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During China's brutal Cultural Revolution in 1968, Peter Xu Yongze, newly called to Christian ministry, surveyed the bleak future facing Christianity in China and was overcome with grief.

Climbing a mountain near his village in the rugged Henan Province, Xu stopped and prayed, "Dear Lord, please revive your church!"

During the intervening 30 years, Xu evangelized, planted new house churches, and trained local church leaders, eventually creating the Born Again Movement (BAM), which has an estimated 3 million followers independent of the official registered church in China. Spinoffs from BAM, one of the fastest-growing religious groups in China, have an estimated 20 million followers, nearly twice the size of the registered church, which was re-established in 1979.

HERETIC OR HERO? This year, however, Xu will not be celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of his mountaintop plea. Last September he was sentenced to serve ten years in a "re-education-through-labor" camp in Henan. Chinese authorities arrested Xu, now 58, on charges of being a leader of a banned religious cult, disrupting public order, and spreading religious heresy about the imminent end of the world.

After Xu's arrest, the official Chinese news agency compared him to David Koresh, the Branch Davidian leader who in 1994 died in a fiery apocalypse in Waco, Texas, as the fbi attempted to arrest him. Both registered-church and house-church leaders, including Samuel Lamb and Allen Yuan, have criticized Xu and his movement for alleged doctrinal aberrations, such as the expectation that new converts weep for three days to bring about forgiveness for their sins.

Yet, other Christian leaders have defended Xu, saying that his harsh sentence exposes how the Chinese government ...

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July 13, 1998

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