Monthly Archives: June 2020

Hope Not Despair

There has been a lot of “fear and anxiety” everywhere due to the pandemic, but for the children of God the crisis presents a wonderful opportunity to pause and refocus firmly on our Lord Jesus. He is still fully in charge!

In John 6 we find the disciples were in the middle of the Sea of Galilee and about to drown when Jesus got into the boat. “A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.” (John 6:18-21).

The key here is to getting through any “storm in life” is to make sure Jesus is in “our boat with us!” Even with Him our lives at times are excruciatingly “difficult and painful,” but without Him, our lives are “futile and directionless,” followed by an eternity of misery. Let’s make sure we spend our time getting to know Him better.

Whatever the cause of the present pandemic, or the plans of governments in the future, it is the Lord Jesus Christ who is in control! The governments are upon his shoulders, and as Nebuchadnezzar concluded long ago: “All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: What have you done?” (Daniel 4:35).

All of our lives have been affected in one way or another since news emerged from the Chinese city of Wuhan in January that a new type of respiratory virus was afflicting people and spreading quickly. We are not speculating on the origins of the virus or how the subsequent lockdowns and expansion of government power affect life going forward.

Instead, here is a brief report from a dear house church friend in China:

“In recent months, house churches across the nation have seen a new openness to the gospel since the virus appeared. Even though gatherings have been banned and the Communist Party has shut down many Christian websites and social media platforms, many people have placed their trust in the Lord anyway. Because of the crisis and subsequent long isolation period, people in China have realized that money and possessions will not save them. Gatherings have started through telephone and website evangelism, which has been very effective!”

Even before the outbreak, people’s foundations had become very shaky, with the Chinese economy in terrible condition and tens of millions of unemployed people with nothing to do. Now, with real fear in society as the Chinese government begins to implement their “social credit system,” many people’s confidence in themselves and the nation’s leadership has waning.

The arrival of the pandemic brought all these feelings to the surface, and it is likely that millions of people will become Christians throughout the country because of it. For this we praise the Lord for His great wisdom and mercy!

Many people are asking “where is God” during the current crisis. According to the Bible, He is where He always is, ruling over the universe and working His perfect will and plan of salvation as time marches forward to the end of the present age.

For a moment or perhaps a longer while, we are dropped into the depths of despair, a tragedy of intense proportions. In the darkness we struggle with difficult and often confusing feelings. We often feel guilty about these feelings. All are true human emotions, and necessary in enabling us to cope.

God understands our pain and our suffering. He will wrap his loving arms around us, He will be there when no one else can. After a time we begin to feel his presence. You can see a faint light in the distance. This is the light of “Hope.”

Moving toward the light the Holy Spirit takes us by the hand and helps us to move even closer to the light. The light of the Lord that shines into each of our lives. Here in the Lords loving presence our souls and our wounds begin to heal. God has a plan for us and we can rest assured that we have been called here for a purpose. Our job is not yet finished. We must continue to move forward.

We might not understand the sequence of events in our lives. We might not understand the meaning of our suffering. But we have not lost everything, we are not alone. We will always have “Hope.”

As you go through the adjustments in your life currently, don’t lose the heavenly perspective. Jesus is still on His eternal throne, and God remains good! Although this is a trying time  for all of us, looking back at this experience will be a mere blip on the radar of God’s wonderful plan when Jesus returns.

We encourage you to keep looking to Jesus, study His Word every day, and use this time to grow in Him as you share the Good News with those around you. “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8).

Let’s pray the Lord Jesus will be glorified through these difficult times, and that millions of lost people throughout China and around the world will find true inner peace and salvation through the Gospel of Christ Jesus.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith, of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire, may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.  Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:3-9

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WeChat Censorship

A new report claims WeChat is monitoring its overseas users.

WeChat, China’s ubiquitous “social networking” app, rules the roost in China with functions ranging from messaging to mobile payment that cater to user’s modern needs.

It also has an unrivaled user base among the Chinese Diaspora and Netizens across Taiwan and Southeast Asia, with over one billion active monthly users worldwide.

But that massive expansion could start to slow if recent allegations of Chinese “monitoring” of the app’s overseas users have merit.

The University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab claims in a recent research report that WeChat uses systematic algorithms and a special task force to monitor everything “sent, posted and shared” by the app’s overseas users.

These WeChat users, Citizen Lab said, could be collateral targets as the primary goal may be to beef up “censorship” of messages targeting mainland Chinese Netizens.

The system, according to Citizen Lab, tags a digital signature to anything deemed as “sensitive” through keyword searches, while data analysis screens content to possibly put it on a “blacklist” for further vetting.

The furtive content filtering includes screening messages, images, files and links sent or posted by WeChat users overseas and, should a cautionary flag be raised, the censorship of any deemed as improper content.

Anything on the censorship list, Citizen Lab says, will not be disseminated to WeChat’s mainland version. The process is developed to corral the Internet and filter the exchanges between WeChat users at home and abroad, it said.

The monitoring was apparently motivated by the fact that a rising number of Chinese studying and vacationing abroad may have added contacts on the app who are from Hong Kong, Taiwan or elsewhere in the West and chat about perceived as sensitive topics.

Tencent’s futuristic corporate headquarters in Shenzhen. The tech giant and owner of WeChat says privacy and data protection are at the core of its business but it also needs to stay on message with the Chinese authorities when it comes to the administration of the cyberspace.

WeChat’s owner, Tencent, the Shenzhen-based tech leviathan whose market capitalization is usually among the world’s top 10, has until now been discreet about the app’s overseas version. The company no doubt wants to assure its global users that they are not affected by Beijing’s censors.

Messages or content shared by accounts registered outside of mainland China are not normally censored or surveilled, even if the topics may be deemed as sensitive or politically incorrect in Beijing’s view. That includes criticism of Beijing’s handling of the Covid-19 contagion and its throttling of whistle-blowers.

Hong Kong’s anti-government protests last year that morphed into an open revolt against Beijing’s authority over the former British colony, Taiwan’s presidential election in January in which the independence-learning incumbent Tsai Ing-wen powered to a second term, and anti-China sentiment spreading in response to the coronavirus pandemic are all sensitive topics in China.

Users in Hong Kong and Taiwan have long been mystified by the fact that they can post images and links about protests and elections on Moments, WeChat’s bulletin and sharing page, but their friends in mainland China cannot see them.

Citizen Lab did not make it clear if sifting through chats and messages on WeChat’s overseas version is conducted first-hand by Chinese government censors, or if Tencent is allegedly doing it at the behest of authorities.

A Tencent executive previously said that the company’s business in mainland China, including its core WeChat operations, must be on message with the government when it comes to the administration of its cyberspace.

A photo of an empty chair alluding to Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo is censored. Photo: Citizen Lab

Citizen Lab’s latest finding, published in a report titled “We Chat, They Watch”, will further fuel worries that WeChat is putting its overseas users in the same “straitjacket of censorship” that previously applied only to mainland Netizens.

Ron Deibert, the Citizen Lab’s director, said if users were not concerned before, they should be very concerned now and re-evaluate the risks of using the app. He also highlighted the moral aspect of overseas WeChat users being complicit in Beijing’s imperative to curb free speech among Chinese nationals.

“I would urge international users to consider that, as you use this platform, you’re actually helping to strengthen digital repression in China,” he said.

In 2018, it was revealed in reports that a Shenzhen public security authority maintained a dedicated team next door to Tencent’s headquarters to intercept, monitor and back up messages and chat history of any WeChat user in real-time, regardless if whether the user was or wasn’t online. Any user and their friends’ profiles are readily accessible through WeChat’s back-end systems for government agents, the reports said.

Screening the chats and messages from WeChat’s overseas users aims to filter their exchanges with Chinese Netizens.

Tencent, for its part, has stressed that chat data will only pass through its servers “so that it can be distributed to the users you have chosen to send communications to.” Yet WeChat’s user’s agreement notes that the app reserves the right to use its users’ details and content “for the purposes of providing, promoting and developing to improve WeChat and our other services.”

The tech juggernaut notes on its corporate website that privacy is at the core of its services and access to users’ data are in strict accordance with applicable laws and regulations, though it’s not clear if that means China’s laws or the country’s where the app is being used. Tencent maintains that all of its products and services are designed for privacy protection.

The company also says its products and services, including WeChat, have an array of controls so that users can easily manage how much of their data is collected, used and shared. WeChat has been awarded TrustArc and ISO/IEC 27018 accreditation’s, while Tencent Cloud have earned CISPE and ISO 27701 accreditation’s, among others.

Evidence that Big Brother is watching you on WeChat
China’s media steps up virus propaganda drive
TikTok videos at the mercy of Beijing’s censors

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Uncivilized Behavior

People wearing face masks go shopping in Beijing as the city announces new hygiene rules amid the coronavirus outbreak. Photo: AFP

Beijing has banned “uncivilized behavior” such as not covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, the city government said in a new set of regulations to improve public “hygiene” amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The laws aim to promote “civilized behavior” and relate to combating the pandemic which has infected more than 82,000 in China alone.

People who break the rules will be slapped with fines for offenses including not wearing a mask in public when ill, the municipal government said on its website.

The laws also require public places to set up one meter distance markers and to provide communal chopsticks and serving spoons for shared meals.

Citizens must also “dress neatly” in public and not go shirtless, an apparent reference to the so-called “Beijing bikini” practice where men roll T-shirts up to expose their stomachs in hot weather.

The state-run Global Times said the rule equaled a “total ban” of the practice in public places.

Beijing already discourages a range of “uncivilized” behaviors” including “public spitting, littering, walking dogs unleashed, throwing things from high buildings, public defecation and smoking in places where it is prohibited.” 

But the latest rules, passed on outline new specific punishments.

“Fines for littering, spitting and defecation in public were upped to a maximum of 200 yuan ($28), from a previous upper limit of 50 yuan.”

In the past, these regulations were enforced in a “patchy” way and the habits have not been stamped out completely.

Those who do not sort their rubbish correctly can be fined up to 200 yuan, and residents responsible for noise pollution in public spaces and who walk their dogs unleashed can be fined up to 500 yuan.

The laws also encourage police to report serious offenses which may affect a person’s “social credit score”, a fledgling system which aims to assess individual actions across society, though it did not provide more specifics.

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