China's poverty relief program encourages Christian villagers to replace Jesus' portrait with that of Xi Jinping's

Christians in a poor county in southeast China are reportedly being encouraged to exchange their portraits of Jesus Christ for photos of President Xi Jinping as part of the government's poverty-relief program.

(REUTERS / Jason Lee)A tourist takes a picture of the souvenir plate with image of Chinese President Xi Jinping outside a shop next to Tiananmen Square during the ongoing 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, in Beijing, China October 23, 2017.

The local government of Yugan county in Jiangxi province seeks to turn "believers in religion into believers in the party" through its poverty-relief program. Thousands of Christians in the poverty-stricken area have been told to remove images of Christ and other Christian articles in their homes and instead display portraits of President Xi, South China Morning Post detailed.

"Many poor households have plunged into poverty because of illness in the family. Some resorted to believing in Jesus to cure their illnesses," said Huangjinbu people's congress chairman Qi Yan. "But we tried to tell them that getting ill is a physical thing and that the people who can really help them are the Communist Party and General Secretary Xi."

The Communist Party is apparently going up against the influence of Christianity in Yugan, as the faith has quickly spread to poor and prosperous cities. The method seems to be working, as more than 600 locals have reportedly taken down their religious displays, and there are now 453 portraits of Xi in the county.

Yugan has a population of around one million, 11 percent of which lives below China's poverty line, and 10 percent is Christian. The poverty-relief campaign, which has been in action since March, aims to show people that Xi is concerned for them.

During the Chinese Communist Party's five-yearly congress in Beijing last month, a travel ban was imposed on Christian believers in the southern and southwestern parts of China. Sources said some of them have been prohibited from gathering for worship services, Radio Free Asia reported.

Among those affected by the ban was Pastor Wang Yi of the Autumn Rain Blessing Church in Chengdu, Sichuan province. He was detained on Sept. 26 while he was on his way to attend the Three-Fold Vision Christian conference in Hong Kong and was accused of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble."

Meanwhile in Guangdong, authorities told a house church gathering of 20 Christians to go their separate ways. Church members said they were warned against meeting up again.