Servant in both state-controlled and house churches leaves home to protect others.
February 22 (Compass) -- Gao Wei (not his real name) was an active Christian leader for several years in a large Chinese city until 2004. Now he’s an applicant for political asylum in a Western country.
His application makes sobering reading for those who imagine China has made substantial steps towards religious freedom in recent years.
Wei served for five years in a large Three Self Patriotic Movement (state-controlled) church. He was ministering to young people when a spiritual revival in 1999 saw many people come to Christ. This drew the attention of the Public Security Bureau (PSB) – which sent an undercover agent to Wei’s church who “stood out because his face was cold and without feeling compared to the entire congregation.”
“His presence frightened me because he took a photo of me at the altar,” Wei wrote.
Undercover agents commonly monitor both Three Self (TSPM) church and unregistered house churches, according to Wei.
After this scare, Wei applied to study at seminaries overseas. But he found his mail was being monitored. He learned his name was on a government list. The senior pastor at the Three Self church labelled him a troublemaker.
Wei joined a house church in the same city. He began to train other young people in a regular spiritual formation course at his home every Saturday. He printed his own training materials, which was illegal.
He later found out that one of his co-workers was a spy for the PSB. This man went to all the Three Self churches, as well as the house churches, but never settled at any one of them. Eventually, friends in both the TSPM and house churches who had high-level contacts in the PSB discovered this fact and warned Wei.
The PSB heightened their surveillance: after mid-2003, Wei discovered his phone was tapped, as were the phones of six of his house church co-workers. Even their mobile phones were tapped. His parents were so scared they stopped communicating with him altogether. In September 2003, the surveillance was so threatening that he felt compelled to leave the city.
On the Run
Wei became an itinerant evangelist in south China, where he led many meetings and baptized many new converts.
He also helped set up an underground Bible school with training sessions for house church leaders from many different provinces. Wei reports: “For security reasons the students lived in a big house with four rooms. Windows and curtains were always closed to prevent any neighbors from seeing through the windows. Students were not allowed to go out of the building during the daytime.”
In March 2004, on two occasions the Bible school was raided by PSB agents who checked the students’ identity cards and ransacked everything. Wei recounts: “I was scared. I was wearing trainers and sportswear like the students. The officers did not recognize me. Then one student who wanted to protect me stood up and announced he was the teacher in charge. They beat him up and tried to arrest him.”
Wei and the students were forced to stand against the wall and were eventually released. But the school was closed, and they secretly relocated in another province.
Wei moved from house to house to avoid arrest. In just 15 months he had to move 15 times to escape the PSB. At the last location he baptized four young people, but the authorities found out.
“At 5 a.m., I was woken up by the Holy Spirit and compelled to pack my things and leave the house immediately. God told me to run out and collect my passport and my laptop. A police car came and parked outside the main door, and three officers came into my apartment block. I believe God blinded their eyes as I fled away from the building still in my night-wear.”
Wei came under strong pressure from his family to “confess” to the government in the hope of lenient treatment, but he refused.
“I love God so much, and I will not give up even though they put me in jail for 10 years. I am not guilty of any crime. I will not deny my Lord.”
Eventually, in late 2004, Christian friends overseas learned of Wei’s plight and issued an official invitation to him to study overseas. He was able to leave China. After much heart-searching, and after taking advice from many Christian friends, he finally applied – very reluctantly – for political asylum overseas.
“I love China, and I love the Chinese people. I still want to go home one day for family reasons. But I am still blacklisted, and I do not want to bring trouble to my family.”
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