We sat under the coconut palms, on an island off the coast of south China, as the young Chinese pastor shared with me the pressures upon his church. His church had been formed in 1992 and grew rapidly to over 200 people. The believers built a large church building with a palm-thatched roof. But in October 1997 the local authorities declared the church illegal and tore down the building. Since then the Christians have been meeting in three smaller cell-groups, in various homes.
I visited one of these homes: a simple red cross adorned the rough walls: ‘Emmanuel’ was written in Chinese over a blackboard used for sermon notes. God is certainly with these simple peasant Christians. I was impressed with their knowledge of Scripture and their eagerness to testify to the grace of God in their everyday lives. At one point, as they shared their faith concerning the Second Coming of Christ – a very real comfort to them under persecution – I felt their knowledge of the relevant Scriptures was far better than mine! As ducks ran underfoot, picking up scraps as we ate, one old lady shared her testimony: ‘God is righteous and holy. Christ died on the cross for our sins. So now we are freed from evil. Praise God for his almighty power!’
The young pastor proudly showed his little second son. Because of China’s strict birth-control policy he had been fined for having a second child. But, instead of paying 500 Chinese dollars as he expected, he was fined 2,000 dollars, because he was a Christian. These farming Christians face not only discrimination from the authorities but also opposition from superstitious neighbours who worship their ancestors and placate demons in age-old forms of animism. Despite all the pressures, I have never met such a joyful group of Christians.
Yet the gospel is making headway against all opposition. I was invited to attend a secret house-church baptism up in the hills. On a perfect afternoon, with blue skies framing the distant peaks, seven new believers went through the waters of baptism in a natural pool fed by a crystal stream. Twenty more are under instruction and awaiting baptism in the near future.
City Christians also face pressures. In one city the young, well-educated pastor told me how police had raided his house church last October and insisted that the church close down. The believers have since split into three smaller groups, each of about eighty people, meeting at different times each week. His nervousness when meeting me – he feared the hotel room was bugged – spoke eloquently of the pervasive cloud of persecution overhanging God’s faithful people in many parts of China today. He showed me the latest regulations published in the local newspaper which outlawed all unregistered house churches.
In Canton I met the well-known house-church leader, Lin Xiangao (Pastor Lamb). He confirmed that things have become tighter there too, and showed me similar city regulations. He asked Western Christians to pray for him and his flourishing unregistered evangelical congregation which now numbers nearly 2000 people. They meet on several days a week, as all cannot squash into his tiny house. Pastor Lamb was paid a visit by the police earlier this February, who threatened him and warned him that his meetings for children are illegal.
He pointed out that the Chinese Government’s recent ‘White Paper’ on religious freedom was a smokescreen issued to give a favourable impression overseas. All the local provincial regulations call for the suppression of all unregistered churches. However, he is not intimidated, and quietly told me he is prepared to go to prison again rather than register and accept interference from an atheistic government. The spirit of the Puritans and Covenanters lives on in Communist China today.