Sustained government crackdown on Chinese churches has been a hot news topic, but how much do we really know about what is happening to the persecuted church? How much can we know? And what can we do?
Persecution in China is nothing new. In fact, what we view as the “Chinese winter” has been going on since Pentecost, according to one Chinese brother (Pittman and Schottelkorb). However, any bit of research from either secular or religious sources can tell you that China is changing. More modern? Perhaps. More unified? Well, that’s the goal.
And that’s why both registered and unregistered churches are under fire.
Chinese citizens are expected to pledge supreme loyalty to the Communist Party. Since Christianity allegedly “promotes Western values and ideals” rather than those of the Chinese government (Hernández), churches are now given “guidance” from the government and are “under more pressure to adapt their ministry to the communist ideology” (Open Doors UK & Ireland).
Since the current leader Xi Jinping rose to power in 2012, the crackdown on unregistered churches has been part of a “sustained campaign” (Hernández). Another set of regulations released in February 2018 feigned protection but increased persecution instead. Some would say that the opposition to Christianity is more about control than faith (Lewis and Ripken 212).
Regardless of the government’s motive, the persecution is real.
What kind of persecution are we talking about? According to Ed Stetzer from Christianity Today, “Persecution for many followers of Jesus looks like abduction, rape, detainment in prison, or loss of life and limb… It looks like living in fear of ethnic cleansing, terrorism, and organized crime all as penalty for living as a follower of Jesus in the presence of an antagonistic government and culture” (Stetzer).
If you’re like me, it’s easy to read about the persecuted church and feel overwhelmed by the suffering. But what if, rather than sentimentalizing persecution, we acknowledged the reality but remember that it is our family who suffers?
These are our brothers and sisters. What are we going to do about their suffering?
Intercede. Prayer crosses borders and prison walls. Oswald Chambers wrote, “It is actually more important to be broken bread and poured-out wine in the area of intercession than in our personal contact with others” (Feb. 10).
But how do we pray? Below are a few suggestions to get you started:
- Praise God for their faithfulness to follow Him in hard times.
- Pray from Operation World. You may have seen that thunderous orange book beaming at you from the church’s library shelf. Pick it up to find a general guideline on how to pray. You don’t need to read it all. In fact, it is helpfully categorized by country.
- Pray from Scripture. What more powerful tool do we have in our hands than praying God’s own words back to Him? (Of course, this can also be a helpful tool when you are simply at a loss for words.) Try a website such as https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/stories/5-powerful-prayers-persecuted-scripture/ to give you some ideas of Scripture passages to use.
- Pray for physical and practical needs.
- Pray for spiritual growth. The truth is that “‘[y]ou can only grow in persecution what you go into persecution with.’” (Lewis and Ripken 251). Some of the persecuted are new believers. Pray for all believers to have access to Bibles. Pray that those who have memorized Scripture can recall their memorization.
- Pray that believers would share their faith. Believe it or not, because so many believers are imprisoned, they have opportunities for working together to plant churches in prison! (Lewis and Ripken 218).
- Pray that the bride of Christ would reach out to her persecutor. God loves the people of the Communist Party as much as He loves those whom they are persecuting.
Is it hard for you to create general prayers? I find it hard to pray for people I know nothing about. When I prayer walk, I find myself lifting up the same requests for each unknown face. A teammate calls them “copy and paste prayers.” Copy and paste prayers are not ineffective, but lack of information causes me to run out of steam quickly.
And it is even harder to pray for faces you have never seen and petitions you have never heard.
All is not lost. Stay informed. Pray for specific people with current needs from the Open Doors prayer app:
You can also try praying for the above requests specifically. Rather than “help believers to have access to Bibles,” you could pray, “God, I ask that at least 20 more imprisoned believers in China receive a copy of Your Word today.”
You can get involved by volunteering or writing letters to prisoners through organizations such as Open Doors or Voice of the Martyrs:
If God is moving in your heart to work with the persecuted church, talk with people you trust who can give you sound guidance. Think beyond peers (although, advice from peers can be helpful too!) and seek counsel from someone such as your pastor or youth leader.
The price for joyous freedom in Christ may be persecution and imprisonment, like it is for many in China. True, I’m not wearing chains. You might not be either. But shame on us if we turn our faces from hurting members of the body of Christ. Instead, let’s support them with prayer and love, knowing that we are doing it unto Christ.
|Trish Kauffman lives in Western Europe and works with immigrants. Because of the nature of her work, she has chosen a pseudonym. She is energized by open conversations that point to Jesus. She also loves being part of a community, reading, touring out-of-the-way places, and organizing (as long as some spontaneity is in the mix). She used to think she liked language-learning until she started learning Arabic. For her, the hardest part about living away from home is leaving behind family.|
Chambers, Oswald. My Utmost for His Highest. Barbour Publishing, Inc., 1963.
Hernández, Javier C. “As China Cracks Down on Churches, Christians Declare ‘We Will Not Forfeit Our Faith’.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 25 Dec. 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/25/world/asia/china-christmas-church-crackdown.html.
Lewis, Gregg, and Nik Ripken. Insanity of God: A True Story of Faith Resurrected. B & H Publishing Group, 2014.
Open Doors UK & Ireland. “Why Did Persecution of Christians in China Increase Last Year?” YouTube, YouTube, 15 Jan. 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWpqa6IjNPE.
Pittman, Joann, and Kerry Schottelkorb. “China Tells Christianity To Be More Chinese.” News & Reporting, Christianity Today, 20 Mar. 2019, https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2019/march/sinicization-china-wants-christianity-churches-more-chinese.html.
Stetzer, Ed. “China on My Mind: Why We All Must Care about Our Suffering Brothers and Sisters.” The Exchange | A Blog by Ed Stetzer, 15 Sept. 2018, https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2018/september/china-on-my-mind-why-we-all-must-care.html.