CHICAGO, IL (October 20, 2010) – Covenanters attending the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization say the absence of more than 100 Chinese house church pastors is felt throughout the international gathering.
The Chinese government stopped the pastors at the airport and took away their passports, preventing them from leaving the country to attend the conference. More than 4,000 people from 200 nations are participating in the event.
The Evangelical Covenant Church has a long history of involvement in the Asian nation, which was one of the denomination’s first mission fields following the founding of the Covenant in 1885. The Covenant today continues to raise funds through its “Great Open Door” initiative to provide support for house churches and to assist children. The five-year project started in 2006.
The absence of the Chinese delegation is “palpable,” says Adam Phillips, an ordained Evangelical Covenant Church minister who serves as faith relations manager for the anti-poverty organization ONE. Phillips is blogging about the Lausanne conference on behalf of Sojourners.
“With one of the fastest-growing church movements – largely underground – the Chinese delegation is sorely missed,” says Phillips, adding, “their absence underscores the political realities that still exist in our day.”
Celina Camarillo, the Covenant’s event manager, who is tweeting from the conference, urges continued prayer. Camarillo has been part of the Lausanne organizing team.
Following is the text of an “open letter” that was sent by members of the Chinese delegation after they were stopped at the airport:
The Third Lausanne Conference will be held October 17-25 in Cape Town, South Africa. There will be nearly 200 countries represented with 4000 delegates attending this global Christian forum. Lausanne meeting organizers issued invitations to 200 Chinese house church Christians.
Recently, government departments were instructed to dissuade those invited using a variety of methods including monitoring, blocking of departure, detention and interception in customs. This resulted in the vast majority of representatives failing to attend the meeting. In response to this action, we decided to publish this open letter, to show our position and attitude.
First, the house churches form the main structure of the Church – it is independent and self-governing. During the last decade the Chinese House Church has separated itself from politics to focus on pastoring and has undergone continuous growth and development. House Church distribution now ranges from rural to urban areas, from coastal to inland areas, from the Central Plains to the frontier, spreading all over the country from North to South.
Some meetings include dozens of people gathering in offices and hotel rooms, while other churches and places of worship include hundreds or even thousands of people meeting together. The number of believers in the House Church has reached tens of millions of people, including all segments of society, and is still developing rapidly, becoming a topic of discussion for the China Christian Council.
Second, Chinese House Church pastors are eager to attend the third meeting in Lausanne.
The Third Lausanne Conference is a global Christian conference, with seminars discussing urgent issues faced by evangelical Christians around the world. Chinese house churches as a part of the universal Church are eager to attend these global meetings and explore how we can bear witness to the world of God’s love and effectively proclaim the gospel of Christ. We believe that participation in the Lausanne conference can improve universal friendship between Christians, bear witness to God’s love, and allow us to share the great changes the Church in China has experienced over this past decade.
Two hundred Chinese Church delegates were invited to attend. Many pastors and others have faithfully and enthusiastically invested a great deal in preparing to participate. Numerous churches and believers are actively contributing to support those going, not only raising support for the China delegates invited, but also assuming costs for 100 delegates from neighboring countries and Africa, giving an ecumenical witness to the growth of the Chinese Church.
Third, relevant government departments have been blocking the freedom of believers to attend, seriously violating the State Constitution. As Chinese House Church pastors and the faithful began to participate with enthusiasm at a preparatory meeting for Lausanne, almost all of the invited representatives were interviewed by government officials to discourage them from going.
Those who eventually received invitations faced greater pressure – some were watched closely, others had passports confiscated, and so the Church was under attack, with some individual representatives being held in administrative detention. Some of those invited were forcibly arrested at the airport or held at border inspections. This series of the blocking actions goes against the religious freedom of citizens, is a serious breach of the national Constitution, and deeply harms the dignity and sensibilities of the believers involved.
As Christians, we love God and love our country and hope that China will become a loving, just and peaceful country. We hope that every Chinese person, regardless of rank, will love each other and allow the sunshine of God’s love to fill this great, ancient land. We long for fairness to surge as a flood rolls, for justice to surge as a great river. It is our hope that the peace will no longer be just a desire, but in this great land of China become a reality.
To this end, we urge the government to remove all the pressure and limitations put on those invited representatives and thus avoid exacerbating the misunderstandings that exist between the government and believers. We expect the government to improve the existing religious policy, establishing harmonious relations between church and state, so that the Church may become a greater blessing to Chinese society.