CAPE TOWN, South Africa (BP)–There are about 200 empty seats at a meeting in South Africa some are calling the most diverse Christian gathering ever.
When Cape Town 2010: Lausanne Congress on Global Evangelization convened on Sunday night, Oct. 17, participants from China were largely absent. Most of the 200 individuals invited from China were denied exit from their country.
As early as August, authorities warned China invitees not to attend.
The China Aid human rights organization reported at least three house churches affiliated with China Gospel Fellowship (CGF) — a China house church network with an estimated at 5 -7 million members — were shut down in early August. A mountainside prayer center in Zhejiang was demolished on August 30 after Christians were removed by force from the facility.
Late last week, at least 15 Christians were turned back at Beijing’s Capital Airport and their travel documents confiscated to prevent them from leaving the country. They are reportedly cloistered in a Beijing location. Others had received home visits from authorities telling them not to attend.
A handful of delegates from China did slip through the net and make it to the conference.
A veteran Christian worker in China believes this attempt by China’s communist government to control the hearts and minds of its people might backfire — focusing a spotlight on the plight of Christians in China, where the church continues to grow and flourish in the face of continued harassment and persecution.
Knowledgeable organizations estimate there are at least 60 million Christians in China.
With more than 4,000 participants from 197 countries, Cape Town 2010 is the third such meeting of the global evangelical community since 1974. Participants will discuss a wide range of issues facing the 21st-century church.
The Lausanne Covenant, a manifesto adopted during the 1974 congress at Lausanne, Switzerland, promoted active worldwide evangelism and greatly affected the evangelical world. Organizers of Cape Town 2010 are hopeful a similar document will emerge from this gathering.
Wendy Lee is a freelance writer from East Asia.