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2/4/11 China (BP)–The Chinese man leans against the pier railing, pouring over the Bible he just received in a red packet.

He ignores his wife’s entreaties to hurry. He slowly turns to the boat, reading as he walks, so engrossed that he misses his dinner boat cruise departure.

It’s Chinese New Year and this man is spending it on vacation in Southeast Asia with thousands of other Chinese tourists. More than 50 mission volunteers from six states and two countries are spending this holiday distributing Mandarin Bibles through the Southern Cross Project, a Bible distribution ministry in Asia.

The volunteers hand out a Bible and a red packet filled with Christian literature and the “JESUS” film to Chinese on vacation. While Bibles are easier to obtain in China than in years past, Bibles still must be purchased through government-sanctioned bookstores. However, Chinese traveling abroad are allowed to bring a Bible back with them.

This is one of the best times of the year to pass out Bibles in vacation spots throughout Asia. The Chinese Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival as it’s known in China, is the most important holiday for the Chinese. It marks the beginning of a New Year and falls on a different day every year based on the lunar and solar calendar. This year it will be celebrated on Feb. 3. The New Year is a time to put away and sweep out the old, and bring in the new. It is also a time for visiting family and ushering in wealth, happiness and prosperity.

Most Chinese give “hong bao,” or red envelopes with money inside, during the New Year. The color red in Chinese culture symbolizes good luck to ward off evil spirits. The Chinese character for blessing is usually printed on these envelopes and on door fronts.

What the Chinese man who missed his boat found out is that “the blessing” he’s searching for has already arrived. Volunteers like Mei Zhou*, who lives in Taipei, Taiwan, came to share this ultimate blessing.

“It’s a joy for me,” Zhou says about giving out Bibles. “God is love and God wants everyone, mainland Chinese or Taiwanese, to know God cares for everyone.”

A volunteer behind Zhou proclaims as tourists walk past: “Free Chinese Bibles, a gift for you, that you can take back legally to China.” The offer catches the attention of one tourist.

“It’s free, and in Chinese?” the tourist asks, pausing to flip through the pages to make sure it’s written in Mandarin.

Southern Cross volunteer Xia Hua Zhang*, also of Taipei, Taiwan, says people always ask in amazement if the Bibles are really free, believing that nothing in life is really free.

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