This Christmas season, please keep those who do not have the freedom to celebrate the spiritual meaning of the holiday in your thoughts and prayers.
Here is a report released today by the BBC on the persecution of Christians in China:
At an underground church service in China, you pray as quickly as you can - and hope the police do not come running in.
Underground Christians make the Chinese Communist Party nervous. There are millions of them in this country. They worship wherever they can - often in private homes. They do not want to be controlled by Beijing, so they refuse to sign up to the state-sanctioned church. The party is wary of any organisation that does not pledge its loyalty to the state.
The Chinese police have targeted Christmas services to arrest Christian believers:
Dozens of Christians have been questioned, arrested, jailed or beaten in a series of attacks on house church Christmas programs as China tries to wipe out "subversive" or "reactionary" forces before the 2008 Olympics, according to China Aid Association.
The organization has released a list of the most recent assaults on Christians, including the detention in Henan province of Pastor Liang Qi Zhen, vice president of the Chinese House Church Alliance.
"After disbursing Liang's congregation, police officials took him by force and transported him to an undisclosed location where he was tortured for several hours. Liang's ears and right hand were injured during the lengthy assault," said the organization, which seeks to be a window into China so the world can "witness the oppression, imprisonment and torture of Christians…"
The organization also said of the 270 protestant pastors arrested in Shandong province recently for participating in the Bible study, only 200 have been released and 70 remain in custody.
In Jiangsu province, a house church was attacked by police officials during members' Christmas celebration, and four women were "detained," including one who was hospitalized, the group said.
House church members are labeled by authorities as "cultists" because they do not belong to the state-sanctioned official church organizations, and frequently face a year in labor camps when arrested, the group said.
"To arbitrarily arrest peaceful Christians for celebrating Christmas shows how much religious freedom Chinese people have," said Bob Fu, president of China Aid. "The international community should be concerned for the increasing religious persecution in China in recent months, especially in light of the Beijing Olympics just a few months away."
There have been multiple reports from human rights advocates and Christian ministries that repression of Christianity by the Chinese government is intensifying in the lead-up to the Games.
"This campaign is another clear example of absolute violation of the relevant international human rights covenants and China's own Constitution on protection of citizen's religious freedom," said Fu, "We urge the Chinese government to stop this kind of illegal secret practice if China intends to be a true respected responsible stakeholder in the international community."
Fu, who escaped from China after being imprisoned for teaching Bible classes and now runs China Aid to help persecuted Christians, also has confirmed China will target 43 types of people with investigations – and possibly bans – when the 2008 Olympics are held in Beijing.
Last Christmas, Christians were the target of church burnings and persecution in Orissa, India.