Christians in Hong Kong are bracing themselves against persecution from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) amid uncertainties about the future of religious liberty in the city.
Just six months after the National Security Law was imposed, Hong Kong authorities have already arrested activists, journalists, and others who have expressed opposition against the CCP.
Religious groups are not exempt from this harassment. Last month, police instructed HSBC to freeze the accounts of the Good Neighbor North District Church and the accounts of its pastor Roy Chan and his wife, who fled to the U.K. in October.
Police also raided two venues of the Good Neighbor North District Church upon accusations of money laundering and fraud, saying the church misdeclared the amount they raised from their crowd funding activities.
In connection with the investigations, police arrested the former church director, a church employee, and two female members. Because of the police's ongoing investigations, more than 20 staff members of the Good Neighbor North District Church have resigned.
The church believes they are being harassed in retaliation for its show of support to the 2019 pro-democracy protesters.
Now, Hong Kong Christians are preparing themselves for the worst that could happen in light of China's crackdown on Christian churches.
The International Christian Concern (ICC) interviewed two Christians-Aniela and Pastor Joel (not their real names)-who left Hong Kong to hide in a third world country to know about the plight of the churches in the city and what their future could possibly be.
Aniela described what they would do in case of a crackdown on Christian churches. The first part of the plan is to acknowledge the possibility that they could get arrested for their faith.
"We have prepared ourselves," Aniela explained. "Firstly, we know we might be arrested."
"Secondly, we will turn our churches into small groups, as long as we are not caught," she continued.
And if that didn't work, she said they would close their churches "and resort to using creative means" to continue gathering in secret.
Pastor Joel said that thanks to the pandemic, the church has adapted virtual meetings, which could be of great help once Beijing intensifies its attack on Christian churches.
"During the pandemic, most churches have become virtual. I know a small group that brought worship to an elderly's home. They brought iPad along for streaming and helped clean the house afterward," Pastor Joel said.
Both Aniela and Pastor Joel told ICC that the body of Christ in Hong Kong suffers from division. Some Christians are pro-democracy, while others are pro-government. They believe this division is exactly what the CCP wants to happen to Hong Kong churches.
Christians have different reasons for being pro-Beijing. One of them is receiving certain benefits from the communist government.
"Hong Kong Anglican Church, which is the most pro-CCP [denomination], recently was granted two large contracts (each worth 38 million USD) by the government to manage two wellness centres," Pastor Joel said.
"This move is to show the carrots a church can receive if they align with the government," he added.
Pro-government churches would probably become like the Three-Self Patriotic churches in the mainland. However, the CCP would likely call them by a different name so as not to be accused of breaking the "one country, two systems" framework.
Pastor Joel also said churches that operate schools in Hong Kong would choose to cooperate with the authorities to keep their properties.
Although the future of Hong Kong Christians looks bleak, the harassment of churches has not weakened the faith of believers. On the other hand, their faith has been strengthened because of what's happening, Pastor Joel said.
"As a Hong Kong Christian, now is the time when I feel like I understand the Bible the most," one believer told him.
Communist China has been trying to stop the growth of Christianity by harassing churches, arresting church leaders, exerting pressure on their landlords so they would be forced to vacate the properties they rent, and shutting down, repurposing, or demolishing their church buildings.
Many Christians have gone missing for years. Others have endured torture in prison. Yet despite all these, the churches in mainland China continue to grow.
The Chinese government estimates that there are 200 million "religious" people in China, with 38 million belonging to Protestant churches. The number of Christians continues to grow.
A newsletter from Asia Harvest, a Christian organization that partners with local ministries to plant churches, states that the number of Christians in China has risen to 100 million.
"In the 71 years since China became communist, the Lord has laughed at efforts to destroy His kingdom, and He has overseen the greatest revival in history, with the church in China growing from about one million believers to well over 100 million!" the newsletter says.