THE CROSS SHALL RISE AGAIN!
JANUARY 23, 2018
Faith and Defiance In Wenzhou Continues
The humiliation of Wenzhou’s Christians amidst the forced cross demolitions of 2015 left Christian believers in The Jerusalem of the East resolved and resilient- resolved to raise their crosses once again, and resilient to stand against the local government officials 24 hours a day if necessary, in order to prevent their recently erected crosses from another forced symbolic, yet substantive decapitation.
That resolve and resilience found expression on the night of December 23, 2017, and for two weeks following, when the leaders of three of Wenzhou’s 2400 registered churches under the veil of nightfall, placed smaller, yet more powerful red crosses on the tops of their church buildings. Crafted in the sanctuaries and basements of registered edifices by leaders who dared to stand against the status quo, the trinity of hand-made crosses emboldened the believers of three defiant churches to keep a 24/7 watch over their buildings for two solid weeks. With up to 200 believers standing watch over each church at a given time, the singing and praying worshippers successfully repelled the multiple nocturnal attempts of local authorities to strip the churches of their symbols of faith.
“Why risk the censure of the government,” I queried the three leaders? “Why does a church building need a cross anyway?” “The cross identifies the building as a church. Without it, the building just looks like any other building,” Evangelist Li responded.” "Even if they take away our crosses, we have the cross in our hearts. They can never take that away,” responded Brother Zhao. “They should have never taken the crosses away in the first place. The cross is the symbol that allows us to evangelize the neighborhood,” Teacher Huang adamantly asserted. What emerged from our further discussion was that the reasoning for returning red crosses, in the minds of Wenzhou believers, was more an expression of faith and evangelism than an attempt to directly oppose the government, but that from the government’s perspective, the return of the cross was seen to be an act of rebellion. All three leaders agreed that the churches just needed their crosses. If the government took offense or responded, so be it, the Christians were prepared to accept the consequences of defending this most recent and public expression of their living faith.
Cross In The Courtyard- Cross On The Church
Two days after the crosses went up, government officials came to the three churches. The officials were not allowed on the premises. But coming without cranes and dozens of policemen, this time it was clear that the government was in a defensive, responsive posture, rather than to offensively enforce a higher governmental directive. The Can He Church, started in the 19th century by missionaries from Hudson Taylor’s China Inland Mission, placed a portable trailer in front of the courtyard to bar any large vehicles from coming on the premises. The other two churches countered the officials with a phalanx of singing and praying saints. Each time the officials came, they left without accomplishing their purpose. After January 7th, the officials stopped coming.
Drawing the Line Between Church and State
Smaller than the crosses demolished in 2015, yet more conspicuous due to the demolished neighborhoods around them, the latest sacrifice to China’s recent Five-Year urban initiative, the crosses on the churches beckon the attention of residents and commuters alike. All is quiet on the Eastern front, at least for now. What remains to be seen is whether thousands of other churches will follow and what response the government will counter in return. The line in the sand is being redrawn, this time with more space on the side of the churches, but if recent history is any indication, the boundaries between church and state in China’s Jerusalem of the East will remain flexible, inviting both cooperation and resistance, faith and resolve, expression and accommodation.
Thanks for praying for my latest China trip. More news to follow. But may the faith of Wenzhou’s Christians inspire your prayers. Thanks also for praying for my two successful kidney stone treatments last week and in December in Taipei.
Tim and Evie Conkling
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