With our summer travel plans sadly postponed this year, we asked several members of our teams from 2019 to reflect on what they were doing this time last year. Next up is Nathanael, thinking back to his time with underground believers in South-East Asia.
When envisioning an underground church, we often paint a picture of a small group of people huddled in fear, jumping at every bump and creak. While this picture is a reality for many Christians, I found that one church I visited is not the one I had imagined.
If you travel to Communist South-East Asia, to the major cities, you will see a small handful of ‘churches’ dotted throughout the city. These ‘churches’ will have large buildings with imposing crosses, but if you go to their Sunday service, you will find a service which, in some ways, seems similar to our services at home. However, far from being a living, vibrant church, the sermons are censored, the pastors vetted and plain-clothed police officers will be in attendance to ensure this church does not step out of line. You will realise that this church is run by the state.
Seeing this, and how the Communist Party has made churches toothless, it causes you to worry about the state of true Christianity in this part of the world. But there is hope. Down alleyways, in housing areas and in open spaces, you will find the underground Church. These churches do not have large obvious buildings or distinguishing features, rather they meet in houses, garages, sheds, and repurposed rooms.
Over the summer last year, I and a group of others had the privilege to visit an underground church. Around sixty people met in a large repurposed room every Sunday. They are a diverse group, of young and old, who gather to worship and hear God’s Word being preached. If you watch these people you would think they weren’t afraid, but at times you can feel spikes of anxiousness, with darting eyes checking each person entering the room.
This church lives under threat, but even so, they worship as if they had complete liberty. Their country does not give them liberty, but they have the complete freedom that comes from placing their lives into the hands of God. They have counted the cost and seen that Christ is worthy. No threat or form of suffering will break the relationship they have with our God.
This for me was a powerful lesson, seeing what it means to be a disciple. Becoming participants in the sufferings of Christ and counting it all joy and a blessing rather than a judgement or curse.