October 3, 2007
As the newest addition to the IRD family, I am still learning about the organization and having new experiences that show me what IRD is all about. One such experience was on September 25, when I attended a meeting on China hosted by the Institute. Two Chinese Christian human rights activists spoke in the Cannon House Office Building about the role of the growing population of evangelical Christians in mainland China in moving that country from its communist past to a more open and democratic future.
IRD Religious Liberty Program Director Faith McDonnell poses with (from left to right) formerTime magazine foreign policy correspondent David Aikman, Pastor Zhang Boli, and Chinese dissident Yu Jie.
A famous Chinese author and dissident, Yu Jie, described the increasing influence of house churches in Chinese society. He recounted the story of his own home congregation and the efforts of the growing body of intellectual believers to support unregistered churches. Photos of subsequent government reprisals in the form of police raids accompanied his story. Mr. Yu’s account was the main focus of the morning. But a local pastor who attended the meeting also had an amazing story to share.
The senior pastor of Harvest Chinese Christian Church in Fairfax, VA, Zhang Boli offered an inspirational account of his political and spiritual journey as one of the “most wanted” dissidents in the early 1990s. Zhang had been a professor and academic in Beijing in the 1980s. As a member of the intellectual community, he was on the forefront of the democratic movement and helped organize the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. Zhang survived the Tiananmen Square massacre, but not without injury. Following the government crackdown, he became a fugitive from the communist regime.
Driven from Beijing, Zhang survived on the charity of those who would have pity on him. His life changed, however, when one rural peasant woman took him in. The poor woman, who fed him soup every day, was illiterate. She asked Zhang to read to her from a handwritten copy of the Gospel of John. As he recovered his strength, Zhang was thus shown the love of God and confronted with the truth of the Gospel. He came to faith in Christ on Christmas Day 1989.
Since that time, Zhang said in conclusion, he has dedicated his life to the work of the Kingdom of God. In 1991 he finally escaped from China and came to the United States, where he was diagnosed with cancer. He wrote his autobiography, Escape from China: The Long Journey from Tiananmen to Freedom, when he feared that he might die without leaving a way for his daughter to know what had happened at Tiananmen Square. But, Zhang said, God healed him of the cancer, and in 2003 he became the pastor of Harvest Chinese Christian Church. Yu Jie and his wife attend this church during their visits to Washington.
Providing the opportunity for a pair of dedicated Chinese Christians to tell their story on Capitol Hill was a good indication to me of the purpose and mission of IRD. Though Christians from the persecuted church are despised and repressed by their own government, we are working to give them a voice. And as the newest member of the IRD office, it is a matter of great satisfaction to me to know that I will be involved in these efforts and be able to serve God and others as they seek to do the same.
Daniel Anderson, a recent graduate of the University of Virginia, is a fellow at McLean Presbyterian Church (McLean, VA) and an intern at the Institute on Religion & Democracy