Guangzhou, 30 thousand attend funeral of underground Protestant pastor
Though belonging to the unofficial community, the provincial government allowed the faithful to gather. In previous years there were arrests and raids during services. He always carried a bag with clothing, shoes and toothbrush, for when he was taken by police.

Guangzhou (AsiaNews / Agencies) - At least 30 thousand people yesterday attended the funeral of Pastor Samuel Lamb, one of the pillars of the underground Protestant Church. The faithful queued for hours at the Yinhe morgue, Tianhe District, to pay their respects to the pastor, surrounded by a huge police presence. Some present pointed out that such a huge turnout had never been seen at the funeral of a party leader of Guangdong.

Lamb, whose Chinese name is Lin Xiangao, died on August 3 at the age of 88. In 1958 he was sentenced to 20 years in prison because he refused to register his community under government control. After his release in 1978, Lamb re-opened what has become the largest domestic church in Guangzhou. In recent years, his community has been allowed to carry out its activities in relative peace, but for at least 20 years before it had suffered raids and the arrests of its leaders. A typical Sunday service, held in a private building in the district of Yuexiu, draws at least 5 thousand people.

Although the situation of religious freedom has improved slightly, Lamb used to say: "We must be prepared to suffer. We must be prepared for the fact that we may be arrested. Before I was sent to prison, I already prepared a bag with some clothes, shoes and a toothbrush. When I had to go to the police station, I could just pick it up. I was ready. People are still being arrested. You don't know what will happen tomorrow. Today the authorities are not bothering us, but tomorrow things may be different. I pray that we will receive the strength to stand firm".

China does not allow religious activities in places and with personnel who are outside the supervision and control of the Ministry of Religious Affairs. But often the regulations are adapted to local situations. Over the last 20 years the underground Protestant communities have grown to tens of millions of adherents, while the official Protestant church (Three-Self Movement) has dwindled. Since 2007 in many Chinese provinces a police campaign is now underway to force the underground Protestant community to become part of the official community, on pain of their services being closed down.