Sidney artist Patrick Chu is back on local turf after a four month trip to China, where he founded a Christian church.
Chu, a watercolour artist who runs a private gallery, has travelled to China every year for the last 20, starting churches on some of his trips.
“At the beginning it was risky, but now China has opened her door,” he said.
This might surprise followers of China as there have been many reports of government repression on religious expression over the last 40 years. Presently, China only recognizes Buddhism, Catholicism, Daoism, Islam and Protestantism as sanctioned faiths.
Chu acknowledges that during his first trips the Chinese government cracked down on all religions and Christians had to operate in secret. Since then, he says Chinese Premier Xi Jinping has created a more favourable environment for Christians and they are allowed to practice their religion, as laid-out in the Chinese constitution.
The U.S. State Department’s 2016 International Religious Freedom Report, estimates that there are about 650 million Chinese religious believers. Chinese and American organizations think there are between 29-67 million Chinese Christians. The large discrepancy in estimates perhaps hints at the confusing picture of Christianity and religion in general in China.
However, 82 year-old Chu says he has spent two decades evangelizing in Chinese villages and has not experienced very much harassment.
Chu says that local governments are now actively helping Christian missionaries. He says that when the local government of Village Latus heard he planned to start a church, they sold him their old three-storey legislative building for the equivalent of $4,000. Recently, the town of Chung Yee-Khao even issued him a builders permit for free and offered a 600 square metre plot of land as a gift.
Chu believes this is evidence of a warming environment towards religion and Christianity in China, although he says he plans to retire soon from building churches and concentrate on his art.
He has advice to anyone interested in starting a church.
“I go to rural areas where the ordinary people are. Keep your churches small and develop some projects to help the poor.”