Our team’s mission in China was to teach, encourage and minister to the Beijing house church of about eighty people. There are not a lot of opportunities for members of this church to get extra education about theology, life struggles, or day-to-day Christian living skills, so we were sent to add to their learning with the hope that in time, another house church would be birthed from this current one. The house church leader is an American citizen who works for a major multi-national, but due to his job demands of working sixty hours a week he barely has enough time to do much more than “put out fires,” and teach the basics of the faith.
The house church system is illegal in China and there are many precautions that our church members have to take. Newcomers are screened before they can visit the fellowship and have to meet at least three times with a church member before they can attend. This is to test the sincerity of the newcomers’ faith. This process makes it difficult to invite new converts who are usually encouraged to visit a government-authorized Three-Self Church, which isn’t always the best option.
At a retreat two months ago, an official from the Public Security Bureau made a surprise visit. The official took the house church leader aside, asked for his passport and other pertinent information, and then told him that he couldn’t have the retreat. He threatened taking down the names of all the attendees unless they broke it up and left. (This was actually a big break. PSB officials don’t usually give ultimatums; they act by arresting and beating and torturing congregants. The ultimatum was probably given as a result of the official noticing that the house church leader was quite prominent in a large U.S. company, a company that generates big bucks for the communist government.) The location of the retreat was secret, but apparently, someone inside the church ratted them out after arriving at their destination. This put everyone’s safety at risk, and that’s why the precautions are in place. They eventually asked two suspicious members to leave.
There is always the potential for disaster when you are doing something “illegal.” Way up in an anonymous high-rise the church met day after day without incident—except once. And it was scary. Tension-filled. There was a strange power outage. No one could leave the premises because the fire doors were locked. Security personnel were not letting anyone in and no one could leave. Some people in the building were even trapped in an elevator between floors. What was all this about? Why can’t we get out of here?
The decision was made on how to escape the apartment: A zealous Kung Fu afficionado kicked in the fire doors, and then the whole team carefully walked down twenty-two flights of stairs by the light of their cell phones. It was horrible, I was told.
All this was explained to me after two Hope Chapel members and myself escaped from the local Starbucks and met up with the rest of the congregation. We had just stepped out of the house church for a moment before the black-out hit. We sat chatting and enjoying our dark-roast drip coffees and Frappaccino’s when all-of-a-sudden the music and air-conditioning inside the coffee house quit. It was terrible! Horrible and tragic! Pleasant conversation between the three of us was well-nigh impossible without background tunes… and it was way, way, too warm to enjoy polite company. I went to complain about the inconvenience and was told of the outage. Fearing for our lives, we hurriedly left the establishment and met up with our fellow sufferers-for Christ.
It is very difficult to be a Christian in China.