China Persecution Update: Children and the elderly as trained spies

It is difficult for Christians outside of China to get an accurate, updated, comprehensive, simple-but-not-oversimplified summary of the rapidly escalating persecution confronting Chinese Christians. Our VOMK team assembled this timely brief for you to share with your friends, family, and church.


Under Xi Jinping’s dictatorship, China is carrying out various large-scale movements in an attempt to turn back the clock. The goal is to return China to the Mao Zedong era, a totalitarian era in which nothing—human rights, religion, or even thought—was free from the iron grip of the Communist party.

Today, the total number of Christians in China is large, exceeding even the total population of South Korea. Although Xi Jinping claims to be committed to a “Sinicization of Christianity”, he really just wants a more restrictive version of the “Three-Self Church Movement” that is aimed after either (1) the complete elimination of Christianity or (2) the achieving of “religious harmony” (which means designating Communism the shared and only valid object of ultimate concern for all Chinese people, regardless of religion).

Ever since the “Great Persecution” experienced by Chinese Christians in the late 1980s, the government has been building understanding and developing methods of dealing with religion. Today, they have nearly perfected this art: People living in China no longer have any privacy. The “Real Name System”, “Big Data”, and “Video Surveillance” are all tools the government uses against the rule of law, against freedom, and even against people’s personal beliefs. From large cities in China to remote towns and villages, old retired people in the community have become the authorities’ most useful tool: They monitor citizens for the government and they do this entirely free of charge. These voluntary spies wear red armbands and stroll through the community, watching every pedestrian—and they do this all day.

Even more worrying, however, is that many primary schools in China are encouraging young students to spend their summer as “little reporters.” These students are instructed to report unpatriotic people—including their parents, teachers, and friends. They are expected to tease out the secrets of others and become informers! The authorities are doing everything they can to monitor citizens.

Religious persecution in China is incessant, but type and level of persecution against Christianity varies according to region. In some areas, some churches even participate in social activities and get along with their local governments. Therefore, many churches believe that as long as they refrain from saying anything inappropriate, they will not be persecuted. This is why many churches continue to rent spaces in office buildings or buy land for their churches. This thinking, however, is mistaken. The persecution order issued by the central government was clear in its objective and it does not distinguish between religions (Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity) or registration status (officially recognized church, underground church).

If you wanted to describe the persecution faced by Christians today, the most appropriate word would be the “Great Cleansing”, which is the name of Xi Jinping’s movement. Christians who have worked hard to raise funds and acquire buildings are forced to look on as their churches are demolished in an instant. Even today, pastors, clergy, and ordinary Christians are arrested throughout China. They’re imprison, tortured, beaten, and drugged into false confessions. If we were to list out all the tortures these Christians have faced in the last year alone, it would fill more than a single, bloody book.

Mao Zedong’s wife, Jiang Qing, once said, “In China, religion has entered the History Museum.” This isn’t enough for Xi Jinping’s government, however. In Xi Jinping’s China, there should be no trace of Christianity—even in the History Museum.

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North Korea Persecution Update: Romans 8:28 still works in NK

Have the North Korea/South Korea/US “Peace Talks” changed anything for Christians in North Korea?

The general consensus: Not for the better. They’ve actually been used by the North Korean government as an occasion for accelerating the reputation building of Kim Jung Un domestically. The youngest Kim, whose published exploits are beginning to rival those of his father and grandfather in North Korea’s divine pantheon even though he is still alive and considerably younger, is now described in state media as a “gift from heaven” who is “perfect and entrancing.

Meanwhile, South Korea’s President Moon is faring nowhere near as well in North Korean state propaganda as he was last summer when peace was purported to be so close. This year he is back to being described as “the lapdog of the US.”

While political goodwill is fleeting, the Lord continues to shine upon and through his underground ambassadors to North Korea: the North Korean church. It is the glory of the Cross that is reflected there, in the lives of her 100,000 Christians, including the 30,000 in concentration camps. There, Christians are tortured, starved, and isolated from other prisoners in the hope of getting them to recant their faith, though even then release is impossible.

What is the glory of the Lord that shines in all this? It is that God’s grace is sufficient to enable North Korean Christians to remain today’s boldest witnesses to their captors and to serve as today’s most tangible signs of God’s love and care to other prisoners. North Korean Christians are trained from the earliest days of their faith that their reasonable worship is to make a faithful witness to Christ wherever he places them, no matter how hostile the surroundings.

Outside the camps, Christians in North Korea continue to be hunted down with meticulous precision and relentless concentration. Neighbors are required to report one another to the authorities on slightest suspicion. Spouses are ordered to inform on each other. Children are taught to spy on their own parents. All are warned to keep an eye out for telltale Christian behaviors: the bowing of a head in prayer, the giving of money to “useless” people like orphans and widows, the singing of Kim Il Sung hymns using strange and unauthorized lyrics. Failure to report Christian behavior results in punishment for you, and for your extended family for three generations.

Despite this, the North Korean underground church continues to worship and evangelize with unshakable confidence in her Lord. As one former Christian prisoner expressed, “Romans 8:28 works just as well inside a North Korean concentration camp as it does anywhere else.”

In North Korea, the real “gift from heaven”–the only ones in that country (and perhaps ours too) who know the things that truly make for peace–are not those who exploits are published or followed closely with international interest. They are underground, where the glory of the Lord shines upon them day and night.

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Asia’s persecutors: NK, China…and Russia???

On April 2019, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) added Russia to its list of “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPC), a list of countries “whose government engages in or tolerates particularly severe religious freedom violations.”

This rise in Christian persecution is tied to Russia instituting the Yarovaya Law in 2016.

The Yarovaya Law outlawed house churches, forced missionaries to have government permits, and forbid Christians from evangelizing outside of church.

Forum18, a news service that reports on Religious Freedom in Russia and Central Asia, details 159 anti-missionary prosecutions in 2018 alone.

In one of these cases, a Baptist Christian named Eldar Akhundov was fined simply because a stranger asked for spiritual help and Akhundov invited him to worship together. Another Christian was arrested because he supplied a stranger with a religious booklet after the man asked him for one.

The issue needs to be brought to the attention of Christians here in Korea and around the world, for both prayer and mission reasons. In Korea, our research reveals less than five news reports in Korean Christian media on the subject of Russian anti-missionary prosecutions. Furthermore, the most recent of these articles was in 2017.

Of the 159 prosecutions, only one involved a Korean: a woman who was a member of the World Mission Society Church of God. Though this group is considered a cult, the charges brought against her should concern all missionaries traveling to Russia, whether Korean or otherwise, cult or true Christian.

That’s because this Korean woman was arrested for “dissemination of information about her beliefs among people who are not members of this religious association, with the aim of involving them in the association.” That’s exactly what Christian missionaries do, too. As a result, we must make sure churches and missionaries serving in Russia are prayerful and prepared.

Voice of the Martyrs Korea is joining USCIRF in labeling Russia a “country of particular concern” and noting an urgent need to prepare Russian Christians for persecution. We should remember that Voice of the Martyrs global founders, Pastor Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand, began ministering to Russians in the 1940s.

The Wurmbrands were Romanian Christians who risked their lives to smuggle Bibles and financial aid to Russian Christians who were persecuted by communists. When the communists took over Romania, the Wurmbrands themselves experienced persecution. Pastor Wurmbrand was imprisoned for 14 years, and Sabina spent three years in slave labor camps and prisons. Instead of cursing the communists, Pastor Wurmbrand wrote, “I hated communism, but I loved the Russians.”

In light of Voice of the Martyrs’ longstanding commitment to partnering with Russia’s Christians and missionaries, we are urging Christian media, mission agencies, and churches to join us in monitoring the situation in Russia closely. We invite Christians interested in Russian mission to join us in undertaking persecution preparedness outreach to Russian Pastors.

Unfortunately much of the Glasnost-era interaction between Russian (and Russian speaking) Christians and those in the US, South Korea, and Europe prepared Russian Christians for prosperity, not persecution. That is why we are in the process of translating and publishing a Russian language edition of our book, Preparing for the Underground Church, and mobilizing a team to develop resources and training events for Russian pastors and missionaries.

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