In 2003, yours truly was with a group of Chinese and American Christians quietly sharing the Gospel to locals in a sleepy village on the outskirts of Nanjing. We were careful, but somehow the local officials learned that believers were evangelizing, and within an hour had rounded up every member of our group. We were held for a few hours at the police station; our Christian materials were confiscated, and we were ushered out of town immediately.
All things considered, this was a fortunate outcome. But it was my first experience dealing directly with a government that did not like me because of my faith in Christ, and it drove home just how daunting it could be to live as a Christian in China.
Yet despite this (or perhaps because of it), Christianity in China has spread like wildfire. If the higher-end estimates are correct and there are about 130 million Christians currently in China, that means Christianity has more than doubled every year for the last 40 years. Even taking into account China’s population boom over the same time period, it means that Christianity has been growing at a rate of more than 40 percent a year since the early 1970s. If the Christian population of China keeps growing at even half that rate over the next ten years, it means there will be a staggering 800 million Chinese Christians—or more than double the current population of the entire United States—by the year 2022. That is an incredible number for a country that today claims to be atheist.
Of course these are just estimates, and they are on the high end of the scale. But even if you go by one of the more conservative numbers, it is likely that in the next year alone there will be 10.7 million new believers in China. That equals out to about one new Chinese believer every three seconds—conservatively speaking.
So what does all of this mean for China? Well, it could mean an unprecedented change in the country as many of the values inspired by Christianity, including the desire to worship without government interference; begin to transform the world’s largest nation from the inside out. Or it could mean a crackdown against believers not seen since the days of Mao Tse-Tung’s Cultural Revolution.
In fact over the last few years China’s churches, especially the “house churches” which worship illegally, have been going through some of the worst persecution since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
Just last week two gatherings of pastors, one with ministers from the United States, were forcibly shut down by a police raid. Reports of harassment, arrest, and detention of Christians without trial are still commonplace, but few if any ever reach mainstream global media. Yes, things have undoubtedly gotten better since the mass repression of the 1970s, but Christians are still serving time in labor camps and churches are still raided at the discretion of local officials.
The idea that you can practice your faith anywhere in China without fear is a myth, as is the idea that as long as you do not “provoke” the government you will be left alone.
This state of affairs cannot last forever. With Christianity growing at an explosive rate and a government determined to keep that growth in check, something must eventually give. In the meantime we can both rejoice at the vast number of Chinese choosing to follow Jesus and lend our aid whenever their government does its best to crush them.
When officers from China’s Jiangsu Province Municipal Public Security Bureau travelled nearly 400 miles from their home base on a special trip to arrest Pastor Shi Enhao, few could have thought it would turn out well. The fifty five year old Pastor had committed the “crime” of holding “illegal meetings and illegally organizing venues for religious meetings”. This criminal offense was not severe enough under Chinese law to warrant a trial, but just bad enough to be sentenced to two years of forced labor.
This sentence, which can be handed out by the police in China without even needing to charge the suspect, would put Pastor Enhao (left) in a labor camp alongside perpetrators of other “minor” crimes such as prostitutes, petty thieves, and small time drug traffickers.
However the imprisonment and forced labor, up to 19 hours a day of it, would be anything but minor. Just a few years ago, another house church pastor had collapsed, vomiting on the floor of a labor camp, only to be ignored by the prison guards until he died. In that case the prison simply stated that the pastor, only a year older than Shi Enhao, had died of natural causes. To make matters worse, an investigation of China’s labor camps in 2006 by Western lawyers reported on the likelihood that political prisoners were being allowed to die or even killed in the camps in order for China to harvest and sell their organs.
For Pastor Shi Enhao, who comes from a family with four generations of service to China’s Christian church, and who is the deputy director of the Chinese House Church Alliance, the arrest was not necessarily a surprise. His arrest would be followed by a surge of pressure on his church to close its doors permanently. Leaders were repeatedly detained and released while church property, from $22,160 in offerings to the church vehicle and choir robes, was confiscated.
It was during this time that ICC began sending regular support to Pastor Shi Enhao’s family. Pastor Enhao’s 86 year old mother needed 24hr a day care, even as his wife, son, and three daughters were being threatened by police. ICC also posted news of Pastor Shi Enhao’s story on its website in an effort with other organizations to draw attention to his plight.
It came than as a sudden and palpable feeling of relief when word arrived in January that Pastor Enhao has been unexpectedly released. Not only did he serve just six months of his two year sentence, but Chinese officials failed to even have an explanation for why he was released, saying only that his case would need “further investigation”. Today Pastor Shi Enhao is at home with his family, and there can be no doubt that the prayers and attention his case received played a major role in getting him there.
However the battle is not over. The pressure on Pastor Shi Enhao and the Chinese House Church Alliance will almost certainly continue, and there are more Christians like Pastor Enhao who remain locked away in China’s labor camps because of their love for Christ and their unwillingness to attend a government controlled church. For our persecuted brothers and sisters in China the support they receive from outside is not only helpful, but life changing.
I came across what I think are real gems while archiving some of our older newsletters. In 2003, ICC interviewed three Chinese pastors and asked them two simple questions – what would the church in China be like without persecution, and what would you say to the church in the West? One of their answers to the first question astonished and inspired our community on Facebook, so I wanted to share the rest of their answers with you.
What Would the Church Be Like Without Persecution?
The Church would not grow and there wouldn’t be revival. People will be caught up with pleasure and the current trends of society. The preacher’s love for God and his flock will decrease –they will not have clear vision. The Chinese Church has grown and survived because of persecution. We don’t like persecution, but every time it comes we grow and we fall in love with God more. Persecution is from God’s mercy, it is His inoculation against decay and destruction.
No persecution means we will have lukewarm Christians with weak spiritual lives. In fact, if there is no persecution, the number of churches in China would rise but their devotion would fall.
I agree, you see Jesus chose the three, the 12, and the 70. He spent time with them so they would become like Him. Persecution has caused us to spend time with him. Persecution brings blessing.
If there is no persecution, Christians will become “religion-ized.” They will become Christians to have a good moral life and good families-to get the blessings for this life. The Chinese Church will lose its drive to evangelize. Yes, they will want to give money but not go to reach the lost. They will want to stay home and be prosperous.
Without persecution we would have famous speakers going Church to Church. Speakers without power —without real depth. You know, Chinese Pastors don’t envy the West because they don’t hear about the Church in the west giving their lives away. Freedom would be a disaster for the Chinese Christian.
What Would You Say to The Church in the West?
Tell them that religion is different than real lived out faith. Real faith is to receive the revelation of God, while religion is humanitarianism and doctrine and formality. Religion is a form of culture while true faith is to lay down your life.
Please tell them that the persecutions you read about in the book of Acts are happening in China. The Chinese Church is presently writing the book of Acts. In fact, we have true theology in China- not just theological degrees or points of view but an example of life-following.
Real Christians here don’t chase titles or degrees. They seek the laying down of their lives and pleasures. They seek to love the people of God; our Chinese pastors are giving their lives away.
I would tell them that the value of life is to live for Jesus. All the false pursuits of life will pass away. Only if your life is hidden with Christ will you find peace. Seek the righteousness of God to bring your life meaning. Western brother and sister-you live in a rich and free world. You should treasure God more than us.
The Shouwang Church in Beijing, China has been barred from its building and forced to worship outdoors since April 10th, 2011. Every Sunday, members show up for outdoor worship services, knowing that arrest is imminent. More than 480 pastors, leaders, and congregants from this house church of over 1,000 members have been arrested for their subversive actions against the communist regime.
This year alone, at least dozens of Catholic priests and Protestant pastors have been kidnapped, arrested, and sent to China’s prisons and labor camps where they suffer physical torture, solitary confinement, heavy labor, and political re-education.
For the past sixty years, churches who are not officially affiliated with the government-sanctioned Three-Self Church (Protestant) or the Patriotic Catholic Association have not been legally allowed to operate. But for many years now, especially in large urban centers, these illegal house churches have been allowed to gather openly despite government knowledge of their existence and usually left alone. But for Christians who choose to be a part of these churches, their decision is still a risky one. At any given time, the Chinese government can choose to actively persecute underground Christians, and attacks have been recently on the rise.
This year alone, underground pastors and priests have been arrested and sentenced to years of hard labor in China’s re-education labor camps where physical torture and solitary confinement are commonplace. Christian laypersons have been sentenced to house arrest where they are cut off from the outside world for months at a time, suffering with limited access to food and other basic necessities. Christians have been forced out of their rental homes by landlords coerced by the government to evict them, have lost their jobs with no reasonable explanation, have been detained for questioning at any given time, and have been kidnapped by the communist regime, never to be heard from again.
Despite the risks and growing incidences of attacks, underground Christians are remaining steadfast in their faith.
So why has China’s stance on the underground Church changed recently? Some believe that this year’s revolutions in the Middle East have motivated the communist regime to preemptively strike against any potential pro-democracy groups, such as the perceived Western-aligned underground churches. Others cite China’s growing economic and political prestige as the source of the nation’s blatant disregard for its citizens’ freedoms and rights, believing that as China becomes more autonomous and powerful in the world, the more it will increasingly oppress its citizens and turn a deaf ear to the world’s cries against its actions.
China may be attacking Christians out of fear that their subversive, yet peaceful allegiance to Christ will pave the way to a nationwide revolution against the abusive communist regime, or China may be attacking Christians because its leaders have gained so much power both nationally and internationally that they no longer need to succumb to pressures to act in moral and just ways, and have allowed the sins of pride to fully take over and fuel their violent attacks. Regardless of whether fear or pride are the driving forces behind the increasing persecution of Christians, we do know that out of the suffering of our Chinese brothers and sisters, the Chinese Church will continue to grow as Christ is glorified in their resilience.
North Koreans live in one of the most inhumane and cruel regimes in the world. There’s no doubt about that. Starvation, arbitrary arrest, torture, forced labor, and public execution are just a few of the horrors that North Koreans fear each day. Most North Koreans have no option but to live under the rule of this repressive regime, but some have risked imprisonment and possible execution attempting to flee the country. No one knows exactly how many have fled the nation, but estimates range from 100,000 to 400,000 in the last few decades alone. For the majority of North Koreans fleeing the nation, the only viable option is to cross by foot into China and then eventually seek asylum in nations such as South Korea or Thailand.
Unfortunately, China is making every effort to ensure that these brave men and women never find asylum. Chinese government officials actively hunt down refugees and forcibly repatriate them back to North Korea, all but condemning them to death or a lifetime in prison. Not only does China seek out refugees for immediate detainment and openly pays bounties for reports on refugees’ whereabouts, the communist regime also actively blocks refugees from entering into refugee-friendly embassies in Beijing and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office, where refugees could begin the asylum process.
China’s cruel policy of repatriation is a blatant violation of its international treaties, including the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees and the 1967 Protocol. Despite vast international pressure, the communist regime continues to actively pursue North Korean refugees for arrest and repatriation. “There is no reason for China to continue its inhumane and barbaric treatment of North Koreans,” stated the Chairman of the North Korea Freedom Coalition, Suzanne Scholte, “because unlike any refugees in the world today, they can be immediately resettled as they are citizens of South Korea under the Republic of Korea’s constitution. This is a crisis that could be solved overnight if China would simply follow international law and allow the UNHCR to do their job.”
China’s Policies Fueling the Sex Trade
For those refugees who are not caught and repatriated, an estimated 90% are sold and trafficked into the sex trade. Experts point to China’s one-child policy that has resulted in a shortage of women in the nation. It is estimated that by 2030, nearly 30 million Chinese men of marriageable age will be without prospects of marriage – thus creating a severe gender imbalance and fueling the sex trade. China’s ruthless repatriation policy leaves North Korean refugees especially vulnerable to traffickers.
Raise Your Voice on September 22
In order to bring global awareness of China’s cruel policy and practice of repatriation of North Korean refugees, ICC is partnering with the North Korea Freedom Coalition for an International Protest to Save the North Korean Refugees on Thursday, September 22. This protest will call Chinese embassies and consulates throughout the world to stop their policy and practice, and to stand up for the rights of North Koreans.
Would you be willing to coordinate a protest at the Chinese embassy or consulate in your city or country? We’re looking for people to organize a protests or rally, conduct a prayer vigil, host a film screening of movies that depict the plight of North Korean refugees, or simply to deliver a petition to the Chinese embassy. If you think you would be interested in any of these opportunities, please email ICC at email@example.com.