Friday, December 10, 2004

China needs our help

Reports from China indicate that a new wave of persecution of religious minorities is underway. According to Bob Fu, president of China Aid, the new campaign of persecution follows a top secret government directive aimed at stopping "Western" attempts to destabilize China with religion, or, in the words of the document, "evil teachings."

The document, dated May 27, 2004, came from the Central Committee, one of the highest echelons of the Chinese Communist Party. Its date and contents help to explain why a sudden wave of arrests of Christians began in June 2004 and continues to the present time.

The first martyr under the new decree is thought to be 34-year-old Jiang Zongxiu of Chongquing City in central China. On June 17, 2004, she was arrested by local security officials while handing out Bibles and gospel tracts in a marketplace in neighboring Guizhou Province. By the next day she was dead. Autopsy photos showed her body badly bruised and beaten.

Also among those arrested is Cai Zhuohua, pastor of a number of underground churches in the Beijing area. Officials termed his arrest and the confiscation of a warehouse containing 200,000 Bibles as "the most serious case on overseas religious infiltration since the founding of the People's Republic of China."

Government rhetoric around the arrest of Mr. Cai is indicative of the new urgency with which officials are treating the threat of growing numbers of Christians in China. David Aitman, religion correspondent for Time magazine, estimates that the numbers of Christians in China to be "somewhere between 50 and 80 million." According to the U.S. State Department's 2004 report on religious freedom, an estimated 30 million Protestants and 5 million Roman Catholics worship in unofficial house churches.

Background

The Christian faith was first brough to China in A.D. 635 by Nestorian missionaries who followed the silk trade route from Syria and Persia. In 1294, a Franciscan, John of Montecorvino, travelled to China and within a short time baptized over 6,000 converts, planted churches in several major cities, and translated the New Testament and Psalms into the Mongol dialect used by the Emperor's court.

By the time the Yuan (Mongol) dynasty was replaced by the Ming dynasty, in 1368, there were more than 100,000 Roman Catholic Christians. Further growth occurred when Matteo Ricci and the Jesuits came to China, in 1582. The Jesuits prepared maps, dialogued with Chinese scholars, and prepared treatises that related Christianity to the Confucian worldview. By the 18th century, the Roman Catholic Church in China numbered more than 200,000, including scholars and urban dwellers as well as rural peasants. Suddenly, in 1724, the Yung Zheng emperor banned the Christian faith in China.

Robert Morrison, the first Protestant missionary, came to Macao in 1807 but had to remain on the coast and in trade cities because it was illegal for foreigners to live in the interior of China at the time. The disastrous and evil attempts by the British to import opium into China resulted in the Opium War of 1840. Subsequent treaties opened China to trade, diplomacy and missionary outreach.

The anti-foreign Boxer Rebellion of 1900 resulted in the death of many missionaries and Chinese converts. Nevertheless the missionary force grew to nearly 8,000 missionaries living in China by 1930. During the 1920's, the Church in China experienced a tremendous outpouring of the Holy Spirit in what is known as "the Shantung Revival," since it was centered in Shantung Province.

Between the fall of the Ch'ing Dynasty, in 1911, and the advent of the People's Republic of China, in 1949, control and leadership of the Chinese Church was transferred from missionaries to indigenous leaders. By the time of the Communist takeover in 1949, there were about 750,000 Protestant Christians and over one million Roman Catholics--not very many for a country whose population at the time was over 400 million. Under the rule of the People's Republic of China, and despite sometimes intense persecution, the number of Christians in China has grown at an amazing rate--a true revival of astounding proportions--to the current estimated Christian population of 50-80 million.

What can we do?

Pray. Chinese Christians need our prayers for spiritual growth, the raising up of leaders for the Church, the growth of their witness to Christ in spite of persecution, and protection from persecution and temptations that would lead people away from the faith. "The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and wonderful results" (James 5:16b NLT). Organizations such as OMF International, China Aid, and The Voice of the Martyrs provide information that is useful in praying for the Church in China.



Write. While carrying out a crackdown with one hand, China has been reaching out to form new trade alliances with the other. Write your elected officials to insist that concern over human rights violations are a part of all trade and diplomatic negotiations with China.


Go. There are many ways to meet and support the Chinese people. Below are just a few organizations that can help.

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