RANDALL MURPHREE | AFA JournaL Editor
The persecuted church has long claimed a place in my heart, and
I have been moved by stories of martyrdom and torture of believers
around the world. Pastor Zhang Rongliang, one of Chinas leading
house church figures, is a case in point. Pastor Zhang was arrested
last December for practicing his Christian faith.
The account of his arrest has been one of Voice of the Martyrs
(VOM) top stories in recent months. The 53-year-old pastor had previously
been in prison five times, a total of 12 years. His torture had
included electric shock. His arrest was emblematic of a crackdown
on Chinas house churches.
"As far as we know, Pastor Zhang is still in custody and still
hasnt been able to have contact with his family," Todd Nettleton,
VOM director of news services, told AFA Journal. "He has
not been formally charged or tried at this time, as far as we know."
Nettleton was in AFA offices to be on American Family Radio detailing
his work with the persecuted church.
On the other hand, some believers in China say they enjoy relative
freedom to live out their faith. During a recent visit to China,
I met a number of Americans living there, some for as long as 15
It was encouraging to find that, in their work at regular jobs
in business, entertainment and industry they are able
to practice their faith without much fear of persecution. Granted,
freedom in China is not quite the same as freedom in the U.S. After
Chairman Mao Zedong declared China the Peoples Republic of
China in 1949, stringent government regulations enforced
in varying degrees in different places were imposed on the
In the early 1950s, many government and church leaders supported
the new Communist regime which founded the official state Three-Self
Church. Its name comes from the principles of self-government, self-propagation
and self-support. Unregistered churches also often function without
government intervention. Still, believers are careful not to be
perceived as a threat to the government or to local authorities.
Subsequently, they indicate that by and large, they practice their
faith daily in a pro-active way. They make friends, allow them to
see faith at work in a life, and when those friends begin to inquire
about the Christian faith, they share their own experiences.
However, they dont stop there. All four of the families I
visited focus on the command in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19)
that says we should "make disciples" not just count converts,
like notches on an Old West gunslingers pistol. As the friendships
grow, they are able to disciple new believers via Bible studies,
accountability relationships and other channels common in more open
Among the couples I met, one wife, a gifted song writer and vocalist,
is involved in the entertainment industry. The husband works with
a business consulting firm, the only Christian-owned for-profit
business in their city of more than three million. His company employs
about 20 people, and provides everything from business English instruction
to bookkeeping and liaison tasks for foreign businesses and their
Chinese clients or counterparts.
His firm also provides micro-enterprise loans for rural economic
development and helps market products created by employing women
in outlying villages.
An associate at his office observed, "Were pioneering, breaking
ground, doing things that others are not doing."
Another couple has some unique work, too. He teaches boat-building
and sailing, using the context to introduce Scriptural lessons from
the sea and fishing. She teaches Bible studies for village women
who do sewing crafts. Another man does computer rebuilding and technical
One young American mother home schools
their children and her husband teaches at a local university. I
met a few of the university students all of whom were
preparing to do practice teaching this spring. Our small group introduced
ourselves to a class of some 80-90 seniors in the school of education.
When I told them Im a writer and English teacher, they burst
The same man also works with the Hope Schools Project, helping
secure U.S. contributions to build schools in remote villages. For
a gift of $10,000, the Chinese government will match the funds and
build the school.
"We forward money from groups back home and personally oversee
the building progress of the schools," he said. "We visit and develop
relationships, and join in opening ceremonies and then come for
any reason. It provides an acceptable way to get into these areas."
Almost always, they develop a relationship that eventually allows
them to begin sharing stories of American customs stories
of Easter and Christmas traditions, church weddings and more.
The Hope Schools Project offers believers a way to have an impact
on Chinas children. Even small contributions may be used to
purchase school supplies, clothing, or much-needed school equipment.
In that way, every dollar contributes to the well-being and education
of Chinese children who might not otherwise have such an opportunity.
More important, our friend in China cultivates friendships that
allow him to share his faith.
Furthermore, when the gift goes through Global Outreach, 100% of
every dollar given goes to the project. Global stateside covers
administrative costs and office expenses for all of their personnel
on the field.
"Every dollar given for Hope Schools will go to China for Hope
Schools," said Wes White, executive director of Global Outreach.
Groups from the States or other countries are urged to visit the
Hope schools. One upcoming team will present a pantomime drama about
avoiding drugs. Medical teams are also an excellent way to minister
in this context.
is still real
Most everything I observed provides a striking contrast to the
picture of the persecuted church. Still, all of the Americans I
met acknowledge that there are indeed places where believers face
Through all the positive experiences of my short stay, the persecuted
church was still never far from my mind. It was an emotional experience
to try to connect these two very different pictures of the church
"Just about anything you hear about the church in China is true
somewhere," Todd Nettleton told the AFA Journal.
VOM tracks and documents persecution of Christians in more than
50 nations around the world. Nettletons work with VOM puts
him in contact with those who suffer for their faith. He says that
across China, one will find a wide range of responses to the presence
of the Christian church.
VOMs monthly newsletter and the book Tortured for Christ
by VOM founder Richard Wurmbrand are both available free for Journal
A special 2005 issue of The Voice of the Martyrs newsletter
includes a global prayer map which identifies nations that have
official restrictive policies regarding the freedom of religion,
and other nations that have a climate hostile to Christianity. The
same issue highlights 44 of the nations where VOM knows of persecution.
Nations like Cuba, Egypt, Sudan, Morocco, Myanmar (Burma) and North
Believers may help their brothers and sisters in various ways.
Both Global Outreach and VOM cite prayer as a key ingredient. VOM
doesnt ask for funds, but obviously, it takes money to do
ministry. Whether its for Hope Schools or for a ministry like VOM,
U. S. dollars even a few dollars can make an eternal
difference for Christ.
about Hope Schools at www.bamboobell.squarespace.com
for Hope Schools to:
P. O. Box 1
Tupelo, MS 38802
book and newsletter; send contributions to:
Voice of the Martyrs
P. O. Box 54
Caney, KS 67333