Part 4: Observations And Analysis
by Phil Martin
Making observations is a necessary and yet tricky business. Necessary in that living in this world presents us with an immense amount of information. Each of us constantly gathers useful information, discards the irrelevant and then interpretes the remaining data. This is how we live, think, and learn. But it is a tricky business because we aren’t objective third parties. Personal gain or loss rides on the conclusions we come to. Therefore as we sort the data, we tend to pick the data that is convenient for us and call it relevant.
The post-modern conclusion is that we can’t have reliable conclusions. Obviously that perspective leads to moral and intellectual chaos. It isn’t a viable way to live. Our only choice is to get on with the business of observing and analyzing with an appropriate skepticism for our biases.
Analyzing our encounter with the police is a perfect example. If we conclude from our experience that our perception of China is drastically wrong, massive changes are required. For others, if our perspective is right, then many missionaries in this country are unnecessarily restricting their activities. None of us that are in the missionary business can pretend to be objective.
My primary audience for these posts is our supporters. I’m not interested in squabbling with co-laborers in the gospel and brothers in Christ. I do feel compelled, however, to explain our convictions and perspectives to those who are supporting us. To be as fair as possible I will try to analyze our experience from two different starting points.
First Analysis: The security situation is very tight
This was the first time we tried to go to an unregistered house church service in Changchun. One visit and one incident with the police. The police were specifically checking for foreign involvement. This suggests 1) the situation here is tense, 2) going to Chinese House Churches leads to persecution, 3) trying to attend causes trouble for the Chinese believers, 4) long term goals are risked by one simple visit to a church, and 5) the police are very closely watching for foreign involvement. From this perspective, we are lucky that nothing worse happened.
Second Analysis: Persecution here is not that intense
I was amazed as I thought about it later. This is an illegal church of about 100 adults. The police not only know about it, they actually visit the church. Still, the church keeps right on doing its thing. This would be an easy church to close. You’d think a visit by police officers would at least stop the service. Even when we, two foreigners, walked in to the church, the officers didn’t make even the slightest attempt to arrest us or get our information. True, they did prevent us from attending, but if they were at all serious about stopping us permanently, that was their chance.
In fact, these officers were from the station where I had just finished registering. I had just given this station my name, phone number, WeChat ID, address, copy of my passport, and a recent picture. These officers could have walked back and asked, “Do any of you know of a 2 meter tall white guy with a beard married to a short brown girl living near here?” We are the definition of memorable around here. Even a half-hearted effort to find us would have had them knocking on our door. So why didn’t they? One answer is that they don’t really care that much. Another could be that God was actively intervening to keep us here. Perhaps, their modus operandi is intimidation and so they consider their job finished when we left.
Lastly, it also struck me that the church texted me the same day. They were somewhat concerned about the event but not enough to tell us not to come back. They even invited us to a bible study two days later and told us to come back to the church! If the church thought the police were actively searching for us, they wouldn’t have done any of this.
Where the Truth Lies
I think there are things to learn from both lines of thinking. It would be incredibly blind to not learn that there is real government intervention aimed at preventing exactly the work we hope to do. At the same time, nothing that we experienced should give us the sense that our presence is a top concern for the local police. Our job at this point is to determine what wisdom suggests and what scripture demands.
I’ve never experienced anything like this in my life. It was the first time an institution directly prevented the free exercise of my religious convictions. That is not the norm in Christian History. If I stood in front of the martyrs of the first century, the reformation, or from many points in the twentieth century I would be ashamed by how ill-prepared I was for this opposition. American Christians are experiencing more and more opposition, even if it is coming in a veiled form. In light of this new marginalization, it would do us much good to think about our convictions before we face this type of test. On the flip side, since we have been so shielded from real persecution and our culture idolizes safety, comfort, and security we should be skeptical of our gut reactions. Our consciences probably need more than a little recalibration in this area. Fortunately for us, this is not an topic to which scripture is silent.
The next post begins our exploration of what the bible says about persecution.