Many of China’s churches are overflowing, as the number of Christians in the country multiplies, reports Tim Gardam for the British Broadcasting Company.
“It is impossible to say how many Christians there are in China today, but noone denies the numbers are exploding,” he writes. “The government says 25 million, 18 million Protestants and six million Catholics. Independent estimates all agree this is a vast underestimate. A conservative figure is 60 million. There are already more Chinese at church on a Sunday than in the whole of Europe.”
Because the government officially ignores the vast majority of Christians who refuse to worship in state-controlled churches where children are banned and evangelism is prohibited, there is no official tally. In fact, such groups as the New York-based China Aid Association mention numbers between120 million and 150 million.
“The new converts can be found from peasants in the remote rural villages to the sophisticated young middle class in the booming cities,” notes Gardam. “On Easter morning, in downtown Beijing, I watched five services, each packed with over 1,500 worshippers. Sunday school was spilling on to the street. However, these numbers are dwarfed by the unofficial “house churches,” spreading across the country, at odds with the official church which fears the house churches’ fervor may provoke a backlash.”
An educated young Christian described her church to me: “We have 50 young professionals in this church. Everyone is so busy working, you don’t have time socialising, and even if you are socialising, you are putting on a fake face. But in church people feel warm, they feel welcome… they feel people really love them so they really want to join the community, a lot of people come for this.”
What must unsettle the authorities most is the reason why so many are turning to the churches.
Professor He Guanghu, at Renmin University in Beijing put it to me: “The worship of Mammon… has become many people’s life purpose. I think it is very natural that many other people will not be satisfied… will seek some meaning for their lives so that when Christianity falls into their lives, they will seize it very tightly.”
Muslim youths hacked a Christian family of eight to death in Nigeria’s volatile Plateau state, continuing a week of religious violence, according to the British news service Reuters.
Over the last month, extremists have killed 24 Christians, reported the human rights group Compass Direct, which reported that attacks on August 11-15 in Ratsa Foron village left six Christians dead; on Aug. 14, in Chwelnyap, two were killed; on Aug. 15 in Heipang village, Muslim extremists killed ten Christians, including nine members of one family; and on Aug. 21, assaults in Kwi, Loton and Jwol villages resulted in the deaths of six more Christians.
Sources told Compass Direct that Nigerian army soldiers participated in some of the assaults “or at least accompanied the assailants.”
As a result of those reports, Plateau Governor Jonah Jang called for immediate withdrawal of the Nigerian army because he believed Muslims in the army had taken sides with Islamist assailants.
“I am convinced that the armed forces are being polluted with the religious crisis in the country,” Jang told reporters. “Before now, the military personnel used to stay in the barracks, but today the armed forces have started taking sides in this religious crisis, and if they are not called to order, it will be dangerous for the country.”
Reuters put the month’s death toll at 40 and reported that Plateau state spokesman Yiljap Abraham took journalists to a house in the village of Tatu, where the bodies of the eight victims from the latest attack were still lying on the floor.
A Christian nurse here has told police she was raped by a Muslim co-worker who filmed the act and showed it to her family in an attempt to blackmail her into renouncing her faith and marrying him.
Christians have little legal or societal standing in Pakistan — and Muslim criminals tend to assume they will not be prosecuted if their victims are Christians. However, the videotaped evidence this time might make a difference
Shaista Samuel, a 27-year-old nurse at the Services Institute of Medical Sciences, said she had worked several years on good terms with the man who began stalking her, then raped her.
She told Compass Direct News how she has filed a “first information report” at Shadman police station accusing Ali Adnan, an assistant accounts officer at the hospital, and an armed accomplice of abducting her at gunpoint from the government hospital on Aug. 21 and taking her to a house in Lahore where Adnan’s accomplice filmed the rape.
“[Adnan] was holding my arm tightly and forcibly led me to a white car in the parking lot,” Samuel said in tears, adding that as they approached the car, Adnan’s accomplice came out of the shadows and placed a handgun to her head.
“Adnan said that they would shoot me if I raised my voice. I was in complete shock … my senses went numb, and I could not believe this was happening to me. They took me to a house in WAPDA Town [for housing Water and Power Development Authority workers in Lahore], where Adnan raped me while his friend filmed the entire incident. They ruined my life completely.”
“I thought of him as a good friend, since we were working together… he used to visit my home often and was known to my family,” she told Compass.
Recently, however, Adnan had begun acting strangely toward her, she said.
“He started criticizing Christians for not observing the purdah [covering of women] and of following our ‘own brand of religion,’” she said. “One day when I was least expecting it, he told me that he had started liking me and that I should convert to Islam and marry him. I told him that I had always considered him just a friend, and that although I held him in great regard, marrying him was not possible since we belonged to different faiths.”
Adnan began harassing her at the workplace and by telephone, she said. “He used to block my way at the hospital, and then one day he forced his way into my house and threatened me and my family, saying that he would not rest until they marry me to him. He was acting like a mad man. He started cursing my family and even tried to set the house on fire.”
Disturbed by Adnan’s obsessive behavior, Samuel said that she tried her best not to come into any sort of contact with him. On Aug. 21, however, as soon as she entered the hospital he approached her from behind and forced her to sit in a car in the hospital’s parking area, she said.
“All this while, he told me not to make a commotion as it would only create an embarrassing situation for me,” she said. “He said he just wanted to talk to me to ‘clear up some misunderstandings.’”
He then led her to the white car, and the accomplice appeared. Samuel said the two men held her for over an hour and then dropped her back at the hospital, telling her that if she told anyone about the rape they would send the film to her family and also upload it on social networking sites.
In Pakistan, a rape victim is generally considered too shamed to resume a normal life or pursue marriage.
“I was devastated,” she said. “I wanted the earth to open up and swallow me. I did not share my ordeal with any person, not even my parents. I did not have the courage to tell them that their daughter had been dishonored, and decided to keep my misery to myself … I could not see my father and brothers face the shame brought by my bad luck.”
Her misery did not end there – Adnan began trying to blackmail her by phone, she added.
“At first he demanded that I convert to Islam, and only then would he consider forgiving me for refusing his proposal,” she said.
When she refused, he began demanding sexual favors and threatening to come to her house and show the film to her family – Pakistanis tend to shame the victims rather than the perpetrators of rape – but Samuel refused to be manipulated by his threats, she said.
“My defiance angered Adnan to such an extent that one evening he turned up at my home and showed the film to my parents,” Samuel said. “He then told my shocked family that they had no other option but to hand me over to him … he told them that he ‘owned’ me now.”
Adnan left the house, leaving the family, who are members of St. Andrews Church, which is affiliated with the Church of Pakistan, in deep anguish.
“We had a very tough decision to make,” Samuel said. ‘We could have either conceded to his demand or be ready to face the shame and dishonor by reporting his crime, but we chose the latter. Adnan must be punished for ruining my life. I thank God that he rescued me from Adnan’s blackmailing, otherwise I would have remained in mental agony for the rest of my life.”
Compass Direct says that a reporter tried to reach Adnan for comment, but he would not take the call.
Although Shaista and her family have filed a report with police, getting justice without higher government help is usually difficult for Christians in Pakistant. Police have yet to arrest the two suspects.
“My father and brothers have been going to the police station every day to ask them to record the statements of the accused,” said Samuel, “but the investigating officer of the case is using delay tactics. I’ve been asked ridiculous questions about the incident, but I will not be discouraged from seeking justice.”
Samuel said she was tired of suspicious and questioning eyes at her workplace and has taken leave from the hospital. The administration has formed a committee to probe into the matter.
“I am sick and tired of people staring at me and asking questions,” she said, adding that after she took leave, no one from the hospital administration had contacted her though she had heard of the committee’s formation. The two-member committee includes medical Superintendent Muhammad Javaid and the hospital’s finance director.
Javaid told Compass Direct News that the committee would record the statements of the complainant and the accused and would also examine the circumstantial evidence.
Five members of a small suburban “house church” got up at 4 a.m. Sunday hoping to slip past police and worship Jesus with persecuted believers from the 1,000-member Shouwang Church in Beijing.
However, police were out in force and caught the five — interrogated them and attempted to get them to sign statements “repenting” of their support of the Beijing congregation.
Each weekend for 22 weeks now, teams of police officers stand outside church leaders’ homes much of the weekend — barring the pastors and staff from leaving home. Other policemen ring a park the church designated as a meeting place, removing anybody who begins reading a Bible, singing hymns with others or playing DVDs of sermons.
The park was chosen by Shouwang Church leadership after police blocked the congregation from renting any indoor facilities or taking possession a property purchased by the church for $4 million.
So this Sunday, five members of a small “house church” in Fangshan, Hebei township, outside of Beijing, attempted to show their solidarity with Shouwang’s members. They woke at 4 a.m. and traveled for two hours to the park in Beijing, hoping to worship with members of the embattled congregation.
However, police were already out in force upon their arrival at 7 a.m. The five were taken into custody. There officials urged them to sign documents withdrawing their support of the Shouwang church. All five refused and were eventually released.
“The Fangshan five are part of a growing wave of house church Christians determined – despite the consequences – to support Shouwang church in its stand for greater religious freedom,” said Bob Fu of the China Aid Association.
Shouwang members have attempted to meet in the outdoor venue every Sunday since April 11.
Besides the Fangshan church members, police detained at least 15 Shouwang members who turned up for worship, holding them for up to 48 hours in interrogation rooms. The Domestic Security Protection Squad maintained surveillance outside the homes of senior church leaders, while less senior police camped outside the homesof other church members from Saturday night until noon Sunday.
On Aug. 14, police detained some 16 worshippers at the square. Among them was pastor Wang Shuanyan of Beijing’s Xinshu house church.
In a letter written after her release on Aug. 16 and smuggled out of China, Wang described how police detained her at 7 a.m. and took her to the Zhongguancun Boulevard police station. The previous Sunday, a police officer had threatened to lock her up for 48 hours if she persisted in coming to the worship site; this time Wang came prepared with a sleeping bag.