China has finally scrapped mandatory mask mandates and many are breathing a sigh of relief, but there is one group of people who are choosing to keep their masks on – members of the underground house church.
“There are cameras everywhere,” Pastor Caleb (not his real name) said yesterday during a meeting in China. “The mask helps hide my identity when meeting with [BTJ].”
China has spent the last three years with the most draconian and compulsory mask mandates in the entire world. Not only were masks required, but for anyone boarding a plane in China, they had to dress up as if they were going into an operation theater. As annoying and (now we know) completely unnecessary as those masks were, they did come at a time that is absolutely essential for the house church.
In 2018, China announced Sky Net: a facial recognition system that the official news outlet bragged was, “a facial recognition system that can scan China’s population of about 1.4 billion people in a second.” Since 2018, China has been in hyperdrive to install cameras with facial recognition capabilities everywhere, creating what has been called the “most intense government surveillance in the world.”
China is expected to have more than half a billion cameras, which works out at one camera for every three people in the nation. Christians like Pastor Caleb have been concerned about the cameras with AI facial recognition, because they can be easily used to track the movement of Christians, pastors, and mission leaders. The cameras can be used to monitor the activities of prominent Christian leaders and intimidate any believer who would attempt to meet with them.
Caleb is a pastor in an underground house church network of more than four million believers. Just when the government had a new answer on how to carefully track every believe in Pastor Caleb’s network, invested billions of dollars into an AI surveillance program, and installed more cameras than any other country in the world – the monkey wrench known as Covid-19 came along and created a new back door for believers.
Was this a coincidence?
Pastor Caleb would argue that it is was not.