Update on Chen, and the Rewards of Faithfulness

“I want my family to leave China” – Chen Guangcheng

The story of Chen Guangcheng has taken a number of twists and turns over the past few days. He escaped house arrest on 22 April and made it into the U.S. embassy in Beijing. With authorities reportedly threatening to beat his wife to death, he later left the embassy and checked into a Beijing hospital. The whole time Chen claimed he did not want to leave China. Now that he has (apparently) been reunited with his family he is telling a different story – he now wants asylum, with his family

It’s a standard problem of making a break for it in communist systems. They will threaten, and they will carry out their threats against any loved-ones left behind. Soviet figther pilots who defected in their MIGs, Cuban refugees who float 90 or so miles from the northern edge of Cuba to the Florida keys, and North Koreans like Kang Chol-Hwan who escaped to freedom have all consigned their relatives and families to abuse, torture, and perhaps murder. It is a grim choice to make, and Chen did not want it to end that way for his family. (Don’t take that statement as a moral judgment, just a reflection on what I think may have been Chen’s driving force for initially denying a desire for asylum and then later requesting it.)

Opinion pieces have noted that Chen and his family now likely have some measure of protection given the high-profile nature of their case. However, reports have also noted that the network of activists that helped Chen escape has started to disappear quietly. (Side note, “seeingredinchina” also claims that the central government in China is taking more steps to keep things under control – like confiscating passports from all professors to prevent their travel abroad.)

In a related story, Minxin Pei penned a nice piece over at the Wall Street Journal about the rise and fall of authoritarian regimes and whether China may not be long for it (see “Communist China’s Perilous Phase“). The highlights: China is an outlier in regards to per-capita purchasing power and freedom. Typically only oil-producing nations (with huge giveaways) are this wealthy and this un-free at the same time. Further, China is approaching the life expectancy of such regimes. One-party rule lasted 74 years in the USSR, 71 years in Mexico, and 73 years in Taiwan. China’s regime is now at 62. Finally, the membership in the communist party is controlled to the point where a large number of educated, hard-working, capable people are held out – providing a firm foundation for any opposition party that might rise.

For my part, I hope Chen gets the asylum he requested. I also hope that the end of one-party rule comes quickly and peacefully. There is a rather large underground church in China, and I’d love for those brothers and sisters to be free.

The hope for freedom is tangentially tied to a conversation we had in a Bible study earlier this week (well, we had most of the conversation – I’ll push the thoughts just a bit further here). We were having a conversation about Hebrews 6:11 – “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” At the time we were more focused on the first part – without faith it is impossible to please God – but I’d like to take up the second part for just a moment. For anyone to come to him they must believe that he exists (obviously, why else would they come?) and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. It is this “reward” that I find interesting here.

The old-line prosperity doctrines of the “name-it-and-claim-it” crowd (or as I heard it put recently “blab-it-and-grab-it”) always pointed to rewards as stuff. They wanted money so they wanted God to reward them with money when they sought Him. And yet we look to our brothers and sisters in China, who meet in huts and hide from secret police, or our brothers and sisters in North Korea who are shipped to prison camps to be worked to death. Surely they have sought Him, surely they have shared in His suffering (Phil 3:10), surely they have a reward. Yes, they have a reward in heaven – and that is a great reward indeed, but the Lord doesn’t leave us high and dry here either. He gives us a Comforter – the Holy Spirit.

Consider Galatians 5:22-23:

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Love, joy, peace … these are good things. These are things we have right here and now. They are an outgrowth of relationship with Him. And, in regards to our brothers and sisters in oppressive conditions in the far east (or anywhere else) – they are beyond human circumstance. (That’s not to say that the Lord doesn’t bless folks in other ways too; even monetary ways – He does – but causal inversion is very dangerous here, and we serve God not money.)

So we pray for the Chinese church today, and the North Korean church today, and the other churches living on the run in the far east. We want them to have freedom – because we love it and we want them to be blessed with it. But we also pray that their love, joy, and peace will be full; and especially that they will have forbearance as the oppressive regimes chase them down.

And we hope to see Mr. Chen freed and on a plane to America in the near future. But we also hold to the words of Habakkuk 3:16-19 …

16 I heard and my heart pounded,
    my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
    and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
    to come on the nation invading us.
17 Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to tread on the heights.


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