While scanning our magazine rack for interesting reads, I came across the March 2020 issue of The Voice of the Martyrs. The cover image caught my eye. A group of young Chinese people were worshipping in what appeared to be a prison cell. Some had their eyes closed. One lady raised her hand in worship. Another man bowed his head while he held a sign in his hand.
Intrigued, I delved into the issue.
The theme of the magazine was not Coronavirus. What a relief! I had read enough news articles and social media posts, and had seen enough TV coverage about COVID-19. I wanted to escape the pandemonium, though only in my mind.
The publication focused on the increasing efforts of the Communist government in China to clamp down on Christians. Prior to 2018, for almost two decades, the church in China experienced exponential growth in spite of severe legal restrictions on religious activities. The local authorities, in many cases, turned a blind eye to the activities of the churches. Persecution varied from place to place. Overall, church membership grew and churches met more openly than they had before.
Over the last two years, however, Christians have been experiencing the worst persecution in the communist nation since the end of the Cultural Revolution in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Churches are required to start their services by singing the Communist Anthem. They must put up pictures of President Xi Jinping on the walls, submit sermons to authorities, remove crosses from church property, and have facial recognition cameras inside the auditoriums. Schools operated by churches have been closed. Foreign Christian workers are being deported.
Many churches have simply shut down. Pastors and leaders have been imprisoned or placed under house arrest. Some have experienced brutal torture. It is estimated that thousands of Chinese Christians are held captive in re-education camps, along with the Uyghur Muslims, Buddhists, and other minorities.
How are the churches responding to this crisis?
“The Bible teaches us that in all matters relating to the Gospel and human conscience, we must obey God and not men. For this reason, spiritual disobedience and bodily suffering are both ways we testify to another, eternal world and to another, glorious King,” wrote Wang Li, the pastor of Early Rain Covenant Church of Chengdu, one of the large churches that was shut down in 2018. He was sentenced to nine years in prison.
Wang Li also said, “Precisely because none of my words and actions are directed toward seeking and hoping for societal and political transformation, I have no fear of any social or political power. I also understand that this happens to be the very reason why the Communist regime is filled with fear at a church that is no longer afraid of it.”
I am amazed at the sheer tenacity of the Chinese Christians. They embrace persecution, rejoicing in the opportunities presented to them to demonstrate their love for God. They are not afraid to use every opportunity to further the Gospel. The large churches have dispersed into smaller ones. Where gatherings are not possible, people are meeting and praying online. Despite the political oppression, Christianity is thriving in China.
On September 1st, 2018, Early Rain’s leaders published “A Declaration for the Sake of the Christian Faith,” which was signed by over 400 Chinese pastors. It concludes like this— “For the sake of the gospel, we are prepared to bear all losses, even the loss of our freedom and our lives.“
I want their zeal for the Gospel. I want their passion for God.
The world is struggling to contain the outbreak of the Coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China. Governments and communities are taking steps to restrain the contagion. But I wish we do nothing to contain the spread of evangelical fervor from China to the rest of the world. I wish we learn from our Chinese family how to use love and peace of Christ to fight oppression.
I wish we catch the virus of Christian courage and conviction that has infected our Chinese brothers and sisters.
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