34 Chinese Church Leaders Arrested in Persecution-Plagued Region

WASHINGTON - Thirty-four Chinese house church leaders and three Christian leaders from South Korea were arrested in a central province in China – a region notorious for its persecution of Christians.

Local police raided a house church Bible study in Nanyang city, Henan province on Tuesday around 2 p.m. (local time), according to China Aid Association (CAA). Participants were from the Chinese House Church Alliance and were meeting in the home of Pastor Dong Quanyu, vice president of Chinese House Church Alliance.

The term Chinese House Church refers to congregations in China that refused to join the officially recognized Three-Self Church. House churches are independent and usually operate underground.

Henan has a history of Christian persecution and was named by the CAA as the province with the worst persecution record with at least 823 known arrests of pastors and believers and 11 raids from July 2005 to May 2006.

"Henan province should be put on notice having the worst religious persecution record," said the Rev. Bob Fu, president of CAA, last June. "It is morally imperative for any conscientious foreign investors in Henan to address this serious issue."

Henan along with Zhejiang provinces are noted for their strong Protestant house church movement as well as severe religious oppression by the government.

One of the main functions of China House Church Alliance is to provide Biblical education to emerging church leaders and young believers in an environment where there are significant challenges to receiving systematic and comprehensive theological education.

The hunger of Chinese Christians for Bible studies was highlighted by the Rev. Ron Pearce, executive director of Empower Ministries, at MissionFest Toronto last week.

Pearce relayed stories of "underground" church leaders meeting by the hundreds in fields under ginseng nets to conduct 24-hour Bible studies for four consecutive days with several pastors taking turns to teach Christians. The ginseng nets muffle voices and shield people underneath it from snow and frost, according to Pearce.

Although persecution of house church leaders and believers continue to be reported, several human rights and government bodies have noted the improvement of religious freedom in China.

Open Doors' World Watch list this year dropped China from its tenth spot in 2006 to the 12th rank. The list was released in January 2007.

The International Religious Freedom Report 2006, issued by the U.S. Department of State, also observed that although the Chinese government has continue to repress unregistered Protestant churches, there is greater freedom to participate in officially sanctioned religious activities. The report also acknowledged that there is an increased availability of Bibles and religious text in most parts of China.

However, house churches – many of which refuse to join the officially sanctioned protestant organization because they argue God and not the government should be the head of the church – have reported increased government repression of the church and inadequate Bible distribution in rural areas.

Despite improvements in religious freedom in some aspects, China was re-designated as a "country of particular concern" (CPC) for severe violations of religious freedom last November by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The People's Republic of China has been designated a CPC every year since 1999.