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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. We're reporting from Chengdu, China this week, the provincial capital of Sichuan. We had long planned a week's worth of stories from southwestern China, and then the earthquake hit. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. It was just before 2:28 in the afternoon, one week ago today that I sat down for an interview with Pastor Richard Cai of the Thanksgiving Christian Church at a seminary in Chengdu. I wanted to talk to him about the growth of faith in China.

Pastor RICHARD CAI (Thanksgiving Christian Church, Chengdu, China): My position is to help my college or my pastors to pastor the church or to grow in the church, to plant a new church.

(Soundbite of rumbling)

BLOCK: As the building started to violently shake, we ran out to the street. Debris was raining down from the church next door. The red cross on the roof of the church waved wildly with the tremors. Needless to say, we never finished that interview. But yesterday, I found Pastor Cai again at a Sunday afternoon services.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Group: (Singing in foreign language)

BLOCK: The worshippers couldn't meet in their regular space. It's too badly damaged by the earthquake. So about three dozen congregants gathered on blue plastic chairs in the offices of a Christian social services group. The reading yesterday was from Genesis 18.

Unidentified Group: (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK: It seemed no coincidence that the chosen verses speak of the intended destruction of a city - in this case, the city of Sodom. Abraham intercedes, asking the Lord, will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Sodom is spared. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: We mistakenly said Sodom was spared. In fact, in Genesis 19 (King James Version), it says, "Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven; and he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground."]

Ms. XIE CHUNMEI: (Foreign language spoken)

Twenty-five-year-old Xie Chunmei delivers the sermon. She says the worst earthquake ever to hit Sichuan happened on May 12th. And at that moment, it seemed that time stood still.

Ms. CHUNMEI: (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK: We need to keep praying, she tells the worshippers, as she presses her hand to her heart. Especially now, with so many aftershocks, we need to put everything in the hand of God. And she asks God to bless the volunteers, the doctors and soldiers who are struggling to save lives.

Unidentified Group: (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK: This Protestant church is what's known as an official church - one sanctioned by the authorities in this officially atheist country. By some estimates, there are 50 million Christians in China, and that number is growing.

Pastor CAI: (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK: Pastor Cai ends the service with a reading from Hebrews and a prayer. Our mission will not be shaken, he says. It is a mission from heaven. Then he asks the congregation to join in a special offering from their loving heart, giving money for disaster relief. The worshippers stuff thick bundles of bills into a red plastic donation box in the shape of a heart. The service is over, and the congregation is urged not to linger.

Ms. CHUNMEI: (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK: She says we suggest you leave here as soon as possible, because aftershocks are still quite frequent. We're on the sixth floor.

I meet Pastor Cai in his office, and ask him what he remembers of those first moments after the earthquake hit.

Pastor CAI: (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK: A lot of the seminary students were stunned and frightened, he says. A lot of people started to cry. And I was trying to figure out how to comfort them and keep them safe. I started praying to God, asking him to make the earth calm down.

Pastor CAI: (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK: Have people been coming to you and asking you questions this week, trying to explain what happened?

Pastor CAI: Yeah, yeah. Several Christians come to me and they ask me, have you thought about this? They said if God is there, why can't he exist for our church, for our people? (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK: He says I use words from the Bible to comfort them, to encourage them, to try to help them understand that what we've experienced is a part of our faith. The Bible tells us as people living on earth, we will experience all sorts of difficulties and setbacks. These are unavoidable. But we are fortunate that throughout, God is always with us.

Guo Cunwu is a member of this church and a full-time pastor himself. He says the earthquake poses a test.

Pastor GUO CUNWU (Thanksgiving Christian Church, Chengdu, China): (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK It is a challenge for me when I preach the Bible, he says. If I tell people that God is merciful, they ask, then why did so many people die? In my heart, I don't know how to answer that question. But I believe God will give me the answer.

(Soundbite of song, "Doxology")

Unidentified Group: (Singing in foreign language)

BLOCK: Yesterday, the Thanksgiving Christian Church in Chengdu collected 17,000 Yuan from the 30 or so parishioners. That's about 80 US dollars a person, a staggering amount for China. The church will use the money to buy medicine and medical instruments to send to the earthquake zone. They already have boxes of plaster for casts and 20 wheelchairs all set to go.

(Soundbite of song, "Doxology")

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Amen.

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