Sentenced in Sichuan
By Gina Goh
03/21/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – It’s been over a year since Chinese authorities wrenched Pei Wenju and Jing Jianan’s four adopted children from their arms, telling them that their adoption papers were not valid because the kids were “trapped by an evil religion.” Heartbroken and confused, the persecution didn’t stop there. Weeks later, they were kicked out of their home of eight years.
On December 9, 2018, local authorities raided the 500-member Early Rain Covenant Church (ERCC) in Sichuan, where Pei and Jing were devoted attendees. By the end of the day, more than 100 church leaders and members were arrested and the government had seized the church’s property.
Members of ERCC always knew that persecution might eventually show up at their doors. Yet, the members were never deterred by it, and continued to live out their faith despite constant harassment by the authorities for not conforming to China’s sanctioned, state-controlled Three-Self Church.
The following months were tortuous for all involved. By the end of December that year, 16 members were criminally detained, four were under administrative detention, five missing, more than 150 interrogated by the police, and nearly 500 members closely monitored by the authorities. Today, the fallout is still felt by members of the church, as they face imprisonment, discrimination, and abuse at the hands of the Chinese government.
On November 25, 2019, Pei and Jing’s landlord knocked on their door. He was accompanied by a police officer, who demanded that they move out within two days. If they dared to go downstairs, they would be beaten up when an officer spotted them. Their daughter was frightened and traumatized. The police then threatened to strip the landlord of his retirement pension if he didn’t kick them out.
The same harassment continued with other members of ERCC. After Zhang Guanya came back from a business trip, he realized that the electricity and water at his house had been cut off. He soon reached out to his community to inquire about his situation, only to learn that his residence was the only one having the problem.
A policeman who was walking out from his community summoned Zhang to the police station after telling him that he gave the order to shut down his power and water. At the police station, Zhang was asked to move without any condition, or else he and his wife would be sent to jail, and his child to an orphanage.
The majority of the ERCC detainees are leaders or active staff. Their family members have been banned from visiting them, and some still do not know the whereabouts of their loved ones because local authorities refused to tell them.
Elder Su Bingsen was forcibly returned to his hometown in Xiamen after staying behind bars for more than four months. Authorities accompanied him to prevent him from returning to his church and leading the congregation. His wife and children who live in Sichuan, which is 950 miles away, had to find a way to reunite with him.
Elder Qin Derfu and Li Yingqiang were arrested and accused of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble” and “running an illegal business” in the 1209 government crackdown. For nearly eight months, Li’s wife Zhang Xinyue heard no news about her husband.
ERCC church member Li Chengju was released on August 9 after five weeks of criminal detention. She lost weight and much of her hair due to the conditions at the detention center. Her “crime” was distributing Gospel leaflets while she went grocery shopping on July 4. Li had previously been detained for 15 days for serving in a Bible class. Her husband, Chen Shaowen, was also detained for two weeks after they opened up their house for a small group gathering.
Thankfully, many of the imprisoned pastors, elders, and members have returned safely to their family members, but others may not taste freedom for years to come.
The church’s lead pastor, Wang Yi, and elder Qin Derfu remain behind bars under trumped-up charges, cut off from communication with the outside world. Pastor Wang’s wife and son, along with his parents, have been closely watched by the police.
On February 14, 2019, the wives of four incarcerated Christians reached out to the German consulate in Sichuan to ask for help. The next day, they were taken by the local police office for long hours of interrogation, for “continuation of activities after the illegal organization has been disbanded.”
The police summoned several church members to inquire about Pastor Wang Yi’s financial status. They asked if Pastor Wang also owned a Mercedes or BMW other than the scooter he had ridden to work for the past decade.
One officer said bluntly, “We want to criminalize Wang Yi. As for others, it will depend on whether or not you want to cooperate with us. If you do, you will be able to go home for Chinese New Year, and nothing will happen to you.”
On December 30, the police got what they wanted. Pastor Wang received nine years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power” and “illegal business activities.” In November, elder Qin Derfu was sentenced to four years in prison for “illegal business operations.”
Even though China has tried to destroy the church community, its members are resilient. Some members have lost their jobs and were kicked out of their rental properties thanks to the local police’s relentless oppression. Those remaining in Sichuan continue to meet in small groups and conduct home gatherings to worship together in secret. The authorities constantly harass and pressure them to move, but still they remain.
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