Foreign business hosts or colleagues knew of my Sunday “church priority before tours” practice on my weekends away from home business trips. It was always a joyful connection to visit local churches on Sunday mornings, for worship to the Lord, fellowship with local Christians, to invite my local colleagues (believer or non-believer) to church to hear the Word and to establish local Christian contact for them. Several non-believer colleagues who joined me in the services have been affected/touched immeasurably by the Gospel messages they heard.
One Sunday on a business trip to Shanghai in the last decade of the twentieth century, I visited the International church there, with my pre-believer local colleague. At the gate, surprisingly they were selling copies of Bibles printed in China which any body could purchase. There, however, I was told – no local Chinese could attend the morning English service for international Christians. The local Chinese could attend the Chinese service at the same church later. I was stumped – that meant my colleague could not enter to attend the English service after I had successfully persuaded him to do so – it was truly disappointing. I found out then, there were three types of churches: the international, locally sanctioned and underground churches. Today, I am glad to report that my ex-colleague is freely attending church with expatriate colleagues in a church in a large city in China. However, there may not be such freedom in the country-side or communes where conservative local authorities may still be suspicious of Christians, and persecuting believers with imprisonment and hard labor. Recently we read about the persecution of larger independent churches.
Another Sunday about the same period, I was in Ho Chi Minh City (previously known as Saigon) and was looking for a church to attend – yes, there is a large Catholic church at which anybody can attend French-speaking masses. I asked for a church with an English service and was told there was none –however, there was a meeting at a hotel which I could attend, but not for locals. I attended that service and it was truly for foreigners as an announcement was made during the service for locals to please vacate the room as they were not by law allowed to attend such meetings. There was a baptism in a hotel bathtub that day, but those baptized were foreigners working in Vietnam. There were three types of churches like in China.
Today, I know there are fervent Vietnamese Christians in Vietnam who worship God in Spirit and in Truth. One such believer I know had been miraculously healed of cancer. Without my awareness one day, she had eavesdropped on my conversation with a dying church member at the Singapore National Cancer Centre while we were waiting for his oncologist appointment. She requested the devotional I read from to my friend and I gave it to her after sharing the gospel with her, while my friend was with his oncologist. I had two more sharing sessions with prayer with her when accompanying my friend to the Centre later. We lost contact after my friend went to be with the Lord. It was eleven months later, when she telephoned me very late one night and advised that she was healed from cancer by faith after she had considered what I had shared with her and after reading the devotional. She also had built her faith in Jesus by attending a church in Singapore where they held miracle healing rallies. Her Singapore oncologist and specialists had confirmed her healing after several tests. Her whole family had accepted Jesus and she called to inform me of the miracle, as she was leaving Singapore that night by air to return home for good. She thanked me for introducing her to Christ and said that she would be attending an evangelical church. Today, there are also, many young Vietnamese Christians who are persecuted in Buddhist, Communist homes as evidenced by one Vietnamese ex-colleague of mine.
One business weekend, I took a couple of hours’ elephant ride with a Karen Christian tourist guide from Chiangmai in Northern Thailand to Chiangrai, to visit the notorious Golden Triangle firsthand. This famed border location where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet on the Mekong River was once the centre of all poppy cultivation in the kingdom of Thailand. The tourist guide told me how he was educated by Christian missionaries and also that Tribal Christians of Chin and Karen tribes in Myanmar were living under military persecution in a majority Buddhist population. Some were escaping to the border between Myanmar and Thailand. In 2002 Lah Yui Say with four sisters, brother and parents fled Myanmar (aka Burma) to a refugee camp in Thailand. However in May next year, her father and two friends were ambushed enroute by taking a shortcut through Burma from the refugee camp to visit her at the Bible School she was graduating from. Her father was captured and tortured, his legs, arms and head were cut off and put on poles surrounded by landmines so no one could come close to the body.. The curtain of secrecy was slightly lifted when cyclone Nargis in Myanmar did its deathly work and as local Christians through their very effective underground networks first let in much more emergency aid from Christians in the neighbouring countries, than the international agencies were allowed to bring in. Some time ago, six Hmong women and children were wounded or killed by army artillery and attacks directed against Christian and other religious minorities in Laos.
In predominantly Islamic Malaysia, the persecution involves banning of Iban tribal translation of the Bible for the use of the word Allah Talah for God, and banning of Christian books and distribution of tracts to Muslims. Muslims converted to Christianity are persecuted by family or authorities and may not be allowed to change or legalize use of their Christian names and may be denied Christian burial rites. Islamic militia groups in Indonesia openly call for violence against Christians, burn churches and homes of Christians, maim and kill Christians. Although the Indonesian constitution guarantees religious freedom, the official stance and persecution against Christianity has increased in recent years.
In Singapore, the Constitution provides that every citizen or person in the country has a constitutional right to profess, practice, or propagate his religious belief so long as such activities do not breach any other laws relating to public order, public health, or morality. All religious groups are subject to government scrutiny and must be registered legally under the Societies Act. The Government deregistered the Singapore Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1972 and the Unification Church in 1982, making them unlawful societies. The Government restricts religious instruction in public schools. The current Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act allows the Government to take action restraining leaders and members of religious groups involved in perceived threats to religious harmony, including aggressive and “insensitive” proselytizing and the mixing of religion and politics, creating “ill will” between religious groups, or carrying out subversive activities. A Christian couple were imprisoned under the Religious Harmony Act for distributing Christian tracts insensitively by post to Muslims who complained.
Watchman Nee was a well-known Chinese martyr for Christ who gave 20 years of his life in prison in China where he died. There is no doubt he was a trail blazer for many others in Asia who like him have given their lives for Christ.
cultivated his inner life to live in spiritual purity despite external environmental conditions, faithful to the end – such robustness of faith and practice is an example for us to emulate.
had foresight to train his disciples according to New Testament standards, who carried on despite his imprisonment, facilitating the start of many churches in China (which was a formidable part of the underground church during the height of communist religious prosecutions) and the rest of Asia – this was consistent with the Great Commission and an aspect which is lacking and is very needful in many churches today for without grounding in faith for living, how can there be a sustainable spreading of our Christian faith?
communicated his spiritual insight and personal relationship and experiences in testimonies and treatises to his disciples –he left documented records which would inspire his disciples to respond to the call and presence of God and to experience the touch of God in their lives. How we need the touch of God today. There are many Christian books today, but many lack the extension into personal testimony and experience to challenge us to new heights in faith in God and to teach us that it is no secret what God can do – what He has done for me He can do for you and what He has revealed to me, take counsel and let Him reveal Himself to you in a fresh and living way.
was persevering with an undaunted spirit and tenacity of purpose, being faithful to the end. This brave spirit is evident today in the lives of persecuted Christians in the Asian region, who live ignominiously and among their militia, government, communal or religious persecutors. These have had their churches, homes plundered and burnt, their wives and children taken captive, manhandled and raped, themselves tortured and murdered, starved for food and always on the run, without much fanfare to the rest of the world. These are today’s silent martyrs who have given themselves for their faith and their God through many fears, dangers and difficulties. These are the ones who traverse many miles by foot to neighbouring borders to receive Christian training and return to spread the gospel. These are the ones the Heavenly Father watches over as His very own – giving faith and mercy and grace – these are the ones the outside world never catches a glimpse of but who by their very testimony have spawned many more faithful disciples, a force to be reckoned with, against the enemy of God in those countries.
Will/can we in our comfortable Christianity ever say “Yet, will I not deny Thee!” like these silent martyrs, or even be willing to deny self when it is crunch time for us to stand up for the Lord in our comfortable environments or in the face of anti-Christian influence in society?
Pray for the silent Christian martyrs and their families and their witnesses all over the world that each will have wisdom and discernment to do what the Lord wants them to do.