Apropos of reading this article – recording this to remember.
A few weeks ago I was at a conference held by my church. There, I met a Chinese woman, about my age who also attends my church. I don’t quite remember her name, it unfortunately went in one ear and then out again, so let’s call her “Summer”.
Summer is from Zhejiang province, and had moved here to study a master degree in law. She has full barrister qualifications in China, but was interested in studying in our country to broaden her skillset.
She attends my English-speaking, very multicultural church instead of a Mandarin-speaking, mainland-Chinese church, because she finds the latter too staid. Something about Chinese nationals being conservative and restrained, especially ones who came to the faith while abroad. She prefers the exuberance and unrestrained expressiveness of our church.
I was astonished when she told me that she grew up a Christian in a Christian family. Most Chinese Christians I’ve met were converts in adulthood, so it was unique to meet someone who’s been a believer since childhood. While living in Beijing, she attended an underground/unregistered church. That church has since been shut down by the Chinese government, but she wasn’t in the country when that happened.
We had a conversation about the underground churches, how they compared to the Three-self churches, and persecution from the Chinese government. Summer’s description of a raid was surprisingly prosaic: police walking into a meeting and watching from the back of the room, taking photographs of each person, having a word with the pastors. A raid doesn’t necessarily end in arrests, but it is designed to intimidate both congregation and clergy. There may be consequences the next time, and what’s more, the government has facial recognition software. Now they know your face and name.
I didn’t get to ask Summer about how underground churches and their members elude governmental scrutiny. I did ask her how she felt about attending an unregistered church, when the threat of raids and arrest looms over every meeting. She said that living fully for Jesus Christ and his Gospel were more important than personal wellbeing. The pastor of her church refused to register as a Three-self church because he couldn’t let the truth of the Gospel be censored by governmental bodies and he would preach Christ without restraint.
We both agreed that the power of God is equally at work in Three-self churches as unregistered churches — the Spirit of God will not be restrained — but as far as Summer was concerned, she finds fuller and deeper expression of faith in the underground church, and persecution is the lesser price to pay compared to the fullness of living out her faith.
But she was also thankful to now live here in a country where freedom of religion is upheld, and she wouldn’t be persecuted for attending church. This privilege is something to be cherished, she said.
This is the first time I’ve spoken at length to a Chinese Christian who attended an underground church. It was an honour to meet Summer. I admire her openness in discussing the realities of faith under persecution, and I want to learn more. I haven’t seen her since that day we spoke, but will look out for her.