Saturday, 19 March 2005
By BosNewsLife News Center
BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife)-- United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was to attend a church service for Palm Sunday in Beijing, aides said Saturday, March 19, just hours after a Christian news agency published letters of alleged persecuted Christians.
The visit to the Gangwashi Protestant Church was described as a private visit by a deeply religious woman, but it also has significant political undertones, The Washington Post newspaper reported on its Internet website.
Gangwashi, a few blocks from Tiananmen Square, is one of the biggest Protestant churches in Beijing and is officially registered and sanctioned by the government. In December 1994, the government forced Rev. Yang Yudong, the 73-year-old senior pastor of the church, from the pulpit, stripped him of his position and replaced him with a pastor of its choosing, The Washington Post said.
It came as Compass Direct news agency published letters in alphabetic order from what it claimed were "personal trials, challenges facing house church Christians", a reference to often evangelical believers who are not recognized by the Communist authorities and forced to gather underground.
"In July  while the house church was having a Bible study, suddenly the police came in. The church warmly welcomed them and led them to the best seats," a Christian identified as Mr. Wang from the province of Anhui was quoted as writing November 9, 2004. "The police heard nothing wrong, but they said someone had made an accusation against us. So they chose 10 brothers and took them away and said if we paid a fine within 24 hours they would be released. If not, they would be sent to the county police station."
He wrote that "the church united in prayer and decided not to pay the fine," so the 10 Christians were sent to the county jail and were locked up with criminals. "When we visited them they were full of joy because some of the prisoners had repented and believed in Jesus. They were finally released just in time to attend the monthly fellowship meeting and share joyfully their experiences," he added.
On another occasion young people were also jailed, but freed after older Christians gave money to police, Wang said. "The church is appealing to higher authorities about this government persecution. Please pray that the church will have the right attitude and that the gospel will be proclaimed in the courts and that Jesus will have the glory!", the evangelical apparently wrote to Compass Direct, which has direct knowledge of persecuted Christians.
Fujian one of "the provinces in the interior of China" is "poor in resources but the Christians are full of faith and very zealous," another Christian, wrote in a letter dated December 2004. However the believer suggested that China's spectacular economic growth "is our greatest weakness".
The unidentified Christian stressed that "some have lost their first love and others have gone off in search of work, seduced by materialism. Others have been led astray by heresy." The church suffered "persecution from the government. The larger meetings cannot conduct activities freely; the local government interferes, so some believers have been seriously affected in their faith," the believer claimed.
In Hebei "the church where I am now serving has grown from just a handful to over 100 in just a few months. Of course, we are a house church. More and more people are leaving the churches controlled by the Three Self Patriotic Movement [TSPM or government-approved church]," said a Christian identified only as Mr. Li in a recent letter.
"We started a house church to meet together to worship God. At the beginning it was not that the government forbade us to meet; rather, the problem was with the Three Self Patriotic Movement church," another Christian, Mr. Gao from Heilongjiang province allegedly wrote in a letter.
"The number of house church people increased daily, but there were not many who attended the TSPM church ... So the TSPM pastor went to the government and got them to close down all the house church meetings and force the house church Christians to join the Three Self Church..."It’s not that we never attend the Three Self Church -- sometimes we do go to see brothers and sisters. But some of them talk during the service, while others sleep. The preachers don’t practice what they preach."
"In all the 13 years I have been a Christian I never heard our TSPM church leaders preach the gospel or lead people to Christ. Nor did they ever visit the sick. What use is that,?" he wondered in a letter written September 9, 2004, Compass Direct said.
A Bible Student in Shangdong province said in a letter dated December 2004 that "children’s Sunday school work", was a mission. "I don’t know what the future will bring, but I have given myself entirely to the Lord. Wherever He leads, I will follow. There are difficulties. It is more dangerous to do children’s work than work with adults."
From Yunnan province a Christian asked supporters in a letter dated December 2004 to "pray especially for our tribal churches" as in that locality they are "unable to meet openly" and "often suffer persecution." Apparently "many brothers and sisters" in that church "have a very hazy understanding of Bible truth. Very few are educated. Some even have difficulty reading the Bible."
Difficulties were also reported by a church member in Zhejiang province in a letter of December, 2004. "We meet in a Christian brother’s home. Recently people from the TSPM came, and told us we had to join their movement. But our church consists of middle-aged and elderly men and women and there is not the slightest benefit for us in joining the [government's] Three Self [church]."
In addition "everybody has a bad feeling about the Three Self. But they have said they will come and forcibly interfere in our church. When our church members heard this they all felt very worried. We fear our church will not be able to continue," the Christian was quoted as saying.
BosNewsLife was not immediately able to check the authenticity of all letters, but the concerns expressed in the documents have been confirmed by several human rights groups. Thousands of political dissidents and Christians are believed to be detained in prisons and labor camps throughout China.
Speaking in Tokyo Saturday, March 19, US Secretary Rice reportedly said the Chinese leadership must move toward an "open, genuinely representative government" that respected human rights. She said that if Chinese leaders look at their neighbors in Asia, "they will see that democracy works. They will see that freedom of religion and respect for human rights are part of the foundation of decent and successful societies," The Washington Post reported.
There are an estimated up to 80 million Christians in China, who Christian human rights watchdog Open Doors described as "the world's largest single persecuted community today." (With: Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent, BosNewsLife, BosNewsLife Research, Compass Direct, Reports from Japan and China)