Holding the darkness at bay: Advocating for the persecuted church in China

October 9, 2019 by Isaac Six in Advocacy

A few years ago, I sat in a small hotel room in Beijing across from a man I’ll call Mr. Lu* and listened in awe as he told me one of the most powerful personal testimonies I have ever heard. I believe it’s a testimony we all need to hear as we advocate for persecuted believers.

A dedicated Communist in the early 1960s, Mr. Lu was a young man teaching officers of the People’s Liberation Army. At that time, China was caught up in Chairman Mao’s infamous “Great Leap Forward” campaign, an industrial and agricultural restructuring of the country that would leave an estimated 20 million people dead from starvation. Arrests and executions of so-called “counter-revolutionaries” took place almost daily, but Mr. Lu felt relatively secure in his teaching position.

That is until the day he innocently remarked to a friend how he had been thinking about Chairman Mao. Mr. Lu told his friend, “You know, I love Mao. Mao is a good man, but many of the things he says sound like God. Surely Mao isn’t God, is he?”

Two days later, Mr. Lu was arrested. His friend had betrayed him, denouncing him as a counter-revolutionary for suggesting that Mao could not be God. He was imprisoned, tortured and humiliated both publicly and in front of his own family. Eventually, he broke and decided to take his own life. Mr. Lu told me this wasn’t at all unusual. Of the 70 or so students and teachers he knew to be arrested during that time, 40 committed suicide.

Mr. Lu* tells of surviving Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” and his miraculous conversion to faith.

A miraculous conversion

One day, after being returned to his makeshift cell, Mr. Lu began walking purposefully toward his open third floor window. The plan was simply to throw himself out, headfirst, and hope the fall was enough to kill him. His adrenaline surged as he strode toward the window. He could hear the sound of his own heart beating furiously as he got closer. On his very last step, his heartbeat changed suddenly. With astonishment, Mr. Lu heard the sounds of his own heartbeat reverberate through his consciousness like an audible voice. It rang out “Bu Dong!” or “Don’t move!”

Mr. Lu froze in his tracks. His mind raced, and suddenly memories of going to church with his mother as a young boy came back to him. Could this be God speaking? He hadn’t thought about faith in years, but for the first time in two decades, Mr. Lu knelt and prayed,

“Lord, if this message if from You, if You still remember me after all these years, than how great is Your love? Surely, it’s greater than anything else in the world. If this message is from You, come into my heart today.”

Suddenly, Mr. Lu’s heart flooded with joy and every trace of depression disappeared. He began to laugh so hard that the guards actually stormed in and began beating him. But he says he couldn’t help it. So complete was the joy and peace that filled him at that moment.

Mr. Lu would eventually be released from prison and, over the course of many years, become connected with the great revival that has led tens of millions of Chinese men and women to Jesus over the last few decades. His miraculous conversion to faith in Christ came during some of the darkest hours of China’s history, yet still God reached him.

Open Doors USA CEO Dr. David Curry, alongside others, meets with Vice President Pence to discuss conditions for Christians and other religious minorities in China.

China today

Today, after many years of slowly opening to the world, China is once again closing up. After only six years in power, President Xi Jinping is widely considered to be the most powerful Chinese leader since Chairman Mao who died over 40 years ago. Jinping has cemented his rule so completely that, unlike some of his predecessors, he may be able to hold on to power indefinitely.

As a result, arrests and crackdowns on Christians and other religious minorities who refuse to submit their faith to every dictate of Xi Jinping or the Communist Party are taking place at levels that may be higher than anything seen since the days of Chairman Mao.

Yet the China of today, and the world today, is vastly changed from 40 years ago. While China is making use of the latest in surveillance technology to strengthen its repression of fundamental human rights, technology has also made the world more aware than ever of what’s taking place in the world’s most populous country. Much of the world has watched as millions of protestors in Hong Kong have resisted encroaching Communist Party rule. Unlike the China of 1960, or even of 1989, authorities have held back from sending in tanks and soldiers for fear of the tremendous international backlash that would follow an extreme crackdown like those of the past.

An uphill battle

Here in Washington D.C., Open Doors USA is utilizing its many years of experience with the persecuted in China to make sure policies that hold China accountable for abuses against religious minorities are being brought to the table. We’ve met with the Vice President and others to tell the story of the persecuted, and we’re working in coalitions that help to amplify our efforts. Even more broadly, Open Doors is advocating with governments outside of the U.S., including the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and at multilateral institutions like the United Nations and European Union.

We face an uphill battle. China has become a major international power, and countries that choose to confront China on religious freedom or other issues sometimes pay a price. Yet we know that advocacy works. If not for the pressures of the international community and the United States’ stalwart (although sometimes imperfect) stand against tyrannical rule and human rights abuses, China would be far worse off. Today, as President Xi Jinping tries to take China back to the dark ages of repression, we have a responsibility to stand strong. It may take years, or even decades, but the light of the gospel cannot be extinguished, and we must continue to do our part to hold the darkness at bay.

After all, thanks to the testimonies of Mr. Lu and the many others like him, we know that hope always remains—even in the darkest of places.

*Name changed for security

Isaac Six serves as director of advocacy for Open Doors USA and is based in Washington, D.C. He has worked on religious freedom issues and Christian persecution in Washington for over eight years, including inside and outside of government; and has traveled extensively to meet with victims of religious freedom violations around the globe.

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