The Secret Printing Press

01 June 2024

China, 1989 — In the fast-coming darkness with our faces masked and our heads bowed, we silently followed our guides down the winding track through the mountain gullies, pressing on towards the shallow river we had crossed earlier that day. As we reached a junction, our progress was stopped by the sudden appearance of a motorised three-wheeled cart, with the back completely covered with canvas.

Quickly and quietly, we climbed into this cart and, with the engine working furiously, drove up the rough and narrow track. This was our transportation to their secret printing press.

The engine roared and hissed, and the cart jerked and heaved as the vehicle clawed its way over the rocks and boulders. We went ever higher, ever deeper into the mountains, winding across gorges and gullies with no more than 30 centimetres to spare on either side. A slip here, and we would have crashed down 30 metres or more.

It was rapidly growing dark. Just as the steep grade of the track seemed about to defeat the struggling engine, we peered with consternation through a small tear in the canvas as several figures appeared at the roadside. The figures grabbed the back of the cart and began to push. With the engine straining and the strangers pushing while we remained hidden inside, the steepest part of the track was conquered, and men and machine stood panting at journey’s end.

Out of the darkness, other figures emerged to guide the driver as he backed the cart into a narrow opening. Then, at a given signal, we climbed out of the cart. We were led through a dark stone archway, across an enclosed courtyard, through a dimly lit doorway and into a small room. This was the home of a Christian family in a tiny village, isolated high in the mountains.

A cup of hot tea was awaiting us. A few minutes passed, and our guide indicated we should follow him. He took us into the neighbouring cave where the room was divided with a curtain.

They took us behind the curtain, where we found the first signs of what we were looking for — row after row of cases of Chinese type, thousands of Chinese characters waiting to be set into pages and made ready for printing. The Chinese are credited with the invention of movable type many centuries ago, and we might as well have stepped back into the past as we gazed at this primitive composing room.

Then, in the flickering light, we caught sight of a small opening in the wall about 75 centimetres high. A dim light was shining inside this hole in the wall; it was a small tunnel leading into the mountain. “Is this where we have to go?”

The question was soon answered when our guide crawled into the opening and motioned for us to follow. We shuffled along on our haunches. Then, as the roof began to press upon us, we crawled on our hands and knees until we emerged into a small, totally enclosed room lit with a single light bulb dangling from the ceiling.

A couple of Chinese Christians were waiting for us, and to one side of the room was what we had made all this effort to see — an old-fashioned but newly manufactured printing machine. It was an amazing sight to find this machine in perfect condition buried here in the depths of the earth!

We realised what a privilege it was to be in this hallowed place. We were standing with dedicated Christians who were risking their lives to provide spiritual literature for their countrymen. We could appreciate the enormous risks, the certain imprisonment and possible death that would result if authorities in this atheistic, communist nation were to discover them. We could imagine the incredible logistics in the supply of paper and ink, of transporting the finished product and of maintaining absolute secrecy. We could understand their original reticence to show us this place as well as the organisation and courage it had taken to bring us here.

Standing in the bowels of the earth, we were among the only people in the world to know the details of this operation, and this is how it must remain. Nobody must know how or where. People can only know our brave Chinese brothers and sisters are doing this special work for God, and we must be encouraged to support them and pray for them.

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