21 May 2015
Put yourself out for the persecuted Church
Believers in Shouwang Church, Beijing, worship outside in all weathers as they are denied a church building.
Imagine not being able to gather safely with other Christians in a church building.
Imagine receiving a notice that your church building will soon be demolished.
This is not just make believe, but the reality of life for many thousands of Christians across the world.
This Sunday, 24 May, churches across the UK are taking the opportunity to remember Christians in this situation by hosting their church service outdoors. Release International, a member of our Religious Liberty Commission, has challenged churches to take part in the fourth annual Great Outdoors Church Service, leaving the comfort of their chairs and braving the elements in a show of solidarity with the persecuted Church.
"Many Christians in Asia, Africa and elsewhere have no other option but to worship in the open air," says Paul Robinson, chief executive of Release International.
"They've been barred from their buildings, or refused permission to have a church of their own. And in some cases, their churches have been bulldozed by the state or burnt down by militants. For others, it is too dangerous to be seen together in a public place."
Churches in the coastal Zhejiang province of China have been particularly targeted through the provincial government's ongoing 'demolition and rectification' programme.
A 36-page directive outlines strict guidelines about the display of crosses on church buildings –including their size, colour and where they can be placed (New York Times).
Bob Fu of China Aid, a US-based Christian rights group, explains: "To continue to forcefully remove and ban the cross on the rooftop of the church buildings demonstrates the Chinese regime's determination to contain the rapid growth of Christianity in China."
At least 425 churches in Zhejiang have experienced cross removals or demolitions, church building or annex demolitions or conversions to public ownership, and/or threats through demolition notices.
The top Communist Party official in the province visited Wenzhou in October 2013, and was reportedly so upset that the 180-foot spire of the officially sanctioned church, the Sanjiang Church, dominated the local skyline, he inspired this campaign against churches in the province. This church, built at a cost of 30 million yuan (US$ 4.8 million), was demolished in April 2014.
China Aid has compiled a long list of the attacks on churches. It reports that on 4 April 2014, a Catholic church in Pingyang County, Wenzhou, was forcibly demolished, with the government sending in SWAT to intimidate believers. After resisting the demolition, believers were beaten up and one person was brutally injured.
On 21 July 2014 the cross of Shuitou Salvation Church was demolished, leading to the injury of at least 14 believers after 500 policemen were dispatched to deal with the 40-50 Christians who were guarding the church.
A pastor at a Wenzhou church told the New York Times: "We feel helpless and don't know what to do next… we thought the storm of toppling crosses had stopped."
Please be encouraged to pray for persecuted Christians across the world in your church, particularly this Sunday. And although 24 May is the designated date for the Great Outdoors Church Service it is not too late to take part, as Release International are encouraging churches to pick any date that suits them to gather outside.
A member of Shouwang Church in China, which has been forced to meet outdoors in all weathers under the suspicious eyes of the authorities, said: "Thank you so much for continuing to pray for our church. I believe that God has strengthened us and that Shouwang Church is still in existence because of your love and prayers.
"Thank you for taking part in the Great Outdoors Church Service, and through this standing together with your brothers and sisters in China."