A Knock in the Night

In the dead of the night, a knock was heard on the door. Before Dennis Balcombe could even get out of bed, Chinese police kicked his door in, swarmed into his room, and arrested him. Balcombe is an American pastor who was visiting churches in China when the authorities ordered his arrest—along with several other Christian leaders. As police led him away, Balcombe could hear the screams of local Chinese Christians still in the house, as police rounded them up and beat them. According to a report in World magazine by Roy Maynard, Balcombe and two other Americans spent the next four days and nights behind bars in a detention center. Their account reads like stories from the Soviet gulag: They were refused permission to contact their embassy; they were jerked awake in the middle of the night and dragged out for interrogations; they were pressured to betray their fellow Christians. Ironically, all this was taking place just as debates were raging in the United States over whether to renew China's Most Favored Nation trading status. China is trying to convince the U.S. that its human-rights record is improving. But in fact it's much worse. Not long ago Chinese authorities issued two new edicts that forbid evangelism and outlaw any congregations not sanctioned by the government. Like the former Soviet Union, China has churches that are government-approved and controlled. As a result, an underground church has blossomed, meeting primarily in homes. As Marxist ideology is discredited, growing numbers of young people are turning to Christianity to fill the vacuum. But Chinese authorities have vowed to wipe out the underground churches, closing them down and arresting or killing their leaders. Some Christians have been sentenced to labor camps just for listening to Gospel radio programs broadcast from Hong Kong. The crackdown is motivated by Chinese officials' awareness that religion has the power to topple repressive regimes—like their own. An article in the Christian Science Monitor says Beijing is acutely conscious of the role Christianity played in the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. Chinese authorities are determined not to let the same thing happen in their country. The tragedy is that few Americans are following this drama. Reports about Pastor Balcombe showed up in only a handful of newspapers. Compare that to hundreds of stories about the flogging of an American teen-ager in Singapore. Apparently, our press is more interested in one rebellious teen-ager than in devout Christians being persecuted in China. The good news is that in the U.S. Congress, nearly 300 representatives signed a letter to President Clinton protesting China's religious persecution and other human-rights abuses. Why don't you find out if your representatives signed it and thank them for speaking out. The writer of Hebrews commands us to remember those imprisoned for their faith, as through we were there with them. That means we need to empathize with our brothers and sisters in China and pray for them. We need to imagine what it's like to hear a knock on the door in the dead of night.


Chuck Colson


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