Although China is under the rule of the atheist Chinese Community Party, it has seen a rapid growth of its Christian population, at an impressive rate of 10 percent annually for the past four decades. It is predicted that China will have more Christians than the United States by 2030.
However, under Chinese President Xi Jinping, the persecution of Christians and other religious believers has also intensified. That’s the sobering message Pastor Bob Fu, founder of China Aid, delivered at last weekend’s Western Conservative Summit, the largest conservative gathering in the west region. I had the opportunity to interview Fu at the summit.
Before he became a pastor, Fu told me, his life was already full of God’s miracles. During China’s Great Famine (1959-1962), a disaster caused by Chairman Mao Zedong’s ruinous agricultural and industrial policies, there was very little food in the village where Fu’s family lived. When Fu wasn’t born yet, his young mom took his two older siblings, carrying one on her back and holding the hands of the other one, and walked to a nearby city to beg for food.
Under the strict food rationing, people in the city were starving too. Yet there were always kind people willing to share a bowl of soup or a warm steam bun with this hunger-stricken young family. An estimated 20-30 million Chinese people perished due to starvation as a result of the famine, but Fu’s mom and his two older siblings miraculously survived.
Fu was born in Shandong province on the eastern coast of China. In 1989, he led a group of college students from Liaocheng University in Shandong to participate in the pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square. Three days before the Chinese government sent troops and tanks to the Square, Fu had to take his sick girlfriend Heidi (who later became his wife) back to Shandong. Had they stayed in Beijing, they might not have survived the June 4 massacre.
Back at school, Fu and his friends were investigated by local public security officials. Fortunately, none of them were thrown into jail. But they had to write confessions and self-criticism every day, not being able to resume their classes. Some of his friends broke down under this enormous pressure and started lying about their activities. Fu felt a great sense of betrayal. He was angry, depressed, resentful, and even suicidal.
When Fu Discovered Christianity
It was at this time that an American English teacher gave him a biography of Xi Shengmo, a 19th-century Chinese Christian. The book was a God-sent gift. This verse in the book, “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!” (Corinthians 5:17) struck Fu especially.
He had hoped to help build a democratic China through the pro-democracy movement. But now he realized that he shouldn’t put his trust in mankind. He was also aware that he couldn’t build anything new when he was so angry and resentful. Before he sought any rebirth for China, he must seek his own rebirth in Christ and put his faith in God.
Fu became a Christian. He was no longer angry and resentful. Instead, he was full of peace and joy, even when he had to write another false, forced confession. But his new cheerfulness caused suspicion. Not long after, the Communist Party secretary of the school invited Fu for a “conversation.” Instead of his normal harsh criticism, the party secretary, not aware of Fu’s spiritual rebirth, was gentle this time and kept asking Fu whether he was alright.
Later, Fu found out that the party secretary thought Fu might have gone crazy after the constant interrogation and confession. Not wanting to have to deal with an insane college student, the party secretary decided to go easy on Fu.
God’s blessing kept opening new doors for Fu. He was able to attend one of China’s top universities for a master’s degree, thus avoiding the post-Tiananmen persecution. Upon graduation, he got a job teaching English at Central Party School in Beijing. With such a safe government job as a cover, Fu actively participated in the house-church movement.
By day, he taught ABCs to a group of atheists who had no idea of Fu’s pro-democracy activism and his religious beliefs. At night, he led sermons and preached the gospel in various house churches in Beijing, the heart of Communist China. This double agent type of life later gave him the title to his biography, “God’s Double Agent.”
The Chinese Government Caught On
Eventually, the Chinese government discovered what Fu was up to. He and his wife were thrown into jail for a few months for “illegal evangelizing.” Both lost their jobs. Not long after, Fu’s wife Heidi became pregnant. The couple were concerned that Fu’s political activity and multiple arrests meant Fu couldn’t get the Chinese government’s permission to have this child nor citizenship for the child once born. With the assistance of friends and lots of personal audacity, Fu and his wife escaped to Hong Kong and later came to the United States as political refugees.
Fu founded China Aid in 2002, “an international non-profit Christian human rights organization committed to promoting religious freedom and the rule of law in China.” He believes that “by exposing the abuses, encouraging the abused, and spiritually and legally equipping the leaders to defend their faith and freedom, China Aid strives to promote religious freedom for all.”
I asked Pastor Fu how bad the persecution of Christians is in China. He told me that their situations has gotten much worse under China’s president for life, Xi Jinping. Fu showed pictures of churches in China being demolished. He talked about the Chinese government’s “Sinicization” of churches: in government-sanctioned churches in China, photos of Xi and Chairman Mao are hanging next to a cross. Before a church service, these congregations usually sing China’s national anthem and songs praising Xi. Churchgoers are told to be patriots and trust the Communist Party first. People who are younger than 18 are forbidden to attend church services.
What worries Fu the most is the persecution of Christians. He mentioned that Pastor John Cao, a permanent U.S. resident who has built a number of schools for ethnic minorities in some of China’s most impoverished regions, was arrested in China in 2017 and sentenced to seven years in prison.
Religious Persecution Tightens Its Grip
Right before Christmas last year, Chinese authorities arrested Pastor Wang Yi and more than 100 members of the Early Rain Covenant Church in Southwest China. Wang was charged with “subverting state power,” a charge that can carry up to a 15-year sentence in prison. In a letter sent from the jail, Wang wrote that the “persecution against the Lord’s church and against all Chinese people who believe in Jesus Christ is the most wicked and the most horrendous evil of Chinese society. This is not only a sin against Christians. It is also a sin against all non-Christians.”
China Aid has been at the forefront of exposing these persecutions and rescuing persecuted Christians and human rights activists in China. China Aid’s most high-profile case involved helping the blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng to escape from China to the United States. Fu translated Chen’s appeal to travel to the United States in a special congressional hearing. Fu told me that China Aid is actively helping a few Christians and their families to escape further persecution in China.
I asked him what Americans can or should do to help. He said, first, the U.S. government needs to talk more openly and forcefully about the Chinese government’s persecution of religious believers, including Christians and Muslims. Second, the U.S. government should incorporate support for religious freedom into its foreign policy. Third, he would like to see the U.S. government use the Global Magnitsky Act to sanction Chinese government officials who persecute religious believers.
My final question to him was why the number of Christians continues to grow despite the government’s relentless persecution. Fu credited it as one of God’s miracles. He also pointed out there is a faith vacuum in China: after the disastrous three decades under Chairman Mao, even the Communist Party doesn’t really believe in Communism anymore.
The wealthier Chinese people get, the more they seek to understand life and faith. The government’s persecution has unintended consequences. When family, friends, and neighbors witness how peaceful, joyful, and loving Christians are in spite of their persecution, these nonbelievers are inspired to become Christians too.
Early Rain Covenant Church is a good example. After a government raid and the arrest of Pastor Wang and some of its members, the church has not disappeared. Remaining members continue to meet in small groups in restaurants and parks.
Before his arrest, Wang said in a sermon, “In this war, in Xinjiang, in Shanghai, in Beijing, in Chengdu, the rulers have chosen an enemy that can never be imprisoned—the soul of man. Therefore they are doomed to lose this war.” Fu agrees. He told me Christians in China are winning because God is on their side.