Chinese police raid bible camp held by unregistered church group, 10 detained

SHANGHAI, China: Authorities in eastern China raided a vacation bible school organized by an unauthorized Protestant church group, detaining 10 people, an overseas monitoring group said Thursday.

About 150 children were attending the “Harmony Express” camp in Jianhu, Jiangsu province, on July 11 when county government officials, police and representatives of the official Communist Party-controlled church pulled up in a convoy, the China Aid Association reported.

Police used force in breaking up classes, sending two underground church workers to the emergency room for treatment of a concussion and cuts to the head, said the association, based in the U.S. city of Midland, Texas.

The children were allowed to leave, but church property including computers and video equipment were taken away, the report said.

A female officer who answered the phone at Jianhu county police headquarters said she had no knowledge of the reported raid.

“That sounds strange. We have never heard of something like that. If such a thing really happened in Jianhu, we should have been notified,” said the woman, who — like most Chinese police officers — refused to give her name.

It said the church’s pastor, Zeng Zhengliang, had been a respected leader of the local government church, but left it last year “because he didn’t agree with the TSPM’s liberal, government-dictated theology.”

The comment points to one of the reasons why millions of Chinese continue to worship outside the official church, despite the threat of harassment, fines and possible arrest.

Party officials carefully control the liturgy and limit the scope of activity for the official church, known formally as the Three-Self Patriotic Movement. Contacts with foreign churches are restricted, missionary work banned, and publication of bibles and church literature closely monitored.

While repression against unofficial church groups is constant, evidence is growing that authorities may be ramping up those efforts. Reports of detention and harassment have increased and journalists visiting rural areas where they unofficial church activity is strong report seeing large numbers of freshly painted signs demanding citizens report “cult activity.”

Along with the 10 leaders in Jiangsu, the Aid Association said another five were detained last week in the eastern province of Anhui and the Inner Mongolia region.

China has also reportedly kicked out more than 100 suspected foreigners conducting covert missionary work in recent months, possibly to prevent proselytizing ahead of next year’s Beijing Summer Olympics.

Foreign faithful who live in China are often able to evangelize privately while working as English teachers, humanitarian workers or in business.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday July 20, 2007.
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