Thousands planning to bring the Gospel to China during the Olympic Games
Many Protestant groups want to take advantage of easier entry requirements to evangelise in the mainland. Currently, they are organising real training courses in the matter. Other groups however are talking about boycotting the Games if Beijing does not intervene to stop the genocide in the Darfur.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Thousands of Protestants will go to China for the Olympic Games to evangelise, taking advantage of easier travel rules and the considerable number of foreigners. Others plan instead to boycott the event if Beijing does not do something against the genocide in the Darfur.

These groups “are going to have many thousands of people planning to travel around in different parts of China,” said the Rev Johnny Li, minister-at-large for Open Doors, an advocacy group for persecuted Christians worldwide.

Reverend Li added that a Thai missions group has produced a DVD urging collaboration among all the Christian outreach efforts expected at the Games.

Christians regularly evangelise at major sporting events. They worked the crowds at Olympic Games in Athens, Sydney and Atlanta, but the Beijing Olympics offer a rare opening into the Communist country.

“This is going to be a time when visas are pretty easy to get,” said Todd Nettleton of Voice of the Martyrs, which also helps Christians who are persecuted abroad.

America's Southern Baptists are mobilising thousands of volunteers for “a spiritual harvest unlike any other,” through humanitarian work, sports clinics, first aid sites and other projects. They are bringing volunteers to the mainland for orientation trips.

Youth With A Mission, an international Christian ministry prominent in Olympic outreach, is planning a “2008 Olympics Discipleship Training School” in Brazil next year.

Citing security concerns, these groups will not reveal more for security reasons.

Many are travelling through China as tourists to learn their way around.

Advocates for Chinese Christians say the danger for foreign volunteers is minimal. Olympic missionaries could be expelled, but analysts say the peril for Chinese Christians who work with the foreign groups or evangelise on their own could be considerable.

The Beijing Olympic Organising Committee said it planned to follow tradition and build a religious service centre in the Olympic village and would advise athletes in other cities about the available worship services.

In the meantime, calls for a boycott of the Beijing Games are getting louder.

A letter signed by more than 100 US lawmakers was sent to President Hu Jintao last week, calling on him to use Beijing's influence to halt the bloodshed and stop supplying the Khartoum regime with arms.

Elijah Aleng, deputy governor of Sudan's central bank, criticised Beijing for promoting energy projects that could worsen a four-year civil war in the northeast African nation.

“They might have good intentions but when you exploit oil resources and you sell it and nothing goes to the populations, then you are financing the war against them with the resources,” Aleng said.

For years the Islamist government in Khartoum was at war with rebels in the predominantly Christian and Animist south. Now the war is in the eastern region of the Darfur.

Beijing has so far avoided acting against Khartoum and has blocked all United Nations initiative like sanctions or an international peace-keeping force, simply reiterating its call for dialogue and negotiations.