China's House Churches Under Renewed Pressure

Tuesday, June 12, 2001

by Paul Davenport
June 12, 2001

HONG KONG (Compass) -- Thirty-five house church Christians were arrested in Inner Mongolia and 15 were sent to labor camps after police raided a worship meeting being held on May 26 in Dongsheng, the Associated Press reported on May 30.

Several dozen house church believers were detained in mid April in the Zaoyang district of Hubei province in central China. Many of the leaders fled, and the house churches were dispersed. Training sessions were forced to stop. Local Christians informed the international media of the situation and called for prayer.

In Shanghai every Sunday, Public Security Bureau officers block a sidestreet to try and prevent Christians from assembling in a house church led by Xu Guoxing, who was released last year after serving three years in labor camp. While he was in prison, police told his elderly mother that the house church was illegal. She waved the Chinese government's "White Paper" at them and quoted the section that states there is no need for house churches to register.

However, a Christian who attends the meeting told Compass that the White Paper had very little circulation within China and was produced for foreign consumption.

Police harassment of this house church began in March 1999. Despite the street being cordoned off, up to 40 believers still manage to slip through to attend three Sunday services. Under interrogation, the believers made it plain they are under no compulsion to go, but do so out of love for God and love for their brothers suffering persecution.

Christians interviewed in May in several cities confirmed that the tightening of control in many areas is due to (a) the government's continuing campaign to stamp out Falun Gong; (b) renewed efforts to destroy cults and unregistered Christian groups; and (c) a massive anti-crime campaign under which hundreds of criminals have already been executed.

One report claimed that all the top house church leaders were being asked to register daily at the police station -- a tactic that stops them from travelling and conducting crucial training seminars. However, several house church movements report no more than "routine surveillance."

House church organizations also warn that the danger of a run-in with the authorities is greatly increased when foreign Bible teachers fail to take adequate precautions while visiting China on ministry trips. According to three reliable house church sources interviewed in April and May in Shanghai, unwise action by an overseas evangelist has led to the arrest of local Christians.

An overseas Chinese evangelist came to Shanghai at the beginning of this year and hired a large conference room in a hotel to hold Christian rallies. Over 200 people, including many young Christians, were attracted to hear "Sister Ling" preach. Then in March, the Public Security Bureau raided the meeting and detained several dozen people. Reportedly, six people were sentenced to prison and Sister Ling was immediately deported.

Such high profile evangelism by foreigners, or in this case overseas Chinese, is particularly unwise when house churches are already under increased surveillance. Loud, emotional meetings can easily draw hostile attention from the authorities and be labeled as "cultic" activity, sources said.

With additional reporting from Alex Buchan

Copyright © 2001 Compass Direct News Service. Used with permission.