‘Children are not allowed to go to church.’
‘Children are not allowed to hear the Gospel.’
‘Parents cannot share their faith even with their own children.’
If you think this sounds like a scene from the distant future or an apocalyptic Christian movie, think again. This is the reality now in China. It is currently against the law for children (aged under 18) to enter a church building or to be spoken to about Christianity. Since February 2018 this law has been enforced in various ways.
An estimated 7% of China are Christians, not far from the percentage of practising Christians here in the UK. Yet children are being actively shielded from all aspects of faith.
Schools and public libraries have been burning books that teach on religion. New textbooks have been written, removing mention of God, prayer, Christianity or supernatural power. But the indoctrination into militant atheism does not end there.
Christianity is classed as Xie Jiao, that is teaching contrary to the Chinese Communist Party. Being linked with Xie Jiao organisations can lead to a long imprisonment. In this context, some children were forced to state in surveys at school their faith. If they wrote they were Christian, they were told to rewrite it, but still some refused to change it.
Children in China’s primary schools are now being taught that to believe in God is not only abnormal, but if your parents are religious you should not trust them. Children return home from school armed with this ‘knowledge’ against their parents. One son, who had been told at school that being a Christian was an abomination, told his mum, ‘If you believe in it, you will leave home and not take care of me. You might set yourself on fire too.’ (This reflects teachings in the school that Christians set fire to themselves).
Children are being encouraged to report their own parents and Christian families live with the reality that the parents may be arrested at any moment. Some even hide their Bibles and tracts from their own children. It is not surprising when you hear that one teacher told the children, ‘If your mum goes to church and believes in God, she doesn’t want you as her child anymore.’
In a country where children’s iris scans, blood samples and other data are being collected without parental permission as part of a national drive to monitor all citizens, meaning these children will be able to be identified at any time in the future, the implications are frightening.
It is no surprise that China has risen 20 places in the last two years on the World’s Watch List (Open Doors tracking of the most persecuted nations). China currently stands at number 23 on the list.
To put this in the context of the world in our generation, 18.47% of the world’s population lives in China (that’s almost 1/5 of those alive today). Just over 20% of these are children. So, 4% of the world are children today in China – that percentage are not only not hearing the Gospel, they are being actively indoctrinated against it. But the power of God can break through even the hardest heart and true love will shine a light that cannot be ignored.
Jesus did not promise freedom from persecution. He did promise freedom from many things, including sin, but not persecution. Indeed, persecution is an inevitable part of taking up our cross and following Christ and when we are persecuted Jesus says we are blessed. In past times of severe persecution in China, the church has seen explosive growth. This pattern is not new. The early church father, Tertullian, observed in the 2nd Century, ‘The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.’
In the light of all this, how should we respond?
Let’s pray for our brothers and sisters who are suffering within their own families. Every day they choose to live for Christ they are living under the threat of being separated from their own children. Worse still they even have the possibility that their own children will turn against them and choose to report them?
When the early church started to see persecution, their response was not to ask for God to remove the persecution, instead they requested that they would be made bold to keep speaking out for God and to work in signs and wonders. (Acts 4:29-30).
For more Biblical prayer lines, see this blog.
While our families are not facing anything like this level of persecution, seeing the fate of our brothers and sisters in China it certainly sharpens our focus. Are we preparing our children to stand if they were faced with such a trial, or are we simply teaching them nice Bible stories? Are we encouraging our children to make a stand for their faith, or are we simply encouraging them to turn up on a Sunday? I want to raise a generation who will stand for God no matter what they have to face, because they have faced God and seen life.
Let’s take advantage of the freedoms we have to preach and proclaim the Gospel, wherever we have opportunity. In season and out of season let us not deviate or dilute the glorious Gospel that God has entrusted to us. Let’s not be ashamed of this Gospel, but remember that it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.
Should we share this news with our children? I believe that shared in the right context, our children can take their place in praying for their brothers and sisters in Christ. They can be encouraged and strengthened in their own faith and they can be inspired to preach the Gospel in their schools. As we share with them, let’s remind them who the real enemy is, remind them who God has made them to be and show them how God is still on His throne. Let’s not turn a blind eye to what is happening in our times, but let’s hold on to the promises God has given us in Scripture and stand strong in these days.