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“She was on a ventilator and everyone had lost hope. But I prayed for her, and she recovered. Now her family follows Christ, too.”

The woman, 33, came from Anhui, a poor province of central China. In her village, she said, the house church had grown from five or six worshippers to 100 in five years.

Mr. Xun, the beauty parlor operator, sees the growth of religion as a response to the increased materialism that accompanied the economic reforms put into place by Deng Xiaoping.

“We have very few people who believe in communism as a faith, so there’s an emptiness in their hearts,” said Mr. Xun, 37. His mother also is a Christian, and his father, a retired county-level Communist Party secretary, is a sympathetic onlooker.

China’s rulers are said to be ambivalent about Christianity’s growth. Some see its emphasis on personal morality as a force for stability. House churches, which accept the authority of official organizations, are often left alone.

But many reject the party’s control over Christian practice and doctrine, and these are seen as a threat. Overseas groups such as the London-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide say Christians are beaten regularly and one was killed in police custody.