In the end almost all of the 200 delegates from China for the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelism in South Africa were barred from leaving the mainland.
Some were put under house arrest. Some had their travel documents confiscated. Some were stopped at the boarding gates in the airports. At least six churches, whose leaders were planning to attend, were warned that they would face severe consequences.
For these church leaders though, these recent tribulations were not just targeted at the Lausanne conference. They were, rather, part of the mounting pressure against the house churches in China throughout 2010. Some outside observers are blaming it on the ethnic riots in Tibet and Xinjiang. Others think it is due to the six-month-long World Expo in Shanghai.
On the surface this seems to make sense. Leaders who are in dialogue with their local officials, however, provide deeper insight. One of them revealed, “The officials we relate to are constantly being reminded by their superiors that ‘harmony’ is the overriding emphasis from Beijing. To these lower operatives ‘harmony’ means only one thing: Nothing should happen on their watch.” Therefore any church or Christian activities that are linked to the outside world automatically draw suspicion.
“Our growth becomes a threat to them,” the leader continued. “It threatens their jobs, their prospects and even their retirement. It’s all very real!”
Thus the two fastest growing urban churches were banned earlier this year. Even in rural China, where contacts with foreigners are rare, several large meeting points were closed or even torn down.
“Lausanne is just another excuse for the officials to harass us,” a delegate from Henan told us. “Our church founder is supposed to be released from prison. His 7½-year prison sentence is up. But his release has been postponed indefinitely.”
Another barred delegate, from Beijing, probably sums up the attitude of the leaders most aptly: “If I get to go, then I go. If I don’t get to go, then I just go on.”
“Going on” for these leaders, to a man, means more aggressive Christmas evangelistic outreaches. The Beijing church is going on with a ‘Touching the Community’ outreach. They are preparing to distribute 300 ActionLove parcels to the poor and needy.
“We have been doing this every Christmas for five years,” the Beijing delegate continued. “The local officials actually help us identify the poorest families, and they also provide transport for us.”
Another would-be delegate, who was turned back at the boarding gate of his flight, said, “Our local officials actually apologized to me for the inconvenience caused, and they promised they would attend our Christmas celebrations. We are putting on an evangelistic variety show at a local theatre on December 24th and 25th.”
Brother B from a coastal city was perhaps the earliest to be notified that he would not be going to Lausanne. “My passport was confiscated on August 1st – 10 weeks before the conference was to start in South Africa!”
Since he knew he wasn’t going to travel abroad for a while, he and his teams proceeded to plan a four-week Christmas mission tour among the minorities of a remote southwestern province. “Our churches have been praying and fasting for these ethnic groups,” he said. “They are definitely unreached people groups in today’s China.
“We have over 60 volunteers prepared to go,” Brother B continued. “A few of us are praying to stay behind long-term in that province after Christmas.”
Perhaps Sister H from a major city in northwestern China was the most creative in her Christmas planning. She was placed under house arrest for a week just before she was to fly. “I was planning to go to South Africa for the conference, and then afterwards go to visit the Middle East,” she said. “Now I am organizing a 50-table Happy Birthday evangelistic banquet for our city during Christmas.”
“50 tables? You mean for 500 to 600 people?” I asked her incredulously.
“Would the officials give you permission to do that?”
“Well,” she answered, “I told them it’s for celebrating the birthday of our Chairman.”
“Yes,” she said innocently. “Chairman Mao was also born on Christmas day.”
I pray the officials will get to know the difference between Chairman Mao and Chairman Jesus this Christmas.
About Dr. David Wang:
Dr. David Wang is President Emeritus Asian Outreach Internationa and a specialist on church and missions in China, and author of over 20 books including Still Red.
From Asian Report, issue 302, November and December 2010, Copyright 2010. Reprinted with the permission of Asian Outreach. All rights reserved.