Authorities conceded that this type of “shared” school didn’t break the law, but still decided they wouldn’t allow it to continue. They pressured the kindergarten’s landlord to evict the school, even though Beatitudes had signed a 10-year lease and spent more than $60,000 to build the kindergarten. When the school asked for compensation for breaking the contract, the landlord refused. On March 25, while most of the school’s staff was attending Sunday service, 20 unidentified men broke into the school, cut TV lines, destroyed the generator, and threw all of the furniture into a park. The parents reported the destruction to police and hired movers to put everything back in order. On Monday, school started up again as usual.
Then early Thursday morning, 50 security guards in riot gear blocked the front gate of the school. Skirmishes broke out between the guards and parents who tried to get back inside the school. One parent was beaten so severely he couldn’t walk afterward and was taken away on a stretcher, according to Texas-based China Aid.
“At first the parents felt wronged, they didn’t understand why this was happening, and they were afraid,” Jiang recalled. “But slowly they were willing to stand up and face these attacks. … Worse come to worse, they’d go back to teaching their children in private homes since this is something no one can control.”
Since the March incident, the school has hired lawyers to sue the landlord for the destruction of property, although the success of the case is uncertain.
Today Beatitudes has returned to its roots: Instead of eight students in a choir room, classes of 20 meet at the homes of parents or in rented apartments—one grade per location. Students need to quietly enter and exit apartments in order not to disturb neighbors who might complain and report them. Of Beatitudes’ 150 students, about 20 left the school after the eviction, but the rest are continuing their Christian education.
Evictions and disruptions are common among church schools unable to officially register with China’s Ministry of Education due to their Christian foundation. One person with knowledge of the situation said that most schools move to new facilities about every 18 months due to government harassment. The bigger the school, the more difficult it is to move and the more likely it is to catch the eye of authorities.
AT CHINA’S YOUNG CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS, the external problems of persecution and harassment can lead to internal problems, including a difficulty in recruiting and maintaining staff. Jerry Wolfe (name changed for his security), the founder of a bilingual school serving multiple house churches, said the constant government pressure makes it difficult to develop teachers and create an environment where the staff can see a future.
“If you constantly have to deal with existential challenges, it makes it difficult to devote the time and energy that it takes to grow,” Wolfe said. “I think the government understands … they don’t have to raid you consistently if they can create an environment that is so hard for you to flourish in, then they believe that Christians would just crack under pressure.”
In this oppressive environment, the typical learning curve for a new Christian school is exacerbated: Because they are unregistered, the schools can’t openly recruit students or teachers. And there are no legal Christian colleges that can educate teachers on how to teach from a Biblical worldview. Most teachers have attended Chinese government schools their entire lives.