China (MNN) – Traditionally, a passport from the United States has acted as a ‘get-out-of-jail’ card in China. The recent arrests of American citizens are changing this.
Todd Nettleton, of Voice of the Martyrs USA, says both the founder and assistant director of China Horizons are detained in China. The reason–suspicions of helping people enter the country illegally. However, the recent charges correlate with a trend VOM USA has witnessed.
“We have seen, over the last number of months, a number of foreign workers in China, who have (when it comes time for their visa to be renewed) they find out, ‘oh sorry, your visa’s not going to be renewed’. Some foreigners have had their visas canceled,” Nettleton says.
Others have voluntarily left the country to avoid having their visas canceled with the hopes of returning in 6-12 months.
In the past, when travelers were unwelcome or detained in China, authorities typically put them on a plane and instructed them not to return. The end. However, travelers were not detained for lengthy periods, as is such with the arrests of China Horizons’ employees.
Has the golden age for traveling to the land of the Red Dragon come to an end? Possibly.
Concern for Foreigners in China
Some sources who have taken to social media are speculating if the recent arrests are the mark of something even bigger. Something resembling the Boxer Rebellion—a warning to foreigners to get out now.
For context, the Boxer Rebellion (1900) references a period in China’s history when a secret organization in the northern part of the country attacked foreigners. The Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists “killed foreigners and Chinese Christians,” according to this article. The attacks stemmed from a desire to prevent outside influences from penetrating the region. A similar attitude seems adopted today.
“Xi Jinping and his government have set as an aim they are going to control religious expression in China. If that takes tearing down church buildings, if that takes putting people in prison, they are going to exercise that control,” Nettleton says.
“Foreigners, obviously, don’t necessarily cooperate with that. They don’t fall under that Chinese control of all religious expression. And so, I think that’s why you’re seeing foreigners being told it’s time for you to go home.”
The resounding question—what does this mean for ministries working in China?
Nettleton says it is time for careful consideration of the ‘how’ and ‘what’ behind foreign ministries and foreign workers in China. The good news—Nettleton believes the Chinese Church is mostly self-sufficient and capable of carrying on the Church and Gospel work despite the costs.
“As believers, and as those who would take the Gospel to a place like China, we need to consider the consequences. We need to count the costs ahead of time because it has become much more serious in China, and an American passport is no longer protection from being put in prison,” Nettleton says.
Pray for the protection of Christians in China. Pray for discernment, their tact, and their wisdom in navigating ministry work in the country. Ask God to make clear His will for each Christian currently in China.
Also, pray for those who are or will pay a price for their faith. Pray for their strength and perseverance. Finally, pray for the national Church and its ability to carry forward the Church.
Header screen capture courtesy Prayercast.