Story of the month – Chinese Government warms to Christians?

Chinese believers in an unregistered church (China Daily)

Several recent articles in the authoritative website China Daily have prompted observers to wonder if the Chinese government may be softening its traditionally tough stance against Christians.  The official government daily has published a number of positive articles about Christianity during the last six months and while it must be remembered that they may merely be part of a ‘charm offensive’ (particularly since none of the articles were published in the Chinese language version of the paper), they are published in an official government organ and will have been scrutinised by censors.

The most significant of these articles (25th December) concerned an official report for the government in which the Chinese Academy of Social Scientists (CASS) estimated that there are now over 70 million Chinese who are members of unregistered churches.  Add these numbers to the Catholic Church and the official Three Self Patriotic Movement church and this is the first time that there has been an official estimate that there are now over 100 million Christians in China.  In 1979, when the TSPM church was relaunched after the Cultural Revolution, there were only about one million.   One western commentator remarked that it is unthinkable that an article like this has slipped past the censors unnoticed, and therefore this must be an indication of a change of government policy.

Miao Christian choir (China Daily)

Another article (17th March) talks about how house churches are thriving in Beijing.  It states that there are now over 50,000 Christians in Beijing, and as the registered churches are often overcrowded, many people are joining smaller unregistered churches where they can connect more effectively.  The article even quotes Cao Zhongjian, an expert on religion in China at CASS, as saying “The authorities have a much more open attitude toward discussion and debate on house churches.”  This has led to freedom for the churches to acquire premises or rent permanent locations.  This is all a far cry from even a few years ago when reports of serious oppression of Chinese Christians were commonplace.

Other publications include a positive article about influential Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci, reference to a thriving church in Shanghai, a report about a village in Yunnan province where 80% of the villagers are Christians, and (amazingly) the testimony of how a young Beijing believer found Jesus after being given a Bible by a colleague.

Chinese choir (China Daily)

Featured ministry: Bethany

Many tired missionaries working in East Asia are delighted to have discovered Bethany.  This is a rest and retreat complex on Cheung Chau Island off Hong Kong. It is specifically funded and staffed to offer member care to those working cross-culturally in Asia and beyond offering good quality, inexpensive accommodation. Bethany is set in gardens of trees and flowers on the quiet, traffic free island of Cheung Chau with good beaches and scenic walks, so is an ideal place to relax and recuperate from a demanding ministry.

Despite feeling remote, it is conveniently accessible from Hong Kong, so it’s not hard to get to despite feeling away from it all.  Set on a hill in attractive grounds overlooking the South China Sea, Bethany’s location is idyllic – five minutes to sandy beaches, peaceful walks around rocky coves and yet the town with its restaurants and shops is just nearby. The Bethany team includes those who have understanding and long experience of the demands on people, for example adjusting to new cultures, difficulties with co-workers, frustrations with sponsors, parenting and educational decision-making, family and marriage needs cross-culturally.

The Bethany mission is to keep people resilient, working in their God-given field for longer. At a basic level, they provide a home from home with familiar food, language and culture allowing people to recover in holiday mode from tiredness and stress. In association with this they have experienced pastoral couples available for prayer and with a listening and sympathetic ear.

More information is available on the Bethany website: www.bethanyministries.com

Story of the Month: Thousands of new Thai believers

This story was published in “CrossTies Asia” January 2010 newsletter) so it’s not new, but it’s too good not to recirculate.  My Hope for Thailand was an outreach event which took place in December 2009.  Here’s what the organisers reported:

“On this day about 50% of Thai churches participated and more than 41,000 of their members were involved in reaching out to over 200,000 of their friends and neighbours to tell them about Jesus. We now have the responsibility of calling the church leaders to find out what God did during this time.  The news is exciting!  We have recorded over 6,580 decisions of people who have decided to become Christ followers, from all corners of the country.  We anticipate by the time we finish calling all the leaders we will have recorded more than 12,000 new Thai Christians. This is an amazing work of God in a land where only half a percent of Thailand’s 65 million people are Christians. This is the first time there has been a national harvest of this size in this country. As we are calling, our staff also has the privilege of documenting miraculous works of God that happened during these meetings.  Each of our staff members has recorded dozens of reports of healings, people freed from demon possession, people being freed from addictions and families being reconciled.”

Please pray for these new Thai believers as they face the challenge of walking with Jesus in a Buddhist-animist culture.

Baptism of Thai believers (photos courtesy of Julia Birkett)