To many in the United States, Christmas lights are a nice way to decorate for the holidays and brighten the dreariness of the winter months. To some they even serve as a reminder of the light in the world as a result of our Savior's birth. WorldServe Ministries hopes that these decorations will also prompt believers to pray for more than 1,000 imprisoned Christians in China.
As we buy our Christmas lights few of us notice the "made in China" tag that is attached. Even fewer know that to benefit China's economy, the lights were probably made by persecuted prisoners, many of whom are Christian pastors.
According to WorldServe Ministries, pastors are subject to severe conditions and brutal beatings. Many are forced to work 16-20 hours each day assembling strands of Christmas lights. This is done without tools, causing their fingers and hands to bleed from threading the tiny wires through plastic holders and fitting in the plastic bulbs - with a quota of 5,000 bulbs per day. If their work is not satisfactory, they are beaten and forced to re-do the work in addition to the next day's quota.
To bring awareness to the plight of the imprisoned pastors and their families in China, WorldServe Ministries created the Lights of Christmas initiative. Rather than calling for a boycott of Christmas lights, the program promotes an awareness of the conditions in China and the need for prayer and financial support of the underground church there.
"Prisoners say that their biggest burden is not the torture of prison itself, but the concern they have for their families," says Tom Henry, minister-at-large for WorldServe Ministries.
He explains that pastors in China are not given salaries, but typically live with a host family who provides food and shelter, and opens their home as a church meeting place. If an underground church is discovered, both the pastor and the leader of the home are arrested. Their families are forced to live on the street and their work cards are taken away.
Not only do the prisoners contend with the physical brutality of prison, but also with the emotional fear for their family's well being. However, Henry is quick to share that these persecuted Christians believe that this is part of God's purpose.
"They emphasize that they way of Christ and his suffering is the way of victory and hope." He continues, "The underground church in China is seeing amazing growth. There are no facilities or programs, just Christ."
Persecution of the underground church of China has been growing in recent years. This year, well over 600 pastors have been arrested and sent to prison because of their evangelistic activity. An estimated 80 million believers participate in secret, illegal church gatherings in China.
Through the financial gifts of thousands of people around the world, pastors' families are able to survive until the pastors are released from prison. Once released, the funds help the pastors receive the necessary medical treatment to recover.
Henry says that former prisoners he has met with will only talk about the conditions of prison when it is drawn out. "They would rather share the miraculous stories of God taking away their pain, or guards and fellow prisoners who have come to know Christ. Like the Christians in 1 Peter 1:8, (you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy) these people radiate Christ," says Henry.
Worldserve hopes that when believers see Christmas lights in a new way, as an immediate reminder to pray for imprisoned Chinese Christians. In addition to prayer, Henry encourages people to share the story with others and to support the ministry financially. Approximately $663,000 annually is needed to support the current prisoners and their families.
To learn more, or to participate, individuals, pastors or church groups can call 866-562-2224 or visit www.thelightsofchristmas.org.
WorldServe Ministries serves the suffering and persecuted Church in closed and restricted-access countries around the world. They encourage, support, equip and strengthen suffering Christians in order to continue the advancement of the Gospel and the expansion of church planting efforts around the world. For more information about WorldServe Ministries visit www.worldserve.org