build up people as a preacher instead of just the homes they live in. He attended Lipscomb University and there he received his Speech Major and Minor in Youth Ministry. He has preached in Tennessee, Oklahoma, China, and currently serves a congregation in Peachtree City, Georgia.
From what I understand, you have preached in China and that the service in which you spoke was the first legal service in Communist China. Could you tell me a little more about that?
For the churches of Christ, it was the first legal service since the revolution. The government allowed us to have a service, not for the Chinese, although we do have an underground service, but the service they allowed was for English speaking foreigners with passports. There are plenty of people who fall into that category, working with businesses, schools and traveling. So we were sitting around in Peachtree City, Georgia, thinking about the upcoming Olympics and we wondered if Jesus might be welcome, too. We have a ministry over there called China Mission, we have between 700 and 800 children that we care for through 6 orphans homes and also a number of foster children that we care for. We have medical missions, we do cleft palate surgeries, we do open heart surgeries, and various medical procedures. So we thought we should approach the government and we got permission to have this service. They told us we could continue it after the Olympics, and in the future, they believe, would allow us to build a building. We started with very small numbers, about 10 initially. The problem is getting the word out and letting people know that we are there. When they know we are there, they are going to come because they are looking for this kind of service. The government limits our ability to communicate, but our numbers have doubled and they are continuing to grow. More and more people are hearing about it by word of mouth. So, we are excited and we are looking forward to starting a sister congregation in Shanghai in the future. I believe there is a great hope for more leniency from the government.
What type of regulations does the government impose on you to spread the news of the church?
Chinese Nationals cannot come to the service. Now, we are not supposed to preach or proselytize to the Chinese Nationals. So, this congregation is only for foreigners, English-speaking foreigners with passports. As far as getting the word out, it is interesting because they will let us put Christian in the name of our orphan homes, they have allowed us to teach the Bible in our orphan homes, but when it comes to our ability to advertise, it is limited. Our congregation sponsors a full-time man who deals with advertising.
What were the feelings of the people there at the first legal service?
Very thankful. It was a historic moment. Matthew 17:20 says, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed you can move mountains”, and some people want to see everything come to fulfillment very quickly. It doesn’t work that way. If you get a toehold, then you can get a foothold and if you get that foothold, then you can get that door open wider. We just decided to do what we could do. We had someone there from NBC, one of their reporters, we had one of former President Bush Senior’s secret service agents there, some of the families of the [Olympics’] coaches were there, and others. They were all very thankful.
You said this was the first legal service for the Church of Christ. Have there been other “churches” that have been allowed to worship by the Chinese Government?
There have. They have their own group that they allow; it is called the Three Faces. I don’t know a lot about it, but the way I see it is as a civil service job. It is not really an independent group. I think the government has a lot of control as to what goes on there. Yes, there are others that have legal status.
Did you ever get to attend any of the Chinese Nationalist services?
Oh, yes. We had services at an apartment building and at the homes of some of the Chinese Christians. I did get that privilege on three occasions.
What did the Chinese Christians feel while they were in worship?
It was not a nervous atmosphere. They were very comfortable. They were singing and I’m sure that some of that singing was probably heard in the apartment next door. They are happy and I think their faith brings a lot of that joy and happiness. But they don’t seem to be as fearful as you might think would be the case.
One of the main points of Communism is to remove religion from the populace. Do you think China is changing from a strict communist nation to a more free government?
I think they are transforming their concept of communism. There is no doubt that China has changed and has taken more capitalistic approaches. They consider themselves to be open religiously. [It is] not American-style freedom of religion, but they claim to be very open to various religions. During the Beijing Olympics, they put Bibles in every hotel room in Beijing. Astounding. They did this by government mandate. Now, this was done in hotels that foreigners would be staying in. But still, what people need to see is that there is movement. And once that movement has begun, it is hard to go back. Now, it may have been just a public relations move and yet, it was a move. In my opinion, it would be very hard for China to go back to the way it was run before.
Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.
Thank you, Aubrey Johnson, for your work in God’s Kingdom.