May 2005 – The persecuted church has long claimed a place in my heart, and I have been moved by stories of martyrdom and torture of believers around the world. Pastor Zhang Rongliang, one of China’s leading house church figures, is a case in point. Pastor Zhang was arrested last December for practicing his Christian faith.
The account of his arrest has been one of Voice of the Martyrs’ (VOM) top stories in recent months. The 53-year-old pastor had previously been in prison five times, a total of 12 years. His torture had included electric shock. His arrest was emblematic of a crackdown on China’s house churches.
“As far as we know, Pastor Zhang is still in custody and still hasn’t been able to have contact with his family,” Todd Nettleton, VOM director of news services, told AFA Journal. “He has not been formally charged or tried at this time, as far as we know.”
Nettleton was in AFA offices to be on American Family Radio detailing his work with the persecuted church.
On the other hand, some believers in China say they enjoy relative freedom to live out their faith. During a recent visit to China, I met a number of Americans living there, some for as long as 15 years.
It was encouraging to find that, in their work at regular jobs – in business, entertainment and industry – they are able to practice their faith without much fear of persecution. Granted, freedom in China is not quite the same as freedom in the U.S. After Chairman Mao Zedong declared China the People’s Republic of China in 1949, stringent government regulations – enforced in varying degrees in different places – were imposed on the church.
In the early 1950s, many government and church leaders supported the new Communist regime which founded the official state Three-Self Church. Its name comes from the principles of self-government, self-propagation and self-support. Unregistered churches also often function without government intervention. Still, believers are careful not to be perceived as a threat to the government or to local authorities.
Subsequently, they indicate that by and large, they practice their faith daily in a pro-active way. They make friends, allow them to see faith at work in a life, and when those friends begin to inquire about the Christian faith, they share their own experiences.
However, they don’t stop there. All four of the families I visited focus on the command in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19) that says we should “make disciples” – not just count converts, like notches on an Old West gunslinger’s pistol. As the friendships grow, they are able to disciple new believers via Bible studies, accountability relationships and other channels common in more open countries.
Among the couples I met, one wife, a gifted song writer and vocalist, is involved in the entertainment industry. The husband works with a business consulting firm, the only Christian-owned for-profit business in their city of more than three million. His company employs about 20 people, and provides everything from business English instruction to bookkeeping and liaison tasks for foreign businesses and their Chinese clients or counterparts.
His firm also provides micro-enterprise loans for rural economic development and helps market products created by employing women in outlying villages.
An associate at his office observed, “We’re pioneering, breaking ground, doing things that others are not doing.”
Another couple has some unique work, too. He teaches boat-building and sailing, using the context to introduce Scriptural lessons from the sea and fishing. She teaches Bible studies for village women who do sewing crafts. Another man does computer rebuilding and technical service.
Hope Schools Project
One young American mother home schools their children and her husband teaches at a local university. I met a few of the university students – all of whom were preparing to do practice teaching this spring. Our small group introduced ourselves to a class of some 80-90 seniors in the school of education. When I told them I’m a writer and English teacher, they burst into applause.
The same man also works with the Hope Schools Project, helping secure U.S. contributions to build schools in remote villages. For a gift of $10,000, the Chinese government will match the funds and build the school.
“We forward money from groups back home and personally oversee the building progress of the schools,” he said. “We visit and develop relationships, and join in opening ceremonies and then come for any reason. It provides an acceptable way to get into these areas.” Almost always, they develop a relationship that eventually allows them to begin sharing stories of American customs – stories of Easter and Christmas traditions, church weddings and more.
The Hope Schools Project offers believers a way to have an impact on China’s children. Even small contributions may be used to purchase school supplies, clothing, or much-needed school equipment. In that way, every dollar contributes to the well-being and education of Chinese children who might not otherwise have such an opportunity. More important, our friend in China cultivates friendships that allow him to share his faith.
Furthermore, when the gift goes through Global Outreach, 100% of every dollar given goes to the project. Global stateside covers administrative costs and office expenses for all of their personnel on the field.
“Every dollar given for Hope Schools will go to China for Hope Schools,” said Wes White, executive director of Global Outreach. (See below.)
Groups from the States or other countries are urged to visit the Hope schools. One upcoming team will present a pantomime drama about avoiding drugs. Medical teams are also an excellent way to minister in this context.
Persecution is still real
Most everything I observed provides a striking contrast to the picture of the persecuted church. Still, all of the Americans I met acknowledge that there are indeed places where believers face persecution.
Through all the positive experiences of my short stay, the persecuted church was still never far from my mind. It was an emotional experience to try to connect these two very different pictures of the church in China.
“Just about anything you hear about the church in China is true – somewhere,” Todd Nettleton told the AFA Journal. VOM tracks and documents persecution of Christians in more than 50 nations around the world. Nettleton’s work with VOM puts him in contact with those who suffer for their faith. He says that across China, one will find a wide range of responses to the presence of the Christian church.
VOM’s monthly newsletter and the book Tortured for Christ by VOM founder Richard Wurmbrand are both available free for Journal readers. (See below.)
A special 2005 issue of The Voice of the Martyrs newsletter includes a global prayer map which identifies nations that have official restrictive policies regarding the freedom of religion, and other nations that have a climate hostile to Christianity. The same issue highlights 44 of the nations where VOM knows of persecution. Nations like Cuba, Egypt, Sudan, Morocco, Myanmar (Burma) and North Korea.
Believers may help their brothers and sisters in various ways. Both Global Outreach and VOM cite prayer as a key ingredient. VOM doesn’t ask for funds, but obviously, it takes money to do ministry. Whether its for Hope Schools or for a ministry like VOM, U. S. dollars – even a few dollars – can make an eternal difference for Christ.
• Send contributions for Hope Schools to:
P. O. Box 1
Tupelo, MS 38802
• Order free book and newsletter; send contributions to:
Voice of the Martyrs
P. O. Box 54
Caney, KS 67333