Clandestine Christians learn from Mao’s book

The Times (England), July 31, 2002
From Oliver August in Southern China

The structure at the far end of the paddy field is a little bigger than the other farmhouses in the area, but is otherwise unremarkable. A man calling himself Father John wants to keep it that way.

The four-storey brick house is one of the underground centres of the Christian Church in China, where millions of believers are defying government restrictions on religious activity. It serves as a secret missionary training base from where dozens fan out across the country each month to seek converts, many of whom come from the thousands whose lives have been devastated by economic reforms.

Father John, who operates under the guise of a Chinese businessman and even looks like one, dressed in pleated trousers and carrying a mobile phone on his belt, said: “It has taken years to establish this base, but it is very effective now. We do this training in a wholly clandestine manner.”

The aim of the centre is not only to train missionaries but to create a group of operatives that can set up new underground churches and hold together the vast but informal Christian networks that have developed in the past few decades. Father John said: “The older leaders of house churches were not so organised, but we learnt from the Communist Party how to organise and propagate.”

Many of the classes are closer to management seminars than traditional religious training. Talk is of how best to extend networks with existing financial constraints.

Sitting under a cross on the wall, Father John said: “The secret of leadership is group dynamics.” One of the most important lessons is how to maintain the cell structure of the Christian movement in China. Few of the would-be missionaries know each other or will ever meet again. They are expected to return to their home provinces and set up local training centres, replicating what Father John has built at the national level.

In addition to training missionaries, the base also co-ordinates the shipping of Bibles into China. Father John said: “From Hong Kong, we carry them over the border, maybe in a suitcase, wrapped in old clothes. Then we send them by post inside China. Unlike international mail, domestic packages are never opened.”

Estimates suggest there may be ten million underground Christians in China, making their network a much bigger worry to the authorities than Falun Gong, the spiritual group at the centre of Beijing’s “anti-superstition” campaign in recent years. Christianity has escaped similar high-profile vilification, partly due to its long history in China.


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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday August 3, 2002.
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