In two recent articles (here and here) we have commented on serious developments in China regarding religious freedom. Laws to control the house churches were written up last winter, which is when we first heard of them and reported on them. They were then still concept laws, but during the recent five-yearly communist party congress, these laws were officially confirmed.
Although these laws won’t officially take effect until February the 1st, they are already being implemented ahead of time in different provinces in China. The persecution which is now spreading is the worst we have seen in a decade.
So what is happening on the ground? A big development is that churches are going off-line. Believers, particularly church leaders switch off their phones to protect themselves from being monitored and followed. Going without your phone may not sound too serious, but online communication through mobile devices has become essential in how many churches function.
Remember that many rural parts of China jumped right from the fifties into the mobile age. People may never have had a landline, or have possessed a PC. Many people don’t even have a proper post address. Mobile communication has connected believers like never before. You will notice this if you spend any time travelling with brother Yun. While being driven from meeting to meeting, he is constantly in touch with churches in China. Preaching to them, praying with them, encouraging them and getting reports of what is happening. But now suddenly many church leaders can’t be reached at all. We don’t know how they are, and the fellowship is broken.
Another development is that many church meetings are being downsizes to avoid drawing attention, while other scheduled meetings are being cancelled altogether. BTJ people have had to cancel countless meetings up to June. Right now it is just too dangerous.
And that is not overreacting. We received reports of 80 arrests of church leaders in Hanan province and 30 in Guangxi. And those are only what we know of and heard of through one network.
Yes, not all house churches are experiencing these hardships at this time. China is massive and persecution is not equally intense in all parts of the country. But there is certainly a very worrying trend and it remains to be seen what will happen if the new laws officially take effect. In different regions the storm of persecution has already picked up. House churches prepare for the worst and pray for the best.
Will Xi’s administration force the house churches back underground? Will that even be possible now that so many millions have openly practiced their faith? We don’t know. But what we have learned from church history, is that ‘underground’ is not just a bad place. It is also the place where hidden seeds wait for God’s time to break open, and send up a new shoot, which will bear fruit and multiply.
Let’s pray that God will fill his people in China with boldness, to face this new season of difficulty with courage and wisdom. May everything that people have meant for evil be turned into good.