BosNewsLife

Hundreds of South Korean Christians, including church leaders, have been expelled from north-eastern China within the past year, BosNewsLife has learned.

The actions by several provincial governments are part of a fresh crackdown on Christians and other religious groups near China's border with North Korea, according to Christians familiar with the situation.

About a thousand South Korean pastors and missionaries are estimated to work in northeast China. Advocacy group Voice Of the Martyrs Korea (VOM) told BosNewsLife that the departure of many Christian workers has caused "numerous church closures and abandoned communities".

In 2017, the first known troubles for missionaries in the area emerged in January when some 32 South Korean Christians were reportedly forced to leave Yanji region in Jilin Province, near the border of autocratically-ruled North Korea.

"By early October, there were no remaining South Korean churches in Changchun, the capital of Jilin Province," added VOM, which has close contact with local Christians.

The Chinese government has declined to comment, but Christians said the three provinces involved - Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang - border North Korea.

Local Chinese officials suspect that some of the expelled South Koreans and other pastors were helping North Korean defectors, said Eric Foley, the chief executive officer of VOM Korea, adding that the outcome was "not surprising".

"From a field standpoint, the situation facing North Korean work in northeast China is tight and getting tighter," the CEO warned earlier. "If North Korea is pointing to missionaries operating in China as a source of potential North Korean instability, and if it is alleging that China is the host, then missionaries can expect an increasing crackdown on churches and discipleship bases reaching North Koreans."

VOM Korea has made clear it will continue to support Christians and others needing support in China and North Korea, including with underground Christian missionary and "discipleship" training as well as "Scripture balloon launches, radio broadcasts, the distribution of MP3 players, and other effective means of providing vitally needed ministry."

Mr Foley also urged fellow believers "to pray" for these activities and Christians in the region. "Although empty spaces are remaining in the communities left behind, pray that His ministry to North Korean defectors will continue to flourish and the hope of His people will thrive," VOM said in a statement to BosNewsLife.

The group appealed to supporters to ask "the Lord to comfort all those affected by the imposed governmental restrictions" and that those impacted may be "encouraged by His reassuring presence and the reminder that He will open a door which no one can shut".

As many as 130 million Christians are believed to live in China today, raising concerns among ruling Communist Party officials.

In several parts of China authorities are pressuring Christians to abandon their faith in Jesus Christ and endorse communist and atheistic ideologies while churches have been forced to remove crosses and other Christian symbols.