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Chinese officials viewing book, video about nation’s Christians

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Jesus is in Beijing, and He’s getting attention in high places.

Chinese government officials are studying a book about the phenomenal growth of Christianity in China and a DVD series featuring Chinese house church members, sources in the region say.

“Jesus in Beijing,” written by David Aikman, former Time magazine Beijing bureau chief, chronicles the increase of Christian believers at all levels of Chinese society — including the Communist Party itself — despite continuing persecution. Conservative estimates of the number of Chinese Christians now range upwards of 70 million out of a population of 1.3 billion, with more than 10,000 new believers being added every day.

Aikman, in the book, predicts that up to a third of the vast nation’s population could embrace Christian faith within the next generation, changing Asia as radically as a Christianized Roman Empire transformed the West long ago.

The four-hour DVD series, “The Cross: Jesus in China,” was produced by the California-based China Soul for Christ Foundation and directed by Yuan Zhiming, a Chinese Christian and pro-democracy advocate.

The series, produced in English and Chinese, was screened for provincial leaders of the government Religious Affairs Bureau and United Front Work Department when they met recently at an annual conference in Beijing. They also were briefed on the book, according to a report in Christianity Today. Another source reported the government ordered a “high-priority translation” of the book, which was published last year by Regnery.

Christianity Today reported that at least 50 house church leaders had been arrested in a new religious crackdown, as authorities tracked down people identified in the book or the DVD. The extent of the crackdown, however, has since been called into question.

“Things are a little bit tight, but as far as 50 leaders were arrested, that appears to be a bit of an exaggeration,” said one worker with reliable contacts in China. “We do know that the Chinese government has taken the [book and DVD] and they have translated and studied them. People are being watched more closely, folks are being questioned and there are some reports of beatings and arrests. I think we will see continued pressure over the next couple of months at least.”

Asia Harvest, a Thailand-based organization with close ties to Chinese house church networks, issued a statement confirming several recent arrests of church leaders, but none involving people identified in the book or DVD.

“The main Chinese leaders [who are featured in both the book and DVD] are still going about their business, and have been visited and spoken to by various people,” the statement said. One elderly leader “says he is not afraid at all, and is busy with the Lord’s work. He has already spent 23 years in prison for his faith and is not afraid to suffer again.”

Asia Harvest also confirmed that the book and DVD were discussed at the high-level conference in Beijing.

“Consequently, there may well be serious ramifications for the house church leaders,” the statement said. “However, they want the church around the world to fully understand that their lives are completely in the hands of God, and they believe any hardship that may come to them will only be because God permits it…. Their lives are completely motivated by two things: glorifying God and winning lost souls for Jesus Christ. Any activity that accomplishes these two things is considered worthwhile, no matter what personal cost is involved.”

One thing has “shocked” the house church leaders, according to Asia Harvest: the “enormous impact” the DVD series is making in China and elsewhere.

“The Cross: Jesus in China DVD … has far surpassed everyone’s expectations. [One church leader in Beijing said], ‘Not only has it led many people to believe in Christ, but it has revived the Christian brothers and sisters…. After watching it we were so encouraged and burned by the Holy Spirit’s great work in China. Everyone watched it with tears, repentance and rededication to Christ.'”

The DVD features interviews with Chinese Christians from many walks of life. Some have been imprisoned for extended periods, but they “are not waving their fists in protest; instead they have expressed forgiveness towards those who have persecuted them.”

A policeman in Henan Province who confiscated a copy of the DVD and watched it at the local police station reportedly returned to the house church the next day, tearfully asking to be baptized.

The near-simultaneous release of two high-profile portrayals of Chinese church growth and vitality puts pressure on the government to clamp down once again, said one observer. But such crackdowns often have unintended consequences.

“I think the number of believers in China has reached critical mass, and government officials are at a loss to know what to do,” the observer said. “It seems everything they have tried in the past to suppress believers and stop the widespread growth of the church has only caused it to grow. It’s often said that the church grows from the blood of the martyrs. This is certainly happening in China. [Christians there] have a tremendous vision to see all of China impacted with the Gospel — and then the rest of the world.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: THE CROSS: JESUS IN CHINA and ‘JESUS IN BEIJING.’

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