Olympic Countdown…

Three weeks from now China will attempt to pull off the greatest show on earth as the Olympics 2008 opens in Beijing. At exactly 8.08 on August 8, 2008 the curtain will rise on a spectacular opening night ceremony. The emphasis on the numeral 8 is not a coincidence. In Chinese thinking the numeral 8 is associated with hope and prosperity, the two things China craves more than anything else in its bid to dominate the world as Number 1. The theme will be One World, One Dream which summarizes the century’s old concept of China as the middle kingdom and center of world influence.

The government has been going to great lengths to spruce up the city and its people’s manners. A superhuman effort was underway to curb spitting by the use of severe fines. Loud talking and unseemly conduct on the streets is another challenge as Beijing prepares to welcome thousands of tourists. A recent traveler who just returned from Beijing reported that the 90,000 taxi drivers in Beijing were in a crash course to master rudimentary English. He did say, however, that his drivers didn’t seem to be making much progress.

Nevertheless, this frenzied effort is underway to thrust Beijing into the 21st century with a magnificent site for the Games. In an effort to beautify the city, 2 million trees have been planted and magnificent architectural masterpieces are beginning to change the skyline. There is no doubt that Beijing will be prepared to be China’s showcase for the world to see a magnificent city with fabulous ancient buildings of old China standing by the most modern architectural wonders created by man.

China is feverishly working to impress the world and some of the suggestions and plans run counter to everything this atheistic nation believes. The Chinese media reported that Liu Bainan, vice-president of the China Patriotic Catholic Association, which is the official registered Catholic Church equivalent to the Protestant Three Self Patriotic Movement, has urged the authorities to place Bibles in every hotel room during the Games. The official Xinhua News Agency quoted Liu as saying that this would be a good move by Beijing in order to “clear up foreign misconceptions about religion in China.” He went on to say, “A large number of foreign athletes and tourists will swarm into Beijing for the Games, a majority of who have religious belief.” Xinhua continued his statement that “the Bible is a must at hotels in foreign countries.” Liu made these bold assertions on the sidelines of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the country’s top political advisory body.

The dilemma for China is to present to the world a country enjoying religious freedom in officially recognized churches while at the same time, pastors and church leaders from house churches are still being arrested and held for interrogation and sometimes severe beatings. Earlier in the summer, more than 100 foreign workers were expelled from China because their religious activities were involved with house churches considered by China to be an “evil cult.”

Mr. Zhou Heng, a Christian businessman has been under criminal detention since August. He was arrested while attempting to pick up 2 tons of Bibles sent from another province for distribution to local believers. Zhou is on criminal detention on suspicion of illegal business operations and could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

It is difficult for foreigners to understand these actions by the government especially since Amity Press, sponsored by the Three Self Patriotic Movement, the registered church, and has officially printed more than 40 million Bibles during the past twenty-five years. Soon they will move into their new facilities which will be one of the largest and most modern printing presses in the country. Amity is now printing Bibles in many different languages for export, and promises to increase production of Chinese Bibles in the coming year.

In 2004, the government-backed Amity Press put the number of Christians at 18 million, however, China Aid Association reported several months ago that Mr. Yie Xiaowen, the director of the Chinese State Administration for Religious Affairs said in two internal meetings held in Beijing University and the Chinese Academy of Social Science “that the number of Christians in China has reached 130 million!” It should be noted that the vast majority of Christians are part of the unregistered house churches.

The next few months will reveal how China will handle these sensitive religious matters as it seeks to reach for two worlds, their own repressive controls based on their atheistic beliefs and the approval of the world they one day hope to dominate in business. The US State Department’s 2006 report on international religious freedom said China had failed to live up to promises to respect citizens’ faith and persecutes Christians, Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists who refuse to accept official controls. The countdown to the Olympic Games 2008 will no doubt have a profound effect on the country and the world.

Until everyone has heard in the land…

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