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The point here is not in any way to minimize the seriousness of these cases, but simply to point out that these believers were not persecuted for their faith or even for belonging to a house church (a few, in fact, were serving within the official Three-Self Patriotic Movement). Many more people in China, religious or not, face the same consequences for engaging in similar activities. The larger issues here are an authoritarian regime that is obsessed with maintaining stability at all costs, an immature legal system, and a very well-resourced security sector that has become a law unto itself. All Chinese, whether Christian or not, are suffering the consequences.

The remaining cases cited by China Aid mainly center around two issues: 1) the ability of unregistered churches to obtain facilities in order to meet openly and 2) Christians desiring to serve through educational or social service projects but having no legal platform by which to engage in these activities. Both of these point back to China's immature legal system, mentioned above. As many scholars and even government officials in China would agree, China's religious policy is broken. Until China's leaders take action to fix it, there will continue to be major tension as an increasingly dynamic church bumps up against China's rigid bureaucracy.

The real story is not that China's Christians are being singled out for repression, but rather how their creativity and resilience enable them to thrive amidst such opposition. Most do not view themselves as passive victims of persecution. They instead see the church as poised to bring renewal to their society. Some, as documented in the China Aid report, are taking significant risks and paying a personal price to bring this about as their faith compels them to enter the public arena. For most, however, it means persistently living out their faith day by day in a manner that touches the lives of those around them.

Intensity of Persecution of Christians in China Decreasing, but still a Concern

Jan Vermeer is author of Friends Forever and works with Open Doors International, a Christian organization which supports persecuted Christians.

Brother Chen (not his real name) was born in 1956 in an area on the eastern coast of China. He calls himself a fourth-generation Christian, indicating his Christian heritage. His life reads like a history book of the Church in China. Chen saw how his parents tried to maintain their house church throughout the Cultural Revolution. He buried Bibles to prevent them from being burned and later copied many of them by hand. He now leads a city church, where the challenges are not at all what they used to be.

Chen grew up with the notion that being a Christian was dangerous business. "Very dangerous," he repeats. He explains:

The houses of those who were suspected of participating in 'illegal meetings' were always searched. Both government officials and members of the state church conducted the searches. They looked for any Christian materials. Bibles, Christian books, hymnals; everything was confiscated. In fact, I do not remember when exactly, but we were ordered to hand in any Bibles that were still in the house. My parents did not comply. Instead, they told me to pack the Bibles in plastic bags and bury them. We would dig them up later. The communists piled up all the collected Bibles and burned them. I will never forget that image of God's Word going up in flames.
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