One hundred members of an ‘underground’ church have been arrested in China.
Among those arrested are Pastor Wang Yi and his wife, Jiang Rong, who have been accused of subverting state power, which can carry a prison sentence of up to five years.
Members of the protestant Early Rain Covenant Church in the metropolis of Chengdu, Sichuan province, were picked up from the church, their homes or the streets by police during a raid on Sunday evening.
While Wang has been criminally detained, his wife has been placed under 'residential surveillance at a designated location', which, sources say, is a form of secret detention, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported.
A lawyer who declined to be named told the newspaper she could be held for up to six months and that 'the absurdity of this situation (the detention of the pastor’s wife) and the handling of the case shows how furious the top party leadership is about the church'.
The couple’s 11-year-old son, meanwhile, is staying with Wang’s mother, Chen Yaxue, 73. Both have been placed under 24-hour police surveillance which is causing immense strain.
“They follow us wherever we go,” Wang’s mother told SCMP. “The surveillance is taking a huge toll on my grandson – he’s in shock. He hasn’t slept for two nights,”
‘Persecution is a price worth paying for the Lord’
On Tuesday, 12 December, police also arrested Wang’s assistant, Li Yingqiang, for 'picking a quarrel and inciting trouble', according to church members.
Li had hidden himself during the first raid and then posted updates on social media, according to AsiaNews, which quoted Li, before he was arrested, as saying: “Even if we are down to our last five, worship and gatherings will still go on because our faith is real … Persecution is a price worth paying for the Lord. We would rather live through it than to hide our faith, and we hope more Chinese churches will speak up and stand with us.”
Li’s wife, Zhang Xinyue, told SCMP the church would continue to meet: “We will not forsake assemblies. I was frightened at first when it happened but have soon overcome the feeling as we are prepared [for persecution].”
‘I must denounce this wickedness openly’
Two days after Wang’s arrest, church members published a letter the pastor had written in September and instructed them to publish if he went missing for more than 48 hours.
In it he wrote that he respected 'the authorities God had established in China' and that his aim was not to change institutions. However, he called the government’s persecution of the Church 'greatly wicked' and an 'unlawful action'.
“As a pastor of a Christian church, I must denounce this wickedness openly and severely. The calling that I have received requires me to use non-violent methods to disobey those human laws that disobey the Bible and God,” he wrote.
Human Rights Watch has called on the Chinese government to 'immediately release' the pastor and the members of his church who are still being detained.
“The shutdown of a Protestant church in Chengdu epitomises the Xi Jinping government’s relentless assault on religious freedom in China. It makes a mockery of the government’s claim that it respects religious beliefs,” said China researcher Yaqiu Wang.
Violations of religious freedom
Although an ‘underground’ church, Early Rain is known for operating openly, including publishing sermons and online studies, and engaging in street evangelism. It also has training facilities for pastors and a primary school which educates 40 children. Its weekly gatherings in different locations in Chengdu are attended by approximately 800 people.
In September, authorities notified the church that it was violating the government’s religious policies as it was not officially registered.
Wang, a former lawyer and human rights activist, has also been vocal in his criticism of the new religious regulations introduced on 1 February, saying they were a violation of religious freedom and that Christians in China should resist them.
STAND WITH YOUR CHURCH FAMILY IN CHINA
Brother Andrew, the founder of Open Doors, says, “Our prayers can go where we cannot... There are no borders, no prison walls, no doors that are closed to us when we pray.”
- For Pastor Wang Yi, his family and his church, that they will stay strong in their faith
- For China’s Christians facing increasing pressure, for courage and wisdom
- That God will change the hearts of China’s leadership and that they will respect freedom of religion.
If you haven't already, you can also speak out for our persecuted brothers and sisters by inviting your MP to the 2019 World Watch List launch in Parliament.