Asia (MNN) – Over the last few months, multiple reports surfaced out of China revealing a crackdown on both unregistered and registered churches. “This is the worst it’s been in 30 years. The pressure from the government is immense right now; everything from putting church members in jails to kicking out vast numbers of missionaries to actually demolishing one entire church is happening,” says Joe Handley. He’s is in touch with both church leaders and mission leaders in China.
A campaign by the Chinese government to ‘Sinicize’ religion is ongoing, he adds. “They call it ‘Sinicize’ or bringing religion under a Chinese spirit. They’re just trying to put it within a context that they feel fits their society and the efforts that they’re doing is moving the nation in that direction.”
Under the guise of making Christianity and Islam more Chinese (Sinicism), the government wants to remove foreign influence.
“Those groups that are outside of the boundaries of the religious order of the Chinese government are the ones that are going to face that kind of pressure.”
In China’s west, that’s the detention and indoctrination of Muslims; in the east, it’s the closing of underground churches and expulsion of missionaries.
“I’m hearing stories of at least five mission groups who have had members of their teams kicked out of China. I’ve heard of them kicked out in numbers of up to 30 people.” At the same time, other mission groups are experiencing pressure so intense, “they’re worried about what might happen to their partners on the ground.”
This is one of the largest expulsion of foreign missionaries since 1954 when the Chinese Communist government expelled all foreign religious workers after taking power in 1949. However, Handley notes, “When the Revolution occurred years ago and the missionaries were kicked out, that led to the fastest Church growth in the history of modern China. So it could well be another one of those seasons.”
An Unexpected Bonus
What’s the future look like for partnering/mentoring faith-based groups? It’s too early to tell what new religious policies will look like or what effect they’ll have. To that end, there’s been an unintended effect: renewed mission.
One pastor of a large, well-known church in China responded this way to the concerned inquiries made at a recent conference. Handley paraphrased the church leader’s response this way: “’Remember, God is at work here. We’ve been through this before. We are re-mobilizing and re-tooling for the future of what He has for us to do to be salt and light in society and try to reach as many as we can to reach the nation for Christ.’”
This pastor went on to say,” ‘We’ve been through this before. We are used to it. Please pray for us, but don’t be discouraged. Be encouraged, because God is doing a new thing, and we will find ways to be the light of Christ in the midst of what’s happening.’”
Keep Calm And Carry On
To that end, Handley says, “I would strongly urge us to listen to our brothers that are inside the country. They really have the best handle, for the most part, on what’s happening. As we listen to them in those contexts, we’ll hear about what the best ways that we can re-engage and re-connect.”
As for prayer, he suggests praying for wisdom for those who are under pressure… “Those mission groups that are having to re-think ‘do we keep our people there? Do we pull out?’ They need our prayers. Pray for the local churches, especially those that have been impacted by the pressure.”
Here’s one last encouraging note that comes from the pastor referenced earlier by Handley. ”’We believe that God is just orchestrating things in such a way that we can be salt and light, better salt and light, in the midst of what we’re doing. So please, pray for us. Yes, the pressure is intense. Please do advocate for us, but at the same time, don’t overreact.’”
Header photo courtesy Bibles for China.