GLS Restructures Olympic Outreach
The hotel rooms had been reserved in Beijing and the airline tickets were on hold. Twelve people had planned to distribute gospel literature to athletes and guests at the 2008 Summer Olympics, similar to a trip Gospel Literature Services had sponsored for the 2004 Athens Olympics. Chris and Deb Hindal had recently taken a trip to Beijing to prepare for the group effort.
But the proposed ministry in Beijing came to a screeching halt as the Chinese government implemented a series of restrictions on distributing religious literature.
“We were under the impression that we would be allowed to share the Gospel with foreigners,” Chris Hindal said. “We were going to take tracts in languages other than Mandarin Chinese, because we were advised that Chinese-language tracts would put us at risk.”
When the GLS team learned that any conversation about faith—regardless of nationality—would put the team at risk of immediate deportation, the trip was cancelled.
One source familiar with the situation was a Chinese pastor who spent nine years in prison for preaching the Gospel. Having been expelled from the country, he now lives abroad under a new name.
“I have not seen the Chinese government this aggressive against religious dissemination since 1954,” the Chinese pastor said, referring to the expulsion of Christian missionaries after communists took control in 1949. “Those who are saying that the Chinese government will be more tolerant in the Olympics . . . do not know the Chinese government!”
Current persecutions have included the arrest of 270 Chinese house church pastors in December 2007, as well as the expulsion of more than 100 Christian missionaries from Beijing last summer.
As a result, members of Congress used a May 2 press conference to criticize the aggressive Chinese restrictions on religious speech. Announcing that the Peoples Republic of China remained on the list of “Countries of Particular Concern” for religious freedom (see sidebar), the congress members urged President Bush to cancel his plans to attend the Olympics opening ceremony. While President Bush did not change his plans, he has remained an outstanding advocate of religious freedom.
“America stands in firm opposition to China’s detention of political dissidents and human rights advocates and religious activists,” Bush said in a Bangkok speech just before the Olympics opened. “Those who aspire to speak their conscience and worship their God are no threat to the future of China.”
The Chinese response to Bush’s comments was swift. “We firmly oppose any words and deeds that use human rights and religion to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs,” foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang was widely quoted in the media.
In the weeks leading up to the opening ceremonies, it was reported that 45 religious groups were denied visas. So despite the lack of a physical presence in Beijing during the Olympics, Gospel Literature Services continued with its efforts to help in China. “We are providing for our partners in China, the house church leaders, a CD that we believe will be a wonderful tool for them to use,” Chris Hindal said, explaining that Gospel Literature Services had arranged to duplicate several thousand CDs as a significant method of outreach.