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Chinese Baptists in U.S. maintain mainland watch

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–When Cephas Hsu hears of a
persecuted Chinese Christian, he prays and remembers.
Especially at times when China is in the news, such as
last October’s U.S. visit by Chinese President Jiang Zemin –
– the first by a Chinese leader since the Beijing
government’s 1989 massacre of dissenters at Tiananmen
Hsu, now pastor of the Walnut Street Chinese Baptist
Church, Louisville, Ky., was arrested in 1970 during
communist leader Mao Tse-tung’s Cultural Revolution, with
Mao’s Red Guards accusing Hsu of “poisoning” the minds of
college students with Christianity in his home city of
Nanjing. After two years and four months in Nanjing’s
central jail, Hsu spent more than 10 grueling years in labor
camps, where the Chinese government hoped to “wash” the mind
of Hsu and others deemed threatening to the communist
His wife, Ruth (her English name), then a college
biology professor, avoided prison but was stripped of her
position and sent away to labor camps also.
So hopeless was Hsu that at one point during his
imprisonment at Nanjing, he sharpened two pieces of glass to
slice his wrists in the darkness of his cell. His despair,
he said, was partly in response to his nagging questions
about God’s purpose in allowing the Red Guards to destroy
churches, burn Bibles and torture believers.
Still, Hsu recounted, “(During) this time, I especially
felt God’s love for me. He saved my life.”
Finally, in 1983 after China had softened religious
restrictions and seven years after Mao’s death, Hsu was
released from the labor camps. In 1989 he came to America on
a working visa to join his daughter, who was nearing
graduation at Oklahoma City University.
Today, thousands of miles removed and free to preach,
Hsu’s mind often drifts homeward.
“Every day I pray for the Chinese Christians,” he said.
“We hope the religious freedom opens wider and wider … .
We pray every day that they will open up the church, that
all of China will be saved.”
Such prayers are uttered at nearly every meeting at
Hsu’s 50-member church, started six years ago as a mission
of Louisville’s Walnut Street Baptist Church. It is one of
more than 150 Chinese Southern Baptist churches and missions
in North America affiliated with the Chinese Baptist
Fellowship of the United States and Canada.
The fellowship’s executive director, Paul Wong, said
the organization, based in Fremont, Calif., is
overwhelmingly Southern Baptist though a few other Baptist
groups are represented. The fellowship, founded in 1980,
shares prayer requests in a monthly newsletter and
cooperates in missions work and in bringing common concerns
before various Southern Baptist agencies.
The depth of concern about Chinese persecution varies
among the fellowship’s churches, Wong said, because of
diverse experiences among Christians who come from the
mainland. “Persecution in China today is not such a complete
story,” he said, commenting the attitude of church leaders
in China’s various provinces toward the government largely
determines persecution levels. Wong, who for 17 years was
pastor of the First Chinese Baptist Church, Memphis, Tenn.,
previously had served 21 years as a pastor in Hong Kong,
which was under British rule until last year when Britain
returned control to mainland China.
Two types of Christian churches exist in China: the
generic Three-Self Patriotic Movement churches, which are
government-sanctioned, and the house churches, which are
The Three-Self Patriotic Movement began around the turn
of the century in reaction to what was regarded as the
West’s attempt to use Christianity for political
exploitation. Its founding principles were self-government,
self-nurture and self-propagation, Hsu said.
Amid the hostility of 30 years ago, Hsu chose to work
with both Three-Self and house churches, though he said the
Red Guard attacked even the Three-Self churches, attempting
to purge the country of any religious influence.
Today, opinions vary on how best to spread the gospel
in China, Wong said. Some prefer working through the
Three-Self churches, while others, as a matter of
conscience, feel compelled to go underground. But that
aside, Wong said his greatest concern is that the gospel is
The Chinese Baptist Church of Oklahoma City is one of
the many Southern Baptist churches in the Chinese Baptist
Fellowship. Its pastor, Ke-Gang Shih, said he and his church
stay abreast of religious developments in China and pray
regularly for its people.
Shih receives newsletters from various Chinese
missionary organizations which chronicle such developments.
Like their pastor, many in Shih’s 70-member
congregation are Taiwanese. Increasingly though, the church
is reaching natives of the mainland, many of whom are
college students or young professionals. Since he became
pastor a year ago, Shih said only two of the 13 people he
has baptized were Taiwanese.
The island of Taiwan, a thorn in the side to the
mainland because of its democratic-capitalist system, has
independent rule and religious liberty, though Shih said it
has “a very shaky freedom and democracy.”
Regardless of regional heritage, concern for Chinese
religious freedom is a unifying force in the church, Shih
“Every week we are praying for China in our prayer
meetings, praying for more freedom for Christian education.
(Chinese Christians) need spiritual nourishment, spiritual
books. And they need training firmly rooted in the Bible.”
A concern shared by Shih, Wong and Jones Lo, the North
American Mission Board’s national missionary to Chinese
churches, is that a lack of sound doctrine among some of the
house churches and a growing cult movement within China is
confounding orthodox Christian evangelism.
Said Lo: “Baptists are being lumped in with all these
other movements. There is no concept of denominations.”
Wong said although the house church movement is
growing, some of the churches lack sufficient trained
workers to be rooted in sound doctrine.
Lo is among those who believe the most profitable
mission work is done through the government-sanctioned
churches, though he said he understands why others might
“There are a lot of opportunities in cities, in rural
areas,” Lo said. “The above-ground churches, if we approach
them officially and properly, are willing to open their
doors for training, for exchange of views, for evangelistic
meetings and other ministries.”
Lo said such a strategy is in line with Christ’s
admonition in Matt. 10:16 to be wise as serpents and
harmless as doves.
“My prayer is that more Christians would go into China
with open eyes to evangelistic opportunities. The operative
words are ‘open eyes.’ My prayer is that we must do what we
can at this time and not harp on what we cannot do at the
moment,” Lo said.
Out of concern for family members still in China, Hsu
was reluctant to speak publicly about current Chinese
issues, but he said he praises God for saving his life and
giving him and his wife the freedom to come to the United
States, where he is still having an impact on his homeland.
Walnut Street Chinese Baptist Church attracts many
Chinese students or researchers at the University of
Louisville medical center. Of the 45 people Hsu has baptized
since becoming pastor, many of them have returned to China,
he said.
In October, Hsu himself returned to China for his
mother’s funeral, but he didn’t dare enter a church.
Instead, the family, ever mindful of Hsu’s former
troubles and in the wake of a government crackdown on house
churches, took no chances and held a memorial service
“Many friends prayed for my safety and God’s grace, but
there’s a lingering fear,” Hsu said.
For additional information on the Chinese Baptist
Fellowship of the United States and Canada, contact Dr. Paul
Wong at (510) 792-5207 or write to 3400 Atwater Court,
Fremont, CA 94536.

Pierce is editor of The Christian Monthly Journal, Oklahoma
City, Okla.

    About the Author

  • Jerry Pierce