I didn’t know what happened when the communist agents didn’t follow us that afternoon. We got back to the hotel with no Bibles in the back of the van. That meant that we gave out the share of day to the church and pastors who came to our meeting that morning. It wasn’t our concern how many Bibles would go where. We were distributing what we found in the van every day. Our interpreter must have been in charge with that, and also he must have been in charge to storing them somewhere.
The fact that we were left a little loose by the government was a proof that the governor understood that we were not a danger for the Chinese society. The moment we got back to the hotel, the white car left and didn’t come back that day. We didn’t see somebody else to follow us when we got back in our van after an hour. “Where are we going?” I asked the interpreter. “We are taking you to be part of a house church service.” His answer made me speechless.
House/underground/unregistered churches were illegal in China.
The government vetted all the pastors and approved the churches that applied for a license. The moment that happened, a number of communist agents were assigned to watch that church, the pastor, the teaching, the congregation, (the pastors were not allowed to preach to children and teenagers under 18 years old,) the new comers, and practically, everything. The state gave particular guideline to the pastor and the church committee of elders, and they had to follow it and comply with the communists’ requirements. The pastors were not allowed to give speeches about specific topics, as politics and social issues, and all the sermons were censored. That was the price for being a legal church in China.
The house churches didn’t want to pay that price. In many cases, young people, who attended informal Bible studies while studying at the university, formed the house/illegal churches. Most of their gatherings were secret, in houses or apartments, with a number of about 20-30 attendees. Sometimes they would change their location to keep everybody safe.
Anyway, as incredible as it was, there were also house / underground churches with more than one thousand members, with a visible cross placed on the building, and operating open services in plain sight. Depending on the area where these churches were located, there was persecution or not.
The van took us to a neighborhood of block-of-flats. We got off the car and walked through the old buildings, watching elderly people sitting in front of their flats and eating fruit or some sort of seeds. Everywhere around us there was a deep sense of poverty. When we reached one of the blocks’ gates, a few women were waiting for us with big smiles on their faces. They took us in their arms, and gave us kisses and hugs with tears rolling down their cheeks. Neighbors from other flats were watching us, and almost every window from the apartments around us had somebody out there trying to see us.
Our public encounter made me ask myself when the secret police would show up. Maybe they were already there.
We followed the ladies who met us outside, and entered in a small two-room flat located at the first floor. The apartment was filled with women and elderly men sitting on chairs and benches. The few rows faced the window where there was a small table with a Bible on it. Two ventilators tried to drive away the heat and give us a sense of cool air. We were invited to sit on the front row, and somehow I turned my chair in such an angle so I could see most of the audience.
When the service started with a prayer and a worship song, my hair raised from emotions. It was a choir of angels, sweet praises to our God in tears and sighs. Their arms were lifted up high, from where their hope was coming.
-to be continued-
CHECK OUT Rodica Iova’s books here :