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Your faith or your education: pray for Chinese children on International Youth Day

If you are or were a Christian at your secondary school in the UK or Ireland, hopefully that was a really positive experience. Many schools here have a Christian Union where you can meet with other believers to pray and learn, and Open Doors Youth can attest to how many activities and events aimed at teenagers take place.

Whether or not you found it easy to live out your faith at school, one thing is guaranteed: you weren’t asked to choose between your faith and passing your exams. That’s the situation for young believers in China. As one youth worker in the country says, “We know of some schoolteachers who warn children that if they follow Jesus they may not be allowed to graduate.”

This UN International Youth Day, with the theme of ‘Transforming Education’, please pray for Christians in Chinese schools who are being forced to deny their faith.

Illustrative image of Chinese youth work

Told to write ‘no religion’

In 2018, the World Watch Monitor reported that more than 300 Christian students in two high schools in Zhejiang province were told to fill out forms saying they didn’t follow any religion. This area of China is sometimes referred to as the ‘Jerusalem of the East’, because Christianity has such a strong presence in the region, but that wasn’t allowed to be reflected in the survey.

In one of the schools, 200 students initially wrote that they were Christians – but the teachers instructed them to rewrite the questionnaire, stating ‘no religion’. Even on the second attempt, half the students maintained that they were Christians. After subsequent warnings, all but one child complied. Rebelling against demands like this can have long-term effects: incidents recorded on a child’s personal school file are held by local government and could impact future employment opportunities.

“It’s a terrible struggle in young people’s hearts,” says Pastor Jacob*, who works with youth in China. “If they admit that they follow Jesus, they could lose everything they have worked for. Counting the cost of following Jesus isn’t just words here in China – it’s a reality that even new believers have to face.”

“Suffering produces perseverance”

In one of the most challenging Bible verses about persecution, we read that ‘suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character hope’ (Romans 5:3-4). This seems to be the lived reality for young Christians in China. Faith and hope are growing.

“Kids are drawn to our youth work because they experience God’s unconditional love and feel valued and respected,” continues Pastor Jacob. “We love them for who they are not because of what they’ve done or because of their academic ability.

“We’ve also started to talk openly to the youth about persecution and about standing together in faith. And our ministry is growing. The young people are more determined to follow Jesus and have matured much more quickly than they used to.”

Since China introduced new regulations in February 2018, children under 18 aren’t allowed to attend church or receive any religious education. Evangelising to children had previously been illegal, but the authorities had tended to turn a blind eye to Sunday schools. Not anymore. Again, though, there has been some light amid the darkness of this persecution: Pastor Jacob reports an increase in parents teaching their children about the Bible at home: “When parents partner with youth leaders, the whole ministry profits,” says Pastor Jacob.

Please pray

That same partnership extends to you. Pastor Jacob continues: “We often tell our youth how a whole army of believers around the world pray for us daily. God is moving powerfully in our lives through the prayers of our ‘unseen’ global family. Thank you to all our supporters!”

Thanks to your prayers and support, Open Doors is able to partner with local churches to equip youth workers and parents to work together to shepherd the next generation of believers who aren’t able to attend church. Recently, Open Doors local partners conducted youth training for lay leaders and training for parents.

Dear God, we pray for our young brothers and sisters in China, and thank You that You have brought them to faith. Please strengthen and encourage them in the face of government opposition, even when they can’t attend church. Bless the work of youth workers and the instruction of Christian parents, and may these children be shining lights among their friends and communities. Amen.