China (MNN) — 8.8.08 signals the start of the long-awaited 2008 Beijing Olympic Games with the elaborate opening ceremonies.
The Chinese consider eight a lucky number because in Cantonese it sounds like the word for "get rich" or "prosper."
Many Chinese will celebrate Aug. 8, 2008 as one the most important dates in Chinese history — the launching of a prestigious event for the entire world to see the "new, open China."
Johnny Li with Open Doors agrees. "China is more open. I think it's the best religious freedom improvement in the last few hundreds of years. And, I think the believer in China is practicing more religious freedom than before. That's not to say we're perfect. We still have a lot of room to grow."
Li is hoping that once the Olympics are completed, even more openness will be seen.
But many Christians are hardly "lucky" this year. The fact is that many Christians have suffered even harsher persecution by the Chinese government due to the glare of the Olympic spotlight. Li says, "They [are] on the run because of the Olympic Games. The government did not like them in Beijing or some of the cities where [some of the events are being held]. And they were afraid they would meet with the media and say something they wouldn't like."
As a result, many have been thrown into prison or transported to areas far away from Beijing and the Games venues. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) reported last week that nearly 700 Protestant leaders who are not registered with the government have been placed in custody in the past year.
Those prisoners include Shi Weihan, who was re-arrested earlier this year for publishing Bibles and Christian literature. Shi ran a Christian bookstore, a printing press and travel agency. The bookstore is located near the Olympic Village. Weihan's health has deteriorated since his imprisonment as a result of poor prison conditions and the refusal of prison officials to give him medicine for his diabetes, according to China Aid Association. CAA recently reported Shi was coerced to sign and recognize a confession convicting him of "engaging in the printing and distribution of a large number of illegal publications."
"Unfortunately, there has been a crackdown on house church leaders in wake of the start of the Olympics," states Open Doors USA President/CEO Carl Moeller. "Please join me in praying for all those in prison. It's a travesty that hundreds of Christians sit in prisons while the Chinese government pats itself on the back for its hosting of the Games."
The crackdown has had an effect on outreach efforts by house church leaders, says Li. "Most of them are more quiet, particularly [those] in cities where Olympic [events are being held]. Many of them were warned by the authorities not to do anything until after the Olympic Games."
That doesn't mean the church is sleeping. "They're more focused in prayer. They're more focused on one-to-one evangelism–particularly the government church because 'religious freedom' does not allow anyone to go out to the street. You have religious freedom inside the church, not outside the church."
Open Doors is urging Christians in the United States to e-mail Chinese Ambassador to the United States Zhou Whenzong to express concern over the status of believers, especially Shi, including his lack of access to medical care and medicines, adequate clothing, visitation rights for his family, and a fair and prompt trial. To send an e-mail and for more information, go to www.OpenDoorsUSA.org.
Open Doors is looking for prayer warriors to host a special prayer event in their church or small group during the Games Aug. 8-24. Open Doors is offering resources in the "Get-Set-Pray" kit. The materials can be downloaded from the Open Doors web site.
Please pray especially for the meeting between President Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao this weekend in Beijing. President Bush will bring up concerns over China's poor human rights record.
An estimated 100 million Christians worldwide suffer interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith in Christ, with more millions facing discrimination and alienation. Open Doors supports and strengthens believers in the world's most difficult areas through Bible and Christian literature distribution, leadership training and assistance, Christian community development, prayer and presence ministry and advocacy on behalf of suffering believers.