in pursuit of religious freedom

Most Americans, including myself, are guilty of taking the freedoms we have for granted. We are individualistic to the core. Our Founders believed that each person had the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness endowed by our Creator. They created a country where we are free to decide for ourselves what that pursuit will look like.

On a deeper level, as Christians born and raised in a nation built on the idea of religious freedom, we have no concept of the persecution and difficulties fellow believers face around the world. We attend our comfortable church services on Sunday morning with our cushioned chairs, coffee and doughnuts with no fear of the repercussions.

And while I still cannot claim to completely understand what it is like to live outside of the protection of the Stars and Stripes, I have gained a small glimpse into how an incredibly large portion of the world’s population lives through my work as an online tutor to children in China.

America is a country built for the support and protection of the individual. In China, there is no individual. Everything and everyone is responsible for the collective good of the country. In America, we dream big and work hard to make those dreams come true. We gain personal satisfaction from our successes. In China, you work and strive to succeed not for yourself, but the collective.

And right now, the Chinese government views the spread of Christianity, especially from churches that operate outside of the government’s rules, as one of the biggest threats to the collective good.

It is estimated that there are about 116 million Protestant Christians in mainland China. Compare that with an estimated 90 million members in the Communist Party and you can understand their cause for concern.

Just last week, Wang Yi, pastor and founder of Early Rain Covenant Church, was sentenced to nine years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power” and “illegal business activities” following closed-door proceedings.

According to a Time magazine report, underground churches, that is churches not registered with the government, have reported increased suppression since the introduction of new regulations in 2018 that effectively banned “unauthorized” religious teachings.

Even official churches are monitored by closed-circuit television cameras and other surveillance equipment. The state knows what every priest or pastor is talking about in their sermons. Crosses have been removed and Christian slogans have been taken down. Church property has been confiscated, churches have been ordered to close, and some have even been torn down.

Christians are not the only group facing religious persecution in China, where 18 percent of the population is estimated to be Buddhist and 2 percent is Muslim. In northwestern Xinjiang, more than a million Muslim Uighurs have been put into re-education camps and there are reports of large-scale destruction of mosques.

In Tibet, where heavily armed Chinese police keep an eye on the citizens in the capital Lhasa, altars to religious figures such as the Dalai Lama have been replaced with shrines to China’s President Xi Jinping.

The U.S. State Department issued a statement calling Pastor Wang’s persecution “yet another example of Beijing’s intensification of repression of Chinese Christians and members of other religious groups.”

Willie Lam, an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Center for China Studies, says, “In Chinese civil society there is no other organization that rivals the Christian and Catholic churches as a potential threat to the Chinese Communist Party monopoly on power. Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party regards the Christian church as the number one enemy.”

Despite all of the obstacles, Christianity is spreading like wildfire throughout China. China, an officially atheist country, is on track to have more Christians than America by the year 2030. Their numbers may soon be greater than ours, but they nevertheless need our help.

One way that we can help is to educate ourselves so that we can understand the struggles persecuted Christians are facing. I found opendoorsusa.com very helpful in researching this column.

Never underestimate the power of prayer to make a difference. You may not be able to travel to China to encourage a discouraged pastor, but your prayers can. Your prayers can provide a hedge of protection around those who are the target of government harassment and sometimes physical violence because of their religious beliefs.

Finally, you can volunteer your skills. When Christians come together and combine their talents to help those in need incredible things happen. God has equipped you to do amazing things for His Kingdom. Ask Him how you might be able to use your skills to help persecuted Christians around the world.

And, the next time we are tempted to feel frustrated because we couldn’t find a good parking spot before church or because someone sat in “our” seat during service, we only need to remember those who face real, life-altering and threatening obstacles because of their faith to help us realize how blessed we really are.

Heather Ablondi is a women’s ministry speaker and author who lives in Fredericksburg. You can contact her through her website, heatherablondi.com.

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