ICC Note: An encouraging story of how Christianity is spreading in China
Pastor Visits Underground Chinese Churches
6/29/2006 China (Gulf Breeze News) Allen Newton, pastor of the Community Life Center , recently went on a journey to the People’s Republic of China . While no official missionary group can go to China , one must apply for a tourist visa or come for business, to teach or to visit a friend. Newton and his wife Stephanie had an opportunity to go through a friend at OMS International (a group that has missions all over the world). They joined other Christians from different parts of the U.S. to officially enter China as tourists, and they were able to meet with Chinese people who are practicing the Christian faith in a hostile land.
“We had a government assigned guide from morning until evening,” said Newton . “We did the sightseeing and saw several historical areas. At night we met with members of the ‘underground church,'” he added.
Men and women from all over the country joined together to travel to China to learn about the increasing number of Christians requiring more pastors and individuals to help organize the church.
“I saw first hand what it means to be Christian in a place that does not allow the freedoms we enjoy here in the United States ,” said Newton . Additionally, China has a poor record when it comes to human rights, individual and collective freedoms.
Christians, or any other religious group, cannot freely worship in China . Newton says that even though the country has an official Christian church, the “Three-Self Christian Church,” officially the Three-Self Patriotic Movement is completely controlled by the government.
“The People’s approved church cannot receive funds, have leadership training, or evangelize in any visible way. The Chinese government controls all activities related to the church,” said Newton . Some Christians join the church, but for most it is not a viable option because it is so tightly controlled by the government. In such an antagonistic atmosphere, it is a challenge to meet and worship, and most Christians choose to congregate in underground churches.
“They meet in homes, in the back of stores or businesses,” said Newton . “If they are suspected of practicing Christianity, they are closely watched and followed, and if discovered, they are intimidated, persecuted, jailed for weeks or even months.” Despite these difficulties, the underground church is growing.
“It is estimated that there are at least 20 million Christians who are part of the underground movement,” said Newton . “The Chinese have a saying, ‘God embraces the fire,’ meaning that through persecution and hardship faith grows stronger.” Newton says this is apparent in their willingness to risk their livelihood to practice their faith. “These Christians are a powerful reminder of the first church as described in the Acts of the Apostles. I saw in them a strong fire and conviction, the work of the Holy Spirit,” said Newton . He also explains that the difficulties they face have made them a cohesive group “There are no denominations in China underground churches. There are simply Christians worshipping together, sharing the one message of the Savior,” he added.
The increasing number of Christians has required more pastors and individuals who can help organize the church and take care of the practical as well as the spiritual matters. “There is an underground seminary, but the believers are growing at such a fast pace that it is difficult to keep up,” said Newton . “Several pastors who go to China from the Western world are bi-vocational; they may officially be teachers, professors, professionals but are also involved in training those Chinese who are called to become pastors.” Newton adds that, “Missionaries have to use unofficial channels and this can make it difficult to organize and run a church effectively.”
While it has become easier to get into China since the country opened its doors to a free market economy, the People’s openness is reflected in their desire to become a thriving world economy rather than a willingness to promote freedoms. “But no matter how much the government tries to curtail Christians, they will not be able to stop them,” said Newton .
Newton was profoundly touched by the Chinese Christians and their desire to learn and share the message of Christ with such eagerness.
“Some Christians are considering going to different parts of the world such as Saudi Arabia , Iran and Nepal to bring the good news,” said Newton . “The hardships these believers endured prepared their hearts for bringing Christ to unfriendly and dangerous places. It would be very hard for Americans to take on such a big task.” Newton also states that we can all be inspired by the way Chinese Christians spread the Gospel one by one, from one person to the next. Ironically, in a country that wants to be at the forefront of technological advances and communication, the message of Christ is being carried in a simple way, by sharing one’s testimony.
China is a country that does not let its people freely express themselves; government control, stemming from totalitarianism, pervades every aspect of the individual and public spheres. From entertainment, to politics and religion, the government uses heavy censorship for all activities it considers a threat against its ideology. We enjoy absolute freedoms in the United States ; it is a privilege we often take for granted. China reminds us of how important our liberties are, and how their protection must surpass any ideology.