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Churches Sprout In Rural China

Being a Christian in China effectively involves making a political choice: deciding whether to worship at a government-approved church, or at an unofficial gathering known as a “house church.”

Some of the state-sanctioned churches seat more than 1,000 people, with overflow rooms crammed with believers listening to the service on an audio feed. By contrast, in the house churches of China’s dusty rural villages, worshippers gather in freezing, bare rooms with earthen floors, furnished with little more than a handful of wooden stools and a Bible, to follow an unofficial prayer leader.

These photos of Protestant churches were taken this winter in parts of eastern China, where Western missionaries were extremely active before the Communist revolution. Due to sensitivities surrounding religion in China, where many worshippers still fear the interference of the state in their religious activities, we did not identify the people, or the locations of the churches.

Official figures indicate that one in 10 people in this part of China are Christian, but locals believe those figures are very conservative because they don’t take into account worshippers at house churches. However, some Christians said the divide between official and unofficial worshippers is beginning to close, with some believers moving between the two congregations.

The spiritual richness on show in these rural churches contrasts with the material poverty. Recycled rice sacks, one of the few materials freely available, are used for rudimentary cushions, kneelers and door coverings. It’s also worth noting that, in these pictures, the chunlian – the Chinese New Year couplets posted on either side of the front door to welcome in the new year – have Christian content and messages.  That’s one small illustration of how deeply Christianity has become entrenched in traditions and customs in this part of China.

Related story:

In The Land Of Mao, A Rising Tide Of Christianity

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Louisa Lim
Beijing Correspondent Louisa Lim is currently attending the University of Michigan as a Knight-Wallace Fellow. She will return to her regular role in 2014.