Lela Gilbert is Senior Fellow for Religious Freedom at Family Research Council and Fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom. Arielle Del Turco is Assistant Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council. This article appeared in The Christian Post on March 29, 2020.
Rarely are Christians in the United States confronted with the kinds of challenges faced by believers around the world whose governments regularly persecute the faithful. Yet, both are now facing the coronavirus. Churches around the world – even those in places where persecution abounds – have been forced to adapt to this unexpected and unnerving external pressure, meeting in new and creative ways in the era of social distancing. As churches across America begin to wrestle with new challenges, we can be inspired by the church in China, which has managed be a light to their society during the coronavirus despite continuous pressure from their own government.
Long before American churches, churches in China transitioned their worship services online in January. Wuhan Root and Fruit Christian Church, in the epicenter of the outbreak, started a YouTube channel to stay connected to its congregants. Via this new platform, Pastor Huang Lei encouraged church members:
When thousands are afraid and panicking, the children of God must stand in the gap and intercede. Everything in this world will pass away, but even in this calamity, God has given us the authority and power to pray and intercede for this city. … Pray, encourage and build each other up, and strengthen ourselves in the Word of God.
While coronavirus keeps people inside their homes, this hasn’t stopped Christians from reaching out to their communities. Pastor Paul Peng from Blessings Reformed Evangelical Church in Chengdu told World Magazine that in the midst of the coronavirus, “[t]he church members also feel a greater burden to evangelize with their family members.” When the mother of one congregant was hospitalized with coronavirus, Peng explained the gospel to her by phone. She was born again on her deathbed and spent her last hours listening to recorded hymns.
A few Christians in Wuhan even took to the mostly-quiet streets to evangelize, offering face masks and leaflets with the Gospel message to anyone they encountered. The authorities would usually halt such bold acts, but the quiet of quarantine provided a cover for this outreach.
The coronavirus will pass, but the social effects of lockdown may be felt in the long term. Wuhan Root and Fruit Christian Church wouldn’t have started a YouTube channel if they hadn’t been forced to stay connected online during the outbreak. Now, Christians around the world have taken inspiration from this church’s coronavirus message.
COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the world economy, healthcare systems, and the families which face tragedy. But as people turn to technology to connect with others, Christians also find themselves more connected than ever to fellow believers around the world, including those from persecuted communities.
Until now, some Christians in the free world may have understood little of what Christians endure in places like China. But for Chinese Christians, this has been a long-term struggle. Since the Chinese Revolution in 1949, when Mao Zedong’s radical form of Marxism became the law of the land, believers were arrested, imprisoned, “disappeared” or killed. The anti-religious crackdowns of President Xi Jinping bear increasingly similarity to Mao’s abusive agenda.
From the beginning of Maoism until now, there have been waves in China’s mistreatment of Christians. In 2018, Bob Fu, founder and president of ChinaAid, told the Washington Times that today’s persecution of Christians is at the highest level since Mao’s reign of terror. “For Christians alone,” Fu said, “last year we documented persecution against 1,265 churches, with the number of people persecuted over 223,000. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.” Sadly, since 2018, the Chinese Christians’ plight has only worsened. A look at the risks taken by China’s Christians provides us with a fresh appreciation for the great freedoms we enjoy.
For good reason, America’s Christians are grateful for the constitutional freedoms that undergird our society and remain eager to defend them. And most Americans are also appreciative of the precautions being taken by the U.S. government for our health, which will dramatically increase the odds of survival for our families and friends.
As the crisis continues, American Christians can electronically walk alongside our Chinese brothers and sisters in faith, with a deeper awareness of the struggles they increasingly face. Long after the harshest effects of the coronavirus pass, persecuted Christians around the world will continue to face their challenges, walking courageously in faith. That’s what they do every day of their lives, despite the very real dangers they face. Confronted with this unique moment in history, may we likewise learn to adapt – and be bold in our faith!