EDITOR’S NOTE: Today, June 4, marks the 21st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Bob Fu was one of the leaders of the pro-democracy movement that was crushed that day in Beijing, China. He became a Christian, escaped to the United States and started an organization that serves the unregistered church in his homeland.
WASHINGTON (BP)–Persecution of Christians in China is still a widespread problem and an ignored topic in the secular media, said Bob Fu, president of ChinaAid, in an interview with Baptist Press.
Fu knows about persecution firsthand. He suffered for his faith in his homeland before he and his wife Heidi fled to the United States in 1997. A leader of the student democracy movement that was squelched by the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, he became a Christian the same year. In 1996, secret police discovered the Bible school he and Heidi founded and imprisoned both of them. After their release and further persecution, they escaped through Hong Kong.
Fu started ChinaAid (www.chinaaid.org) in 2002 to bring international attention to China’s repression of unregistered churches and their members.
Fu sat down with Baptist Press following the presentation by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the 2009 John Leland Religious Liberty Award to Chinese human rights lawyer Fan Yafeng in mid-April. Fu received the Leland Award in 2007.
Here are excerpts from that question-and-answer session:
BAPTIST PRESS: ChinaAid reports frequently on instances of government persecution directed at individual Christians, leaders and churches in the unregistered church movement. Please explain the scope of persecution in China. Is the persecution truly widespread or a matter of isolated instances, considering the massive number of Christians now in China?
FU: Demographically, according to our investigation and the information that we can gather, it is still pretty widespread. Last year there were over 20 provinces of persecution. Of course, these are known cases, but we think this is the tip of the iceberg because we have many surprises when we interview prisoners from labor camps. There are some differences because we depend on the local government’s attitude and how strictly they enforce government regulations.
This year, from January to March, there are numerous reports of harassment in prayer meetings, Sunday Schools, and some have been arrested and detained. In other provinces, especially the east coast, they can’t even hold big gatherings because the local government will not tolerate it because of the social and economic environment over there.
BAPTIST PRESS: If I were an individual Chinese Christian in an unregistered church, how concerned would I be about government persecution?
FU: Unless you are a non-active Christian, you should have every concern. Being an active Christian means that you are actively engaging in sharing the Good News with others, and that is one potential threat that you will face. If you are found sharing the Gospel with other people, actively distributing Bibles to others or holding unauthorized Bible studies, especially young people under 18 years old, or have active fellowships with foreigners, these are all threats that you will face.
BAPTIST PRESS: Despite reports of persecution throughout China, there has been increased growth in the unofficial church, reporting over 130 million Christians. Why has this occurred?
FU: It seems that from God’s perspective, He has a unique formula to revive His church in China. We see that the more persecution there is, the more revival there will be, and God uniquely uses persecution to purify the church. The Bible says that if anyone wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus, they will be persecuted. Once you become salt and light, then the darkness will not like you. So persecution in that sense is inevitable. No persecution is a strange thing. So we remain hopeful. Yes, there is persecution and there is regulation and attacks. Yet it seems the Lord has used that.
I remain hopeful for the younger generation of Chinese Christians that they are rising up to the task to defend and spread the Gospel more rigorously and defend their rights according to the law.
BAPTIST PRESS: Have you seen any actions taken by the Obama administration to address religious liberty in China?
FU: So far, not much. The only highest rank official in the State Department for monitoring international religious freedom is the Office [of] International Religious Freedom. According to Congress, the International Religious Freedom Act passed [in 1998] is supposed to [provide for] a U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom to be appointed by the president, and Mr. Obama still does not have a candidate yet, so the office is working without a boss. So, I don’t think this is on the administration’s agenda at all.
BAPTIST PRESS: Despite awareness through press releases, annual reports and media campaigns, is there still a sense of ignorance among the American people of the challenges of religious freedom in China?
FU: Yes, unfortunately. Of course the media, especially the secular media, are pretty selective in their reporting. This is an ignored topic. The censorship in China makes it very hard to get information out, but I am optimistic. There is more and more awareness in this country about China.
BAPTIST PRESS: Young and old alike have been persecuted for their Christian beliefs in China. How have you and your wife educated your children on the injustice done to, and the lessons learned from, those persecuted for their faith?
FU: We have three children. One was born in exile, and we named him Daniel. He came to the United States as a refugee when he was four months old. The other two, our two daughters, were born in the U.S. We try to tell them stories. We tell them not to take freedom for granted, and we tell them to pray for those who are persecuted.
They need to know that they are a privileged minority on this earth who can enjoy this freedom. There are so many who are suffering. There are so many of their brothers and sisters, even little children, who do not have the right to own or even read the Bible or to be baptized. We share with them so that they can cherish the freedom they have here and to be more bold to share the Gospel with others.
BAPTIST PRESS: Does ChinaAid have any new plans to increase awareness in the months to come, and, if so, what are they?
FU: This is the age of Internet. We are very glad we had several very successful Internet-based campaigns for several key prisoners and house church pastors. Last year we launched the FreeGao.com campaign for the return of Gao Zhisheng, a Chinese human rights lawyer. We collected over 130,000 signatures. These are real names and e-mails from over 130 nations. So we are very encouraged that people are more engaged.
We are planning to launch a four-language campaign for Christians called FreeAlim.com. Alim [Alimujiang Yimiti] was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment last November for simply having a conversation with an American Christian. His official charge was revealing a state secret to foreigners. The only evidence the prosecutor put on his trial was that conversation. He was alleged to reveal his conversation with a government official questioning about his faith, his conversion from Muslim to Christianity.
We will not rest until he is released and declared innocent. So we will have Chinese, English, Spanish and Uyghur, four languages, for the church in the West and also inside China to be mobilized for his release.
BAPTIST PRESS: What can we be praying for?
FU: Pray for ChinaAid and for our staff. Because we are involved in this advocacy, the administration is more attacked by the Chinese government. Some of the church leaders were threatened to lure me back to China to arrest me. Even in this country there is danger. Pray that our staff will not lose heart. This is not a popular cause or ministry. Pray that we are standing firm. Also pray for this financially difficult time that we can stand and find providence from the Lord in order to continue to be a voice to brothers and sisters in China.
Hillary May was an intern with the Washington bureau of Baptist Press during the spring semester.