Fifteen days before Christmas, one of China’s largest house churches was raided by Chinese police on Dec. 10. The raid has continued over the last few days, resulting in arrests of more than 100 Christians, including church leader Wang Yi. He is one of China’s most well-known pastors.
The Early Rain Covenant Church is an unregistered house church in Chengdu, the capital city of China’s western Sichuan province. Reportedly, church members were taken from their homes and the streets. The South China Morning Post also reported that church members said they were abused while in police custody.
The church’s Facebook page is filled with detailed accounts of what happened and is happening, as well as powerful prayers from church members. A couple entries report:
“The big arrest of the church on December 9th (main day) is still going on …they use various means to bring their brothers and sisters away, even smash doors, use searchlights, threats, etc. There are members who have been taken or lost. Some … are under control in the church, and there are many more controlled at home … There are now more than 100 brothers and sisters who have been taken away, and many children are forced to separate from their parents and take care of other members.
“After darkness is light. Lord, please open our eyes and let us see the sky open and the people sit on the right side of the father. Ask the Lord to give the angel of the angels to guard the people of the people, and let us take the heart of suffering as a weapon to greet a great revival of the Spirit.”
The prominent house church has about 500 followers, but its weekly gatherings spread across more than a dozen meeting points around Chengdu, drawing more than 800 congregants each week, according to church leaders. It also has about 100 seminary students and a primary school catering to about 40 children.
While most of China’s Protestant house churches operate underground, the Early Rain congregation openly practices their faith, posting sermons online and evangelizing on the streets.
Pastor Wang’s family received notice yesterday that he had been arrested and charged with “inciting subversion of state power.” Wang’s wife, Jiang Rong, was removed from her mother-in-law’s home on Sunday evening. As of December 12, her whereabouts were unknown.
Since the couple was taken, Wang’s 73-year-old mother, Chen Yaxue, said she had been under 24-hour surveillance, along with the Wang’s 11-year-old son.
“They follow us whenever and wherever we go,” she told the South China Morning Post. “I’m very sad and confused, not sure what to think now. I just want to take my grandson … to run away from all this madness.”
Pastor Wang, a former human rights activist and constitutional scholar, has been extremely vocal about his opinion on China’s new religious regulations implemented in February of this year. The rules restrict proselytizing and charitable work, crack down on religious education for minors, limit the collection of donations, and forbid posting some faith-based content online. They also require churches to register with the government, which empowers officials to censor sermons, choose or reject pastors, and otherwise interfere with worship. The government has also begun installing facial-recognition technology in many registered churches.
Last year Pastor Wang, wrote that “passing the Regulations is a step backward for the rule of law in the religious field” and criticized the regulations as “evil from the standpoint of religious belief, illegal from the standpoint of the constitution, and foolish from the political standpoint.”
The high-profile pastor, who met with President George Bush in the White House in 2006, has urged Christians to resist the religious regulations in a legal and nonviolent manner.
Two days after he was arrested and taken away, church members released an open letter he wrote in September–giving instructions that it be publicized if he went missing for more than 48 hours.
In the letter, Pastor Wang said he would use non-violent methods to stand by his faith and oppose the laws that he said were against the Bible and God, including those that allow crackdowns on churches.
“My Savior Christ also requires me to joyfully bear all costs for disobeying wicked laws,” Wang wrote.
According to China’s criminal code, the charges he faces could result in a sentence of up to five years, but up to 15 years in extreme cases.
Pastor Wang Yi and his wife Jiang Rong. Both have been arrested and taken away.
A Quota on Arrests of Christians
The Early Rain Covenant Church is the most recent church to be raided since China began what has become a widespread government crackdown on Chinese churches.
The religious liberty magazine Bitter Winter recently reported that police stations in a city in northeast China are being evaluated based on the number of Christians they arrest.
A police officer from Dalian, a port city in Liaoning Province, near the North Korean border, told the magazine that his station had received a notice from the National Security Bureau which, as part of a performance-assessment plan, set out how many Christians they would have to arrest. The officer said that all stations in the city had received a similar plan, assessing the station’s performance with a 100-point evaluation system.
Senior police officers risk losing their job if quotas are not met, the officer told the magazine, adding that he did not want to arrest Christians but feared the consequences if he didn’t
The officer said that stations are trading with each other, “buying” names of arrested Christians for approximately $70 from other stations that have already achieved their targets.”
Praying With China’s Christian Leaders
Recently, one of our indigenous ministry partners who works to equip church leaders in China offered this insight: “The situation on the ground [in China] is always changing. Don’t be too quick to jump to conclusions about what China needs. Pray for wisdom for the leaders. Pray with us.” She shared specific prayer needs for church leaders and churches in China:
-Fortitude. Pray with Chinese Christians and church leaders for the fortitude to withstand increasing pressure and violent acts of persecution.
-Empowerment. Pray that God would empower His church in China to reach the next generation.
-Wisdom. Pray that leaders in China’s churches would have the wisdom to know how to handle the pressure they are coming under.
-Workers for the harvest. Pray that the Lord of the harvest will send workers to plant and nurture seeds that will ultimately bring forth an abundance of Kingdom fruit.