Christians are praying for China as Olympics draw near

By April 1, 2008

China (MNN/WEA) — Tibetans want their autonomy from China, and they may take more violent action to get it. Reports suggest the Tibetans are re-thinking their non-violent approach to protesting China's hard-line efforts to suppress the political unrest just months before the Olympic Games begin in Beijing. Many believe the unrest will get worse as the Olympics draw near.

Christians are getting involved in the Olympics, too, but not in protest. In a historic move, key organizations that work with the persecuted church around the world launched a global campaign calling for prayer for China. In what is called "The Zurich Statement," the Religious Liberty Partnership (RLP)–with member organizations that include Open Doors International, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, the Voice of the Martyrs (Canada), and the Religious Liberty Commission of World Evangelical Alliance–has called the worldwide Christian community to pray for China during this Summer Olympics year.

Johan Candalin, WEA's Executive Director of the Religious Liberty Commission, says, "These organizations see it as a historical occasion to pray for China, to pray for the church in China, for human rights and democracy in China, but in a proactive way. It's not a political project. It's purely a spiritual project."

The Zurich Statement acknowledges some important progress made in China over the past few decades and raises the hope that this will translate into the removal of remaining obstacles to the full expression of faith and an end to serious violations of religious freedom. In addition, the Statement recognizes potential of the Chinese nation as a significant political and economic force for the furtherance of regional and global peace.

"The call for prayer is rooted in the fact that the RLP felt it was time to acknowledge some progress in China's attitude toward religious liberty and also the part Christians play at all levels of Chinese society," stated Mervyn Thomas, CEO of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, UK, and Chairman of the RLP leadership team. "There is still a very long way to go, and religious freedom is something very alien to many Christians in China. However, Christians all over the world have been praying for their Chinese family for many years, and I believe we are beginning to see the impact of those prayers today."

"What a change we have seen in the nearly 30 years since my first visit to China," said Johan Compajen of Open Doors International in Holland and a member of the RLP leadership team. "In spite of many obstacles, the Church in China has multiplied. What seemed impossible in the past has happened because around the world we joined the Chinese Christians in prayer, and our Chinese brothers and sisters have been willing to pay the price for following Jesus. If we continue to pray, we may be surprised by what God will do in the coming 30 years."

Candalin says things are better in the cities, but he says there is a saying in China: "Whatever you have heard about China is true somewhere in China. In some cities you have house churches with up to 2,000 people without any problems with the authorities. But in the countryside, you can have a small house church with 10 or 20 people, and the pastor is arrested and put into prison."

Candalin says there are approximately 70-million Christians in China, and house church pastors say they need "very good leadership training. And they even want to send out many young pastors to the U.S. or to Europe to get that academic theological training to be able to lead the growing church."

The Religious Liberty Partnership (RLP) is a collaborative effort of Christian organizations focused on religious liberty. The RLP seeks to more intentionally work together in addressing advocacy and in raising the awareness of religious persecution globally. The current membership of the RLP is listed on the Zurich Statement.

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