Rev. Koole is pastor of Grandville Protestant Reformed Church in Grandville, Michigan.
The Church Under the Cross
While we in the West have been enjoying our ‘Christmas pudding’ and reveling in the abundance of good things, there are those who are bearing the weight of persecution and the cost of confessing Christ Jesus as Lord. The animosity toward the Christian faith (with its resulting suffering) is intensifying especially in the Far East, notably in China and India, but in Indo-China as well. We, in the midst of our affluence and ease, must not forget the very real suffering so many of our own generation are undergoing for Christ’s sake at this present time.
I have in my files a number of news articles lifted from various sources this past year. The first was printed a year ago in early January 2002 in connection with China’s admission into the WTO (World Trade Organization) with the United States’ approval. China had been under severe trade restriction with the West due to China’s abysmal record in regard to its well documented violation of human rights (with Christians in particular bearing the brunt of the brutal treatment). Supposedly, China had ‘cleaned up its act,’ had become more tolerant toward dissidents, and was allowing religious freedom. It is becoming apparent that this ‘freedom of religion’ is a facade.
Nina Shea, director of Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom, was quoted as saying:
We were told that giving China WTO status, granting it Permanent Normal Trade Relations status, awarding it the 2008 Olympic games, would all have moderating effects on China. Instead what we’re seeing is the most draconian measures against Christian leaders since the anti-cult law was adopted three years ago. China continues to arrogate to itself the rights to determine religious doctrine, determine what is Christian heterodoxy, and designate religious leaders in direct violation of the international human rights covenant that it has signed.
As Janet Chismar, a Crosswalk senior editor, reports,
Chinese Christians continue to suffer harassment, arrest, beatings and even torture for practicing their faith outside the official TSPM (Three-Self Patriotic Movement) church, according to VOM (the Voice of the Martyrs organization—KK).
What China has given is an official recognition to the TSPM, which is a closely monitored ‘State Church’ and operates under strict state guidelines. Any Christian gathering outside these closely watched confines is considered to be a cult, and, by definition, dangerous to the State.
Back in January of last year a report concerning the arrest of a certain Pastor Gong, one of China’s most influential underground Christian leaders, was filed.
Pastor Gong, 46, was reportedly sentenced to death on Dec. 5, 2001, after the Intermediate People’s Court of Jingmen, a city in Hubei Province, found him guilty of using a cult to undermine the enforcement of law and of malicious assault and rape.
He and 16 other church leaders were arrested sometime after Aug. 9, 2001, after the church was classified as an ‘evil cult’ by government authorities and an arrest directive was issued in a ‘top-secret’ document.
In addition to Gong, four other leaders were sentenced to death, but their sentences were suspended, possibly indicating that they will be commuted to life terms. Gong’s deputy and 37-year old niece, Li Ying, who is responsible for evangelization and publishing, was given one of the suspended death sentences. Relatives state that Chinese authorities severely tortured her in prison. The rest were given prison sentences ranging from two years to life….
Those who know Gong say he is facing trumped up charges of assault and rape. Pastor Gong was apparently set up by local Hubei police who forced women members of the congregation on Aug. 18, 2001, to strip off their clothes and then kicked and physically abused them until they were bruised and bleeding to make it appear they had been raped.
Two of the women have since repudiated the rape charges, … in which they say they made the allegations after being tortured by electricity in police custody. It has not been unusual for Chinese authorities to charge religious leaders with rape in an attempt to discredit them and reduce their stature among their followers.
In another related report, Janet Chismar informs us of the following:
According to the most recent State Department report, religious persecution in China worsened. In some areas, underground Protestant house churches were subject to more-frequent raids and persecution. Authorities cracked down on unregistered churches, and threatened extortion, detention and demolition of property. The Chinese government tends to perceive unregulated religious gatherings or groups as ‘a potential challenge to its authority,’ said the State Department. During the period covered by this report, China also moved against houses of worship outside its control that grew ‘too large’ or ‘espoused beliefs that it considered threatening to state security.’…
“One misconception about the Chinese house church movement is that this is just a small fanatical group of troublemakers who only meet in a neighborhood house,” said Lane (of Voice of the Martyrs). “The truth is, the house church is a network of believers numbering in the millions—many of these ‘illegal’ networks are larger than most American denominations.”
The Wenzhou daily reported last December that during the period from mid-November to Dec. 5, 256 churches were destroyed, 153 banned and 19 confiscated in Ouhai District. Another 527 churches were destroyed, 35 banned, and 74 confiscated in Changnan County. And 9 churches were banned in Taishun County.
“Some world leaders may have forgotten the persecuted in China,” said Lane. “We at VOM and millions of committed Christians in America have not and will continue to speak out on behalf of these Chinese champions for Christ.”
But it is not only in China that the sufferings for the Christian faith continue and intensify. Conditions for Christians in several areas of India also continue to worsen. What follows is a letter sent by an ARTS student (a student of the Asian Reformed Theological School in Singapore who has returned to India with his wife) to the churches in Singapore, and relayed to several in the States by Ishu Mahtani, who is also a member of the Contact Committee of the ERCS.
Here I wish to share with you an important prayer request that you may share in our churches. Presently the Christians in Tamilnady, our state, are in big turmoil and distress because the Chief Minister of our state has introduced an ordinance that Christians must not do any Religious activities in Public in expectation of any conversions. This law will restrict both the people that preach other religions and the people that love to embrace other religions. This law is actually against the Constitution of the Indian Government. The central Govt. Constitution professes that every one can exercise the freedom to profess, confess, and propagate any religion. In contradiction to this law the state government ruler Miss J. Jeyalalith, the Chief Minister, has issued this ordinance two weeks ago. Hence all Christians are fasting and praying, and also organizing protest rallies against the new rule issued by the state government. She has introduced this ordinance in order to please the central government rulers, that are of a Hindu Religious Party. Now a lot of unrest prevails in the hearts of Christians here. We used to call our state, Tamilnadu, as a Peaceful-State. Now it is changing, and there are a lot of strikes and rallies. Kindly [inform and urge] our churches to pray for Indian Christians that the faithful Christian may continue to proclaim the gospel freely and peacefully. With Love, Paul and Kisthuri.
We do well to remember our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who are ‘under the cross.’
The Power of Radio in Missions
In an informative article entitled “Radio Brings Christ to Eager Ears in the Far East,” Janet Chismar gives some information not only about where Christian Broadcasting is able to penetrate, bamboo and iron curtains or not, but also information about the suffering various groups are experiencing due to their interest in the Christian faith, and, last but not least, interesting insight into what many on foreign fields want emphasized in contrast to contemporary, western Christianity.
Airwaves often reach where other means of communication are impossible, a fact Christian broadcasters well know. Radio travels around the globe, to remote regions, to areas otherwise closed to the message of Jesus.
Far East Broadcasting Company (FEBC) is one ministry that utilizes radio’s portability. Founded in 1945, FEBC has spent decades “smuggling” the gospel into living rooms of China, the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam and other Asian nations….
More recently, FEBC established the first Christian FM radio station in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia. Despite missionary activity that dates back several hundred years, this predominantly Tibetan Buddhist country did not have any churches until around 1990….
Radio can also touch empty lives. Some listeners who tune in aren’t even Christian. A commercial marketing survey from China shows that 85 percent of FEBC’s listeners claim to have “no religion at all.” The survey further said, “A spiritual vacuum created by nearly five decades of atheistic teaching, draws people toward the questions of existence, mortality and spiritual life. Millions of Chinese tune into FEBC for insight into the meaning of things.”…
FEBC president Jim Bowman recently shared with Crosswalk.com the challenges and rewards of running a broadcast ministry….
“How you present the gospel varies from place to place in the Far East,” says Bowman. “It really depends on the audience.”
“In Indonesia, for example, you have to present the gospel very carefully and respectfully. In China,” Bowman says, “people are very receptive and hungry for instruction. The Chinese Christians tell us all the time that they don’t even want to hear music. They want to be instructed in the Bible and in the meaning of the gospel. They don’t even want us to fool around with anything but straight teaching.”
Muslims think that Christians “are very flippant in the way we talk about God,” says Bowman.
“We talk about Him being our friend, and some of our hymns almost make it sound like a love affair. They don’t want to hear that sort of thing. They want to hear a lot of respect.”
Yet, in spite of the most careful, culturally sensitive presentation, hostility can erupt. The most dramatic episode in FEBC history happened in 1992, when two broadcasters were shot to death right in the studio by Muslim extremists….
Signal jamming and interference are more common than outright murder. For example, the Hmong—the hill people of Southeast Asia who live in the highlands of Laos and Vietnam—have been so responsive to the gospel that the governments now have huge campaigns, trying to get them to stop listening.
“We have our signals jammed every day of the week up there,” says Bowman.
He estimates that between 200,000 and 300,000 of the Hmong have made professions of faith over the last 10 years. And the government sees this as a big threat.
“The governments that are still Communist are very threatened by Christians,” says Bowman. “But their reason is not as pure as we’d like to hope. We’d like to think they are rejecting Christ, but they see it as a political threat. They really see Christianity as an extension of foreign aggression.”
Accordingly, the government is brutal to Hmong Christians, says Bowman. He has copies of documents that Christians are forced to sign, denouncing their faith, and many believers are being thrown into jail and beaten.
In fact, the arrests have become such a serious problem that the central Evangelical Church of Laos has sent a notice out to most Hmong churches that believers should stop listening to Far East Broadcasting to avoid arrest.
“Since there is a large number of Hmong people becoming Christians by listening to our broadcasts, the Communist government is afraid that they may not be able to control this minority in Vietnam,” explained FEBC’s Hmong broadcaster, who wants to remain anonymous. “Even though they know that people who become Christians are better citizens, they still fear that without jamming our daily broadcasts they might lose their power and control someday.”
According to the September 2000 edition of the U.S. Report on International Religious Freedom, the update on minorities in Vietnam reveals “house churches in ethnic minority areas have been growing rapidly in recent years, sparked in part by radio broadcasts in ethnic minority languages from the Philippines.”
In addition, the report states that there has been an increase in crackdowns on Protestant house church leaders, particularly among the Hmong in northwest Vietnam. Radio listeners have confirmed these instances of persecution through their letters and have expressed the difficulties they face.
We do well to pray for the saints of the church universal who suffer for Christ’s sake. The time is coming when all governments will claim that Christians who maintain there is no Lord but Christ Jesus are a threat to their national security, and the wrath of the Dragon will focus on us of the West as well.