According to Erik Burklin of China Partner, “One of the rules that have always been in their law is that you cannot proselytize or you cannot convert somebody under the age of 18.” Although the law already existed, it has now been more intensively enforced.
Before the law was enforced, “People were having their children come to church and many churches started what we would call Sunday school classes,” Burklin says. “They would use that time to teach children Bible verses and teach them Christian songs and so forth.”
Now, however, “Many churches have been notified by Religious Affairs Bureau heads that you can no longer conduct Sunday school classes in your churches. They even put signage up in the entrance of some churches to indicate that.”
For China Partner, this is problematic. After all, their YouthServe ministry initiative trains “church leaders to conduct youth ministry sessions for teenagers for anywhere between the age of 13 to 18 before they go on to university,” Burklin says.
As they were conducting youth ministry training in China during a recent trip, they were approached by pastors they had worked with for years. “They specifically came back to us saying, ‘Please, we can no longer invite you to come and do these youth ministry trainings for us because we need to adhere to this new enforcement of this law,’” Burklin reports.
In order to respect and protect their local partners, China Partner has decided to discontinue their YouthServe initiative. Burklin says it may return in the future, but for now, it’s in the best interest of their partners if they close it down.
Losing the next generation of believers?
This would be a blow to any community of believers, since young people represent the next generation of potential Christian leaders, but it’s especially difficult for the Chinese Church. Although most Chinese congregations have “a young people’s fellowship,” Burklin says that “when you attend those meetings, you noticed that there are many people there all the way up to the age of 50 that come to these meetings.”
That means the Chinese Church is going to need to pursue creative solutions to a very real problem. “One of the ways that we have learned also that we can reach that age group is through the parents,” Burklin says. “As we’ve started these marriage retreats and couples’ counseling sessions, [we’ve noticed that] many of these young couples have teenagers in their home.”
At the end of the day, no rules restrict God or what He can do. China Partner wants to cooperate with their local partners to ensure security and collaboration, and they do have plans to pursue other avenues of training and ministry. Check in with us tomorrow if you want to learn how they’re responding to tightened restrictions and what those restrictions actually look like. You can also read about China Partner’s work right here.
In the meantime, pray for peace and wisdom for the Chinese Church and that God would touch the hearts of young people even if the local Church can’t reach out to them.
Header photo courtesy of China Partner.