USA (MNN) — The 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China open Friday, and U.S. President George W. Bush will be there. But many groups are hoping he's not just going to be a spectator of the opening ceremonies.
Todd Nettleton, Director of Media Development for Voice of the Martyrs, says, "Our hope is that while he's in China he'll raise the issue of religious freedom and be an advocate for persecuted Christians. He has raised that issue in the past, and we hope he will do it during this Olympic time as well."
Nettleton says persecution has been on the increase as the Olympics have drawn near. "Two very prominent, very outspoken house church pastors have been evicted from the city of Beijing and basically told 'You can be detained in jail, or you can leave the city until September. Either way, you're not going to be here.'"
According to Nettleton, the Chinese government is doing everything it can to make sure there's nothing that embarrasses them while they're in the world's spotlight. However, he doesn't expect that to stop Christians from evangelism during the Olympics. "They're not as worried about the government. They simply want to follow Christ, and they're going to do that regardless of what restrictions are put on them. They say, 'My first loyalty is to Jesus Christ, the head of the church, and I'm going to do what He says.'"
If President Bush does say something about religious freedom and Christian do move forward with their plans for overt outreach, Nettleton says, "The question that I have and I think a lot of people have is: what happens after the Olympics? What happens when the world media goes home and doesn't pay attention to China anymore? That's the question nobody really knows the answer to."
As the world focuses on the Olympics, Nettleton is hoping and praying Christians will look at the games differently. "As people are watching the Olympics, it will serve as a constant reminder to pray for China, to pray for the church there and to pray for persecuted Christians there."
He says the only answer to the persecution is the government seeing what true Christianity is like. "As the government sees the church growing, the communist party is very nervous. But at some point they are also seeing, 'Wait a minute. These guys aren't trouble makers. They're actually better-than-average citizens.' And I think long term that's what's going to change the situation for Christians in China."