– by Brother Steven

Christians are supposed to be the most law abiding people in the world. We are taught to submit ourselves to the authorities and that rules and laws protects all of society. However, when laws are proclaimed that limit the preaching of the Gospel, Christians cite the earliest missionaries: “29 Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings!” (Acts 5:29)

Since the earliest days after Jesus ascended into heaven, true followers have been obedient to His commands concerning taking the Gospel to all nations, peoples and tribes. Missionaries have gone; knowing full well that they would not always be welcome, that they could face persecution and that their lives were at risk. In many cases they would be breaking the law. Millions of believers have risked the dangers associated with proclaiming salvation through Christ alone. They have broken the law merely by believing in Christ. Many have been imprisoned, tortured and killed. This has never stopped the spreading of the Gospel.

The Real World
There are many places that are ‘closed’ to the Gospel. One hundred and twenty-seven countries out of the two hundred in the world have some form of persecution of Christians going on. The question often comes up whether or not to break clearly defined rules and laws by entering those places with the intention of preaching the Word. The recent case of John Chau made headlines and is still being debated. The problem is not only the fact that someone goes, but also the question of obtaining visas without fully disclosing their intentions.

Persecution has many origins including: Religion, Culture, Ethnicity, Orthodoxy and the State/political. It must be noted that two of the greatest revivals took place in the midst of great persecutions by the State. The Romans in the first century were merciless in the pursuit of wiping out Christianity and saw the church grow from a handful to about 20 million in three hundred years. China tried to do the same and the church grew to over 100 million believers in 70 years. 

China has now instituted new draconian laws in a renewed effort to control or ban the church. Other nations have also recently instituted anti-church or non-conversion legislation. Russia, Nepal, some states in India, Rwanda and Angola to name a few.

In the seventies and eighties the evangelical world was deeply influenced by Brother Andrew and his courageous efforts to smuggle Bibles into Eastern Europe. Since then many missionaries have gone to places which require a certain amount of subterfuge to enter and proclaim the Gospel.

Now technology is about to make these efforts incredibly difficult and in some cases almost impossible. Facial Recognition Technology coupled to advances in AI has surpassed all expectations in its accuracy and proliferation. With over 200 million cameras in China and advanced algorithms, people can be tracked wherever they go. Church members can be linked to others and whole networks of underground churches are being identified and are starting to face the consequences.

China’s introduction of Social Credits means the loss of privileges for those doing anything the government sees as problematic. Punishment includes the loss of jobs, restrictions on travel, stopping children of believers going to school or university, the loss of pensions or benefits and a host of others. Destruction of churches and imprisonment of church leaders is again becoming commonplace.

Use Caution
One of the more serious infringements has to do with connecting to foreigners. Your mere presence close to believers is noted. Your missions trip might leave you rejoicing but holds serious consequences for all those you meet with. Even having dinner with a local leader puts him at risk. The moment he has been flagged all his future connections are at risk too.

Think before you visit a closed country. It might be only months before this technology is used by many governments. The genie is out of the lamp.

On entry into China you immediately have your biometrics scanned. Thereafter, no matter where you go, they know about it. On leaving the USA in Atlanta you boarding pass is now redundant. As you board the plane you look into the scanner and immediately a pass is printed. Big Brother IS watching you. Soon this will be a global phenomenon. 

Before you arrive in a country your Facebook friends have already been matched to watch lists, your posts reveal your true intentions. It’s no longer about fooling the immigration officer in front of you. You think you are getting away with it but your presence is an opportunity to see who you meet with. They will be dealt with later.

Posting photos on social media exposes whole churches to scrutiny. Your desire to share your missions experience could literally mean the death of local believers. The technology goes way beyond live cameras. Every photo you post adds to the dataset used by those developing AI technology. Every photo, story, testimony reveals far more than you imagine. We need to stop believing there are two worlds out there, one private and the other public. Our own digital existence in not private, it is totally integrated with the information gathering systems of marketers and governments.

Huge Impact on Missions
Travel will become more difficult – especially is governments share information. Saying you are a “tourist” is no longer going to fly. In many cases the danger is not so much for the missionary, short termer or evangelist; but for those who live there. Your local staff and their families are at risk. Whole mission organizations are going to have to reevaluate their approach and possibly even their mission. Risking your own life for the sake of the Gospel is part of being a believer, but risking the lives of others is questionable, especially if the goal and purpose is a quick short term missions trip or to add another country to your list of places travelled to. Take “no” for an answer when locals ask you not to come.

Mission organizations need to act quickly. Never has there been such an urgency to train locals than now. We all need to be aware, to plan carefully and to make sure that what we do is truly in the interest of local believers and serves the global mission of the Church.

Brother Steven is a Missions Leader involved with Church Planting through Evangelism, Discipleship and Pastoral Training. Steven travels extensively, including to many countries where the Gospel is not welcomed by all.
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