Freedom Is Lost for Many Sichuan House Church Members
By Gina Goh
The Pain that Engulfs Autumn Rain Covenant Church
01/09/2018 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – He is an 11-year-old boy. He hasn’t seen his parents for a month now after they were snatched away by the police. With no one left to take care of him, his grandmother took him under her wings. He still does not know his parents’ whereabouts, and was only recently allowed to reunite with his classmates for a few hours under surveillance.
He is Shuya Wang, the son of Pastor Wang Yi, from Autumn Rain Covenant Church (officially translated as “Early Rain Covenant Church”) in Sichuan, China. On December 9, local authorities raided his church and detained hundreds of leaders, worshippers, and seminary students. As of January 8, 21 people have been criminally detained and charged with various crimes, including “inciting subversion of state power,” “allegedly picking quarrels and provoking trouble on the internet,” and “illegal business operations.” Some of these trumped-up charges carry potential jail sentences of up to 15 years. Shuya’s parents, unfortunately, are among those who could potentially remain in shackles for more than a decade.
Both of them are charged with “inciting subversion of state power,” a grave crime in a communist state since the government feels that its legitimacy is being threatened. No one is certain where Shuya’s parents are, as Beijing typically incarcerates them in undisclosed locations and subjects them to inhumane conditions.
Like many other children of prisoners of conscience, the hope of reuniting with their parents in the near future is dim. Beijing is determined to eliminate influential house churches while luring the entire underground church community to join state-sanctioned Three-self churches. Under President Xi Jinping, with the guise of the seemingly positive “Sinicization” approach to religion, he has mobilized the United Front Department, Religious Affairs Bureau, and Public Security Bureau to clamp down on churches that refuse to commit themselves to communist ideology above Christian theology.
Worshippers at Autumn Rain Covenant Church follow their pastor and leaders in fearlessly defending their right to worship. They have been raided time and time again, repeatedly detained and beaten, yet they never cease to worship. Their resiliency irks the government and destines them for a clampdown.
“I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, neither do you. But God knows, and this is our greatest comfort.”
Those who are spared jail suffer from anxiety and fear. While they are not incarcerated, they are gradually losing freedoms in all aspects of life – freedom to worship, freedom to work without fear of losing their jobs, freedom to rent a house, freedom to go anywhere without being followed, or freedom to visit one another.
Shuya has been placed under round-the-clock surveillance along with his grandmother, 73-year-old Chen Yaxue. A few days after the raid, Chen told South China Morning Post that the police follow them wherever they go. “The surveillance is taking a huge toll on my grandson – he’s in shock after [his parents were taken away].”
On January 8, a Christian lawyer, Zhang Peihong, who has defended various Christians in China visited Shuya and Chen. He was taken to the police office not long after he signed on the power of attorney to represent the family.
More than 20 spouses of the detained formed a Telegram chat group called “Early Rain Covenant Church 12.9 Crackdown Remembering Channel” to share their struggles and feelings. Many write about their loved ones and how much they miss their other halves.
The wife of Elder Lee Yingqiang wrote to him in a letter, saying, “I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, neither do you. But God knows, and this is our greatest comfort. And me, that is all I need to know.”
A poem by Xu Miaozhuang, the wife of Elder Su Bingsen summarizes the perseverance and faith of these Christians despite their agonizing circumstances.
“I Suddenly Realize”
I see that demons have always been
They grab the children,
arrest the men,
frighten the women,
destroying everything that is good and wonderful,
because in all beauty,
They know that their loved ones, though without freedom, have a greater mission – to share the Gospel with the law enforcement officers and the very hands that strike them. We pray for the freedom in the Lord to strengthen them in spite of losing their physical freedom. Though they are hard pressed on every side, they shall not be crushed; perplexed, but not in despair.
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