Singapore Straits Times dated April 4 2011 reported :
Beijing – Tears flowed at one of Beijing’s biggest “home churches” yesterday as some 300 Chinese Christians prayed on the last Sunday before they face eviction from their makeshift place of worship, pressed by officials wary about religion outside of their grip.
The Shouwant Church with about 1000 members, is one of the biggest Protestant congregtations in Beijing that has operated and expanded outside the confines of the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s religious affairs authorities, which register and oversee churches.
But the party is wary about any potential unrest, and this gathering of neat middle-class and student Christians has been told by its landlord it can no longer worship at the Old Story Restaurant, which has walls lined with photographs of party leaders shaking hands with United States presidents.
Church leaders warned that unless the church can find a new home, its members may be forced to worship outdoors, a risky step in this nation, where big gatherings often attract official scrutiny and can be broken up by police.
Said Pastor Jin Tianming to the worshippers about the prospect of worshipping outdoors : “This is the cross the church has to bear.” Some of them wiped tears from their faces.
“We need formal approval from the authorities to allow us to find an indeer meeting place. If not, we will not waver in worshipping outdoors.”
Members of the chruch told Reuters they did not see themselves as political activists or foes of the government. But the pressures they face show the extent of China’s recent crackdown on dissent and potential sources of unrest.
Said veteran pastor You Guanhui to the congregation about the possibility of gathering at a public palce: “Some people may face being caught, may have to stand trial or may even be sentenced.”
China as arrested and detained dozens after online calls for a pro-democracy “Jasmine Revolution”.
In recent years, restrictions on house churches across the country have eased, allowing them to grow and settle. These churches started as Bible-study groups that grew into large congregations, sparking ruling party fears that they could undermine its grip. But those fears had eased in many areas in recent years, and many such churches are now much bigger than a normal house can fit.
There are 40 to 60 million Protestants in China, divided between official and unregistered churches, according to Dr Carsten Vala, a Loyola University Maryland-based professor who specializes in Chinese Christians.
The eviction is the latest chapter in a long series of restrictions on the Shouwant Chruch, which started in a rented apartment in 1993. When pressed to register with the Administration for Religious Affairs, it declined, said Mr Cao Zhi, a church member in his 30’s.
“Traditionally, home churches haven’t been willing to register, because the church is considered to belong to God” he said.
Let us pray for His protection for Christians in house churches who continue to serve the Lord in spirit and truth.