Over the next fortnight, China will look to further showcase its capabilities on the global stage as it hosts the 2022 Winter Olympics. However, for the country’s Christians, the games are expected to bring increased monitoring. It's symptomatic of the increasing persecution facing believers. Someone who has experienced this first-hand is Pastor Timothy. This is his story...
Chinese Christians can end up in prison for their faith
When was the last time you were invited for tea and a chat? For many pastors in China, such invitations come not only from friends and family but the police.
Pastor Timothy* knows well what these involve. On one particular occasion when he was invited for a so-called 'tea chat', he knew what to expect – namely, questioning and instructions about church activities. This time, however, was different: the authorities locked him up for 13 hours.
In protest, Timothy – who is in his sixties – refused, instead declaring that he would be suing the police for holding him without reason for 13 hours. “In your eagerness to enforce the law, you’ve actually broken the law,” he told them. “You are obviously unaware that it is illegal to detain someone over 60 years of age, without reason, for more than six hours.”
The police were shocked. Not only was this ‘peasant’ Christian pastor fearless, but he also knew something about the law. They had no alternative but to release him.
It wasn’t the first time Pastor Timothy stunned not only the police during his 13-hour imprisonment but also a prison inmate.
He got to know a young man who was being held for stealing and had not eaten anything since the previous day. The pastor gave him his lunch and dinner and said, “The Bible says anyone who steals should stop doing so and work with his hands instead. Then he will always have more than enough. I hope you can find it in your heart to repent and turn to Jesus.”
"God is always with us, so we are not afraid of anything" 'Pastor Timothy'
When the young man got a terrible headache, Pastor Timothy knelt next to him and prayed for him – until the guards spotted him. “Stop that!” they said. “You can’t pray in the Detention Centre!”
“Don’t you see that me praying for him is helping you?” replied the pastor. “If his headache gets worse you will have to take him to hospital. I’m saving you a lot of trouble.” When Pastor Timothy later resumed praying for the young man, the headache subsided.
On another occasion, representatives from several departments came to investigate Pastor Timothy, and asked him to hand over a contact list of all the believers in their church. “Sorry, I have no legal right to disclose other people’s private details,” he told them. “But I can give you a list of our church leaders. Please contact us with anything you’d like to discuss. We are always happy to take responsibility for church matters. Anyway, when the others are in trouble, will you go to help them? Will you visit them when they are sick? If there is a death in the family, will you take them clothes and help with the funeral?”
Whatever was thrown at him, Pastor Timothy responded with remarkable boldness, wisdom and grace.
“We must be polite,” the pastor shares, reflecting his passion for Christians to act in ways that give the church a good reputation, whilst not being afraid to make a stand for Jesus. “If anyone comes to us, we will serve them the best we can, but we will never compromise our message or deny our brothers and sisters just to protect ourselves.”
“God is always with us, so we are not afraid of anything,” he continues. “Besides, believing in Jesus is not a crime. We go about our work quietly, serving others with all our hearts. But if we are opposed in some way, we will never be afraid. That is when we are bold, strong and courageous!”
Pastor Timothy’s rallying cry is highly prescient for believers across China. As China’s economic prowess and influence has grown, so has Chinese nationalism: religion – seen by President Xi Jinping as a potential destabiliser and incompatible with socialist ideology – must be ‘directed’ rather than given free rein. Consequently, the persecution of Christians is intensifying. The country is number 17 on the World Watch List, rising 26 places in just four years.
In February 2018, the country’s religious regulations were revised, including a ban on under 18s attending church. The laws, extended again in 2020, are being implemented with relentless determination. With surveillance becoming more sophisticated and suffocating, the impact on religious freedom is stifling. This has been exacerbated by Covid-19 and last year’s 100th Anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party.
"Persecution aims to tear young people from the Christian community" 'Peony'
“Most house church gatherings in commercial buildings have been told to shut down and have become invisible,” shares Peony*, who oversees the work of Open Doors in China. “They now meet in homes. We estimate about 80 per cent of churches have been pressured into meeting in smaller groups.” Even state-sanctioned Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) churches have been forced to downsize and merge together.
This month the Winter Olympics takes place in Beijing. “Increased monitoring is expected, especially to prevent any interaction or connection between Chinese Christians and people from overseas,” Peony shares.
The knock-on effect of all this has been enormous. Although many churches have been able to go online, discipleship and pastoral care have suffered, while streamed content is facing increasing scrutiny. There is a shortage of leaders for new small groups and, but for some covert activities, children and youth ministries have ground to a halt. In TSPM churches, leadership, governance and preaching content come under the authority of the state. Meanwhile, the rising persecution is especially challenging for those in their 30s and under, who’ve never experienced such hostility before.
Despite growing persecution, together with the impact of the pandemic, Open Doors local partners have continued to serve the Chinese church whilst adapting to different needs. This year, areas of focus include youth ministry, church leader training and engagement with believers from Muslim and Buddhist backgrounds.
“We have seen a range of responses to the recent enforcement of religious regulations, from defiance of government regulations to the belief that God will open new doors even if one is closed,” Peony says. When asked what local partners are most worried about this year, she responds, “The threat of losing the next generation to the world is very real. Persecution aims to tear young people from the Christian community.”
As the Winter Olympics play out over the next couple of weeks, please use it as prompt to pray for Christians in China. Your prayers make a huge a difference – and they mean so much to our Chinese family.
*Name changed for security reasons
Learn more about China and other countries on the Open Doors World Watch List 2022 top 50 with your free Top 50 booklet – find detailed information, testimonies and prayer requests to help connect you to your persecuted church family.
Your support helps persecuted Christians continue to courageously follow Jesus.
Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.