Date: April 28, 2013
By BosNewsLife Asia Service
BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife)-- Well-known American church leader Dennis Balcombe was back at his evangelical church in Hong Kong Sunday, April 28, following a turbulent week in mainland China where he was held by police after a raid on a house church gathering.
"I want to thank everyone for their prayers for us" while being held in the Chinese city of Nanyang in Henan province, he said.
"After a day of speaking with authorities in my hotel room, I was allowed to leave with no restrictions placed on me," explained Balcombe, who normally leads the Revival Christian Church congregation in Hong Kong.
"All the Chinese Christians, including the two sisters from Hong Kong who traveled with me, are free and safe," he added in published remarks.
Not all believers in China's Henan Province were so lucky this month as seven house church Christians in the city of Pingdingshan were sentenced on April 1 to long prison terms ranging from three to 7.5 years on "cult charges", said China Aid Association (CAA), which supports local believers.
Balcombe's troubled began last Saturday, April 20, when security forces interrupted what was to be a three-day "church revival meeting" in the Chinese city of Nanyang in Henan province, according to Chinese Christians.
The American preacher said local authorities "were probably investigating if the meeting was a cult gathering, as someone had called to report to the police that there was a religious meeting in which foreigners were present."
However, "There were only 70 local Chinese in the meeting, but with the recent activities of Eastern Lightning and other cults, they wanted to check out the meeting," he explained.
CAA said the "70 attendees gathered that morning" took security precautions. "They all handed over their cell phones to a designated person from the organizing church...to prevent the phones from becoming tracking devices that would lead authorities to their meeting site. They then boarded a bus to the meeting venue at a retreat."
Last week's meeting was organized by a local church linked to the "Prayer Mountain" ministry group located in Nanyang, Balcombe said. "On the way to the meeting from the Zhengzhou airport, the organizer told us the meeting was safe, as they had cleared it with the local authorities. He said recently other Western ministers have ministered to this group with no problems."
He said, "The meeting was held in a function room of a hotel in Nanyang, and we stayed in the same hotel." The different statements could not be immediately reconciled as the well-informed CAA suggested the gathering was secret.
"The main purpose of my teaching was to equip the Christians to hold to solid biblical truths and to come against evil cults, especially the Eastern Lightning cult," the preacher said.
"Several weeks ago, four of these women cult preachers, masquerading as house-church Christians from Shenyang, came to my office in Hong Kong to "convert" me. I soon exposed their true nature, and as I was taking photos of them, which I eventually gave to the Chinese Public Security Bureau (PSB), they physically attacked me," he added.
"Just last week, the PSB officers visited us in Hong Kong and gave us a DVD and information on how to prevent this cult from infiltrating Christian fellowships."
Additionally, he visited China to gather information from Chinese Christians for a new book he is writing. "In this book I want to document the great revival that has taken place in China, resulting in perhaps over 100 million believers. I will especially focus on the work of the Holy Spirit in healing the sick and empowering people to boldly preach the gospel," the pastor said.
Trying to appear diplomatic, the church leader said he was "invited to speak to authorities" in his hotel room where "people from various departments discussed various issues" with him.
"They all said I was a good pastor and preacher, that they listen to my sermons on the Internet, and that our church and the churches we associate with in China are good "orthodox Pentecostal churches."
However, "we had broken the regulations on religion by conducting a Christian meeting with over 30 people and not first registering with the Religious Affairs Bureau."
After going to another hotel in the city, his passport was returned, he said. "They told me I was welcome to come back any time and could preach in [the state-backed] Three-Self churches or even house churches but that I should notify them before I came for religious activities in Henan. I plan to take them up on this offer in the near future."
This wasn't the first time the pastor was detained. "In 1994, I was detained with six others in Fangcheng County, which is administered by Nanyang. [Yet] given that this was nearly 20 years ago, and knowing the greater degree of religious freedom in other parts of China, I was surprised this would happen to us."
However, he said, that in his discussions with PSB officials, "one of them admitted that Henan still is not as open and free as other parts of China. They also admitted there is a huge Christian population in this part of South Henan."
He said he was able to still meet local Christians we visited some historical sites after his 24-hour detention.
"We also prayed with our Chinese brothers and sisters that they would continue to stand strong as they face pressure from authorities and dangers from cult activities, especially the evil Eastern Lightning cult."
He said the opposition of China's Communist authorities comes at a time when "as many as 15 percent" of Henan's 95 million population are believed to be "followers of Jesus Christ."
Though his experience "was not at all enjoyable" he said, "it was a blessing and honor to be in the same place where so many missionaries and Chinese preachers labored and gave their lives for the salvation of the Chinese people."
He said reactions of local believers reminded him to the Biblical book of Acts verse 5:41 after the first major persecution of Christians: “So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.” (With additional reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos).