SHANGHAI – In a trendy coffee shop in Shanghai’s glittering financial district, five people cram into a tiny, dimly lit back room with two tables. By day, these five are white-collar workers, eagerly climbing the corporate ladder as China’s economy booms. By night, once a week, they’re huddled over their Bibles.
“I was disappointed and struggling,” said Elvis Ma, a 29-year-old working in the financial industry. “Before I knew God, I felt trapped.”
Ma and the other four elect to worship in what’s widely known as the “underground church,” a place for Chinese Christians to practice in smaller settings and without fear of government influence on what’s being preached.
It comes with a different fear, though: Being an unregistered Christian is illegal.
The underground church, also known as the family church or the home church, has been around for generations. It began as a way for Christians to worship, as practicing Christianity was highly frowned on in China for most of its communist history under Mao Zedong.
Believers gathered in small groups in homes, hotels and other discreet areas to practice in secrecy, for fear of government retaliation. This tradition of worshipping in humble places continues today.
“Our party is to believe in God. The government doesn’t encourage us to believe in God publicly,” Ma said. “But the government cannot stop it.”