A month after Beijing’s new Measures for the Administration of Internet Religious Information Service came into effect, many wonder how the Christians in China are doing in terms of virtual worship and gathering. Are they being targeted, banned, or arrested for conducting “illegal” religious activities?
International Christian Concern (ICC) recently interviewed a Christian leader Gianni* from a heavily persecuted Chengdu-based house church via encrypted messaging app. His answers provide a glimpse into the persistent challenges faced by our brothers and sisters in China.
How are you using technology to spread the gospel, gather, communicate?
Gianni: In my religious life, I use technology for communication on two fronts. First is to publicly witness and spread the gospel: I use social media that is used within China, mainly WeChat and its public account. Second, it is for my serving at church. I would use Telegram, which is blocked in China, so I need to employ VPN [to gain access]. For worship, we use Zoom.
Has technology made it easier to keep the underground church alive?
Gianni: From a church-building perspective, technology has provided a minimum guarantee. When house churches are cracked down, there is at least a basic connection between the leadership team and the congregation, or members to members. That way the flock will not disperse completely if being struck. Without internet, gathering and the link between Christians would be very weak, scattered, and in smaller scale. With this technology, now we can still maintain online gathering with more than 500 participants.
What fears do you have about detection from the government?
Gianni: I am not afraid of the government’s secret investigation. Our faith is “declare with your mouth and believe in your heart,” publicly testifying for Him in the name of Jesus Christ. It is neither the Church’s responsibility nor does it have the capacity to counter the investigation. We are a fellowship formed by God’s children, not a spy agency. [Our purpose] is so that the souls live in truth, freedom, and joy, not to make our flesh more secure.
How difficult is it to circumvent government detection?
Gianni: From a technical side, it is not difficult. The server of our App is set up overseas, so the government cannot obtain user information from the backend. In fact, scouting is more difficult for the government. To thoroughly monitor a person all day, you need enormous manpower, resources, and refined technology. Our government is incapable of doing that at the moment.
I have dealt with their law enforcement departments for a while now, and I have discovered that they are in fact frail and clumsy.
What would you like Christians in the West to know and understand about your situation? How can Christians in the West help you?
Gianni: Our church usually shares and updates our information to tell the world what is happening to us, while asking everyone to pray for us. Though house churches in China have endured tremendous crackdown, it has not reached the point where I lose my freedom, or my life is under threat. Since I have not lost faith, I will try to keep living my life to do the following: share the gospel with people in freedom and joy, receive new brothers and sisters and disciple train them, send preachers to plant churches.