A massive global evangelical gathering known as the Lausanne Congress will begin Oct. 16 in Cape Town, South Africa. But it looks likely to take place without the participation of more than 230 Chinese delegates.

So far, at least 11 people planning to attend have been forbidden to leave China, and many others have come under pressure. Many fear Beijing is moving to exert control over underground Christians.

Christianity in China is flourishing, with tens of millions of Christians openly worshiping. Many gather in private assemblies, or house churches, rather than in the official government church, known as the Three-Self Patriotic Movement. The authorities have largely turned a blind eye in the past.

But when a grouping of house churches decided to send some 200 delegates to attend the Lausanne Congress, the government stepped in.

Abraham Liu Guan is a church elder who tried to leave Sunday for the meeting with six others. Authorities warned him not to meet NPR, but in a phone interview he explained what happened at Beijing airport customs. “The border defense people said they’d received a notice from the State Administration for Religious Affairs and the Ministry of Public Security. It said our participation in this meeting threatened state security, and they should not let us pass customs,” Guan said.

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