This week, Christians around the world will celebrate and observe Holy Week in preparation for Easter Sunday. In the People’s Republic of China, authorities have increased pressure on Christians who refuse to subject their faith to atheist government control. In major cities and numerous provinces, authorities have forcibly dispersed and detained people who gathered privately to worship.
The very fact that there are a growing number of Believers and churches across China is symbolic of the resilience of the human spirit. Following the Communist victory in 1949, the Mao Tse Tung regime launched a brutal campaign to eliminate religious belief regardless of the Faith. Christians, whose belief in the Son of God was perceived by Mao as a threat to his own cult of personality, were especially targeted. Speaking to Western visitors in 1958, when the government had closed all visible churches, Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing, boasted, “Christianity in China has been confined to the history section of museums. It is dead and buried.” In the 1970s,following the Cultural Revolution, a visiting delegation from the United States reported, “There is not a single Christian left in China.”
However, the radical communists underestimated the power of the human spirit. In 2008, the Chinese Government publicly estimated that there are 20 million Protestants and 10 million Catholics registered in government sanctioned churches. Unofficial estimates reveal that 65 million Protestants and 12 million Catholics risk incarceration by practicing their Faith, especially since most choose to worship in “unregistered” churches.
Intensifying the threat to Believers, the Jasmine evolution in the Middle East along with growing fears of social unrest in China have led to a worsening climate of persecution. The China Aid Association reports a fifth straight year of worsening religious persecution. In 2010, incidence of persecution rose by 17 percent over the 2009 total. The greatest increase was among those who were detained.
On Saturday, April 16, an outdoor service held by a large Christian congregation in Beijing’s Haidian Park was broken up by authorities. Two pastors, Join Tian Ming and Li Xiao Bai and his wife were arrested. But the repercussions for Christians are not limited to Government police action. Human rights group China Aid reports on their website:
“Meanwhile, many members of the Shouwang Church, one of Beijing’s largest house churches with about 1,000 members, have been forced out of their homes by landlords who have come under intense pressure to evict them, and others have been fired from their jobs for worshipping at Shouwang Church, according to a church leader.”
The persistence of millions of Chinese people to suffer and abide by their Faith is a resilient symbol of Hope during these historic times that challenge humanity at all levels of society. The stubborn persistence of these uncompromising Christian Believers is an unwavering commitment to life. Liu Zhen Ying, known as Brother Yun, has survived numerous arrests, torture and denial of his most basic human rights, yet he persists as an unbroken man of Faith and Hope. In his book, The Heavenly Man, on page 66, Brother Yun cites the verse of the Biblical Psalm he repeated over and over in the torture isolation chamber to withstand the desolation and pain:
“Even in darkness, light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man… Surely, he will never be shaken; a righteous man will be remembered forever. He will have no fear of bad new; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord. His heart is secure, he will have no fear; in the end he will look in triumph on his foes.” Psalm: 11.2, 6-8.
At this time of transcendence, when people around the world celebrate the Resurrection of Christ rooted in love and forgiveness, we should remember the religious believers in China. Whether Falun Gong, Buddhist, Muslims or Christians their courage and sacrifice, although often in the silence, are a testimony of strength and courage that should empower us all.