How do you see persecution? According to Open Doors, 1 in 8 Christians worldwide experiences persecution for their faith. That’s 1 in 8 of us whose faith can come at great cost — in some cases, even at the cost of life itself. This month, in response to this painful statistic, we will be sharing stories in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who so often live out their faith in the shadows. We pray this would shine a light in the otherwise-darkened corners of our world and connect us all to these hidden members of the body of Christ.
China – Life has always been hard for Christians in China. Believers suffered severe persecution for decades, especially from the 1950s to the '70s. For a while, things seemed to be getting better. Churches were established, and Bibles were even printed on the mainland.
But now, Bibles cannot be purchased online. And while enforcement varies by area, we have learned of churches being demolished, missionaries being forced to leave, religious books being removed from stores and online platforms. In some places, religious images have been replaced with images of the Chinese president.
In spite of this persecution, the church in China continues to grow. There were only 1 million believers in China in 1949. Today, according to official estimates, there are about 38 million Protestants in China. The real number is believed to be between 70 million and 116 million.
These believers need sound teaching to grow in their faith, and without it they can quickly fall into doctrinal error. Uncensored, unfiltered biblical teaching is getting harder to find in China. People may come to Christ but search in vain for spiritual nourishment. And what they may find might not be the whole truth.
There is a great need for biblically sound, well-educated pastors and church leaders. However, house-church leaders almost never have the chance to receive any formal, systematic Bible training. Many have a limited educational background, and most are busy with church ministry.
The SOTA program of TWR seeks to meet this need by providing a quality theological education for promising students who seek to reach out to their own people. SOTA stands for Seminary on the Air and allows these students to learn at a time and pace more suited to their busy schedules.
Originally broadcast over shortwave from the Pacific island of Guam, this essential initiative shifted to an online platform in 2012. Various forms of media such CDs, USB drives, MP3 players and digital tablets are also used.
Since 2012, over 1000 students have graduated from SOTA. There are presently close to 2000 active students.
Due to COVID-19 response measures, churches are currently unable to resume physical gatherings. Most churches have had to break into smaller groups, and as a result the workload of the church leaders has grown tremendously. This lack of physical gatherings also makes it more difficult for SOTA to minister to students.
SOTA has adapted to these conditions, using other means to reach out to the students and continuing to provide the training that they need. Various online ministry groups have been formed, focusing on topics such as preaching, Bible study, and missions. We also provide resources such as 137 lessons of the Discipleship Essentials curriculum and over 200 Bible stories from Bible Stories Alive for the small groups.
Looking back at the previous century, the situation for Christians in China was grim. But this was also the time when God raised up leaders such as Wang Ming-Dao, Nee Duo-Sheng (Watchman Nee) and Yang Shao-Tang (David Yang), who helped guide the Chinese church through many perilous years.
TWR prays that God will use SOTA in developing similar integral Christian leaders who will not flinch in the face of increasing adversity but serve their people with confidence, compassion and courage.
* Stock images are used to protect the individuals’ privacy.