With the start of the Olympics just a day away, an international persecution watchdog group is inviting Christians throughout the world to join in a monthlong strategic prayer campaign to protect the unregistered church in China as it faces the prospect of even greater persecution during the Games.
U.K.-based Release International accused the Chinese Government of pursuing a tough crackdown on "illegal religious activities" under the guise of preventing disruptions to the Games.
The watchdog group has put together a prayer guide to cover the month of the Olympics, highlighting the Chinese government's persecution of underground Christians who have been trying to help in the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake, the persecution in particular of the Uyghur ethnic minority Christians in Xinjiang province, and the arrest and detention of numerous house church leaders and Christian rights campaigners.
Release recommends that believers offer a prayer a day over 31 days for the situation of China's underground believers.
"Release is inviting Christians to stand with the persecuted Church in China. We want people to intercede for freedom of worship and Christian revival in this vast communist nation – to see the Kingdom of God extended in China," said the head of Release, Andy Dipper.
Other agencies supporting persecuted believers in China have also complained of a government crackdown ahead of the Olympics.
The China Aid Association published a report on Tuesday detailing the increase in arrests and detentions of house church members in the last few months.
The Texas-based group said that persecution of Chinese believers was taking place "daily" and accused the Chinese Government of being "hypocritical" Olympic hosts.
The sentiment is one shared by the head of Open Doors USA, Carl Moeller.
"Unfortunately, there has been a crackdown on house church leaders in wake of the start of the Olympics," he said. "It's a travesty that hundreds of Christians sit in prisons while the Chinese Government pats itself on the back for its hosting of the Games."
The Olympic flame finishes its long journey to the opening ceremony of the Beijing Games on Friday, marking the start of 16 days of competition involving thousands of athletes.
The following is Release's prayer guide for the 31 days of prayer:
Day 1 The Sichuan earthquake in May caused the death of some 69,195 people. Despite the scale of the tragedy, the Chinese government refused to allow house churches to send donations to the relief effort. And some house church members were even arrested for trying to help in the quake zone. Please pray that the Chinese government will change its hostile attitude towards these Christians and let them engage in charity work.
Day 2 The Chinese authorities appear to be waging a concerted campaign of persecution against the ethnic minority Uyghur Christians of Xinjiang province, north-west China. Most Uyghurs are Muslim. Several Christians have been arrested on suspicion of separatist sympathies or leaking state secrets recently, including Alimjan Yimit. In May a judge sent Alimjan's case back to the Public Security Bureau due to insufficient evidence – but Alimjan remains in detention. Pray for Alimjan's swift release.
Day 3 On 2 July 2008, house church leader and Christian rights activist Hua Huiqi was evicted from his rented home in Beijing. Officials broke into the apartment with a hammer and threw the family, including Hua's 90-year-old father, into the street with their furniture. Hua's brother suffered serious injury to his eye when officers beat him. The government is rumoured to want to detain Hua during the Olympic Games: he was jailed for six months last year. Pray for a new home for Hua's family and for their safety.
Day 4 Shuang Shuying, the elderly mother of Beijing house church leader Hua Huiqi, is serving two years in jail – apparently because the authorities want to force Hua to give up his human rights and church work. She was accused of 'damaging government property' when she protested over being arrested with her son last year. Her health is frail: pray that God will uphold and strengthen her and make her a powerful witness for Christ in jail. • Release International continues to campaign for Shuang Shuying's release. To join the campaign, view the Release one-minute video alert at: www.releaseinternational.org/current and pass it on to friends.
Day 5 In January 2008, Beijing bookstore owner and house church leader Shi Weihan was arrested on suspicion of printing illegal Christian materials. He has been illegally held in a detention centre in Beijing for nearly five months without formal charge or trial. Shi's family members have not been allowed to visit him or send him the medication he needs for severe diabetes. Pray for Shi's release. Ask God to keep him in good health and to comfort his family.
Day 6 Thank God for the powerful witness of a house church in Beijing whose members' homes were raided recently by officials. Despite their ill-treatment, Christians pronounced a blessing over officials and shook their hands after the raid. Pray that this powerful Christian witness will touch the hearts of these officers and open their eyes to their own brutality.
Day 7 In June 2008, senior house church leader Zhang Mingxuan was detained for several hours – to prevent him from meeting with an EU official in Beijing. Officials closed down his orphanage early this year; Zhang's family have been forced to move home more than ten times since Christmas. The government reportedly wants to move the family out of Beijing. Pray for strength and courage for Pastor Zhang, his family and four orphans living with them. Ask God to provide them with a permanent home.
Day 8 In the last year Chinese police have detained some 600 Christians and sentenced 38 of them to more than a year in prison. Please pray that the Lord will grant His strength, His comfort and His wisdom to those in prison for their faith. Pray that they will remain faithful and be salt and light to their fellow prisoners.
Day 9 In May, the government held a conference on 'administering Christian gatherings' in Beijing. Recently, many house churches have had Sunday services interrupted by local policemen, and some landlords have been forced to stop renting out their property to Christians for worship meetings. Please pray that house churches in Beijing will find new places to worship. Pray that their leaders' hearts will be on fire for God, despite regular harassment.
Day 10 Government leaders from across the globe are attending the Beijing Olympics. Please pray that these senior politicians will urge the Chinese government to improve its religious rights record, particularly in its dealings with the unregistered house church movement.
Day 11 Liu Huiwen from Gansu province is serving 18 months in jail for handing out Christian leaflets at a Muslim wedding in April 2007 and so 'insulting ethnic minorities'. He is said to be suffering bullying and abuse in a prison full of Muslims. Pray for Liu and his family: his wife Miao Hui Lian has been under police surveillance since she complained about Liu's ill-treatment.
Day 12 Despite the authorities' determination to keep a tight rein on house churches in Beijing, the Olympic Village will have a prayer centre for athletes. Please pray that Christian athletes will be bold in sharing their testimonies and the gospel with their fellow Chinese athletes and others involved in the Games.
Day 13 Even a year ago, there were rumours that government agents had infiltrated every house church in Beijing to keep watch on their activities and, presumably, root out pastors considered to be 'troublemakers'. This news must have bred distrust between house church members, with suspicion focused especially on newcomers. Pray that God's Holy Spirit would help unite His family in churches which have been under intense pressure for months.
Day 14 Many poorly built school buildings collapsed during the Sichuan earthquake in May, killing many pupils. Due to China's one-child policy, many parents lost their only child in the tragedy. Some held silent protests outside courtrooms, calling for justice, but were beaten by police or even arrested. Ask the Lord to use His people to bring comfort, friendship and hope to the bereaved.
Day 15 Many Christians in Beijing are volunteering to help in the smooth running of the Olympics, because they have a heart to share the gospel through their service. Please pray that God will give them courage and wisdom to share their faith.
Day 16 Daniel Ng and his wife are Australian citizens who own a large company in China. Since August 2007, they have been barred from leaving the country and their assets have been frozen. Their firm was shut down by the authorities amid allegations of illegal religious activities – based on the fact that the company has a Christian ethos. Please pray for God's protection for Daniel and his wife. Pray too that the Lord will raise up more Christian business leaders to bring His light into the business community.
Day 17 In May 2008, a prominent house church leader from the Uyghur community, Luo Yuanqi, was detained in Xinjiang province on charges of 'inciting separatism'. He has been badly abused in custody. Pray for physical and spiritual healing for Luo and ask God to bless his ministry.
Day 18 It is illegal in China to share the gospel with people under the age of 18. Many churches do not have an active Sunday School programme and some do not recognise the importance of children's ministry. On 28 February, 2008, 11 children in Xinjiang were detained for a day when they were caught attending a children's Bible study. Pray that more churches will catch the vision for teaching children to grow up following Christ.
Day 19 Many churches had property and land confiscated by the communist regime in the 1950s – and many congregations are still pressing for this property to be returned. The Chinese authorities have resisted this. In Fanzhi, Shanxi, a pastor and several other Christians were injured recently when they remonstrated with builders redeveloping land which had belonged to them before the government seized it. Pray for justice to be done for these churches' sake.
Day 20 The Chinese administration under President Hu Jintao has the stated aim of creating a 'harmonious society'. Please pray that Hu Jintao and his ministers will be more open-minded about Christians and recognise the contribution they already make to social harmony by being good citizens.
Day 21 Chinese constitutional law grants citizens the right of religious freedom, yet many house church members do not know how to summon this right in defending themselves against allegations of 'illegal' religious activity. Christian lawyers are starting to educate Christians about their constitutional rights and have helped bring several successful lawsuits as a result. Ask God to protect these Christian lawyers and their families as they undertake this high-risk work.
Day 22 China has been fiercely criticised over its harsh repatriation policy for North Korean refugees found in its territories. North Koreans repatriated from China – about 4,000 a year – are reported to face brutal treatment as defectors, even execution. Pray that China will recognise the brutality of the Pyongyang regime and scrap its repatriation policy. • Release has just launched a new petition urging China to end its policy of repatriating North Korean refugees. The petition can be downloaded at: www.releaseinternational.org/current
Day 23 Missionaries to China have done much to build her church and spread the gospel. The Beijing Olympics will bring more than 500,000 foreigners into China. Pray that among these visitors will be some who are called to work with the church in China and extend God's kingdom in the nation.
Day 24 Against a backdrop of persecution and suffering, misunderstanding and lack of communication have sometimes conspired to cause rifts between different Chinese house church movements. Please pray for unity between these movements. Pray that church leaders will work together to spread the gospel.
Day 25 Pastor Zhang Zhongxin was sentenced to two years at a labour camp in Shandong province recently for belonging to an 'evil cult'. He had a varied ministry, which ranged from training to preaching, over a wide geographical area. Pray that Pastor Zhang will be able to continue his ministry during his detention.
Day 26 College students who turn to Christ on campus face worldly pressures once they step out into the workplace – particularly during China's economic downturn this year. There is an urgent need for church workers to disciple these new Christians and keep in touch with them as they leave campus. Pray that God will raise up good and faithful servants to minister to these young people.
Day 27 Some house church leaders are misinterpreting the Bible and leaving their families behind to serve the Lord. They want to respond to China's urgent need for Christian ministers – but they may pay a heavy personal price: family breakdown. Pray that church leaders in China will find the right balance between family priorities and spreading the good news.
Day 28 Cai Zhuohua, a house church pastor from Beijing, was jailed between 2004 and 2007 for distributing Bibles for free in poor areas where people could not access Bibles or could not afford them. The Chinese government recently held an exhibition in the US to try to prove that China not only has sufficient Bibles but is a major exporter of them. Pray that God will provide sufficient Bibles to meet the needs of believers in China.
Day 29 Jiang Zongxiu, 34, was beaten to death in 2004 for carrying Scriptures: she left behind an eight-year-old son. Her family is still waiting for justice: Jiang's body has not been returned to her family and her attackers have not been punished. Pray that Jiang's family will be comforted by the love of Christ and will see justice done.
Day 30 Despite its recent economic downturn, China is the world's fastest-growing economy – a position which carries considerable political clout. Pray that, while much of the international community courts this emerging superpower, nations of influence will continue to put pressure on Beijing to clean up its human rights record.
Day 31 The Beijing Olympics have inspired churches and believers all over the world to pray for China. Pray that this prayer campaign will gather momentum and that the Lord will bring revival to the nation of China.