MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday, the 11th of December, 2018. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.
Christians in China over the weekend endured a new round of persecution from government officials. They targeted individuals, organizations, and leaders in the Christian community. One influential house church known as Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu sent out prayer requests to Christians around the world.
REICHARD: June Cheng covers East Asia for WORLD and is here with the latest, starting with that church. June, what is happening there?
JUNE CHENG, REPORTER: So, everything started on Sunday night around 6 p.m. One of the full-time staff at Early Rain was whisked away in a cop car. And at that time in another part of town, another full-time staff had his electricity cut to his apartment. And then immediately he heard a knock on his door and there were police officers there and they came in and they searched his house. And when some of the other church people had heard about this, three of the men came to see what was going on. And about a dozen police officers also arrested them. And so word started getting around, people started calling each other to check-up to see who’s gone missing and they found that the pastor, Pastor Wang Yi, his wife had disappeared, actually, all of the elders but one. And since then there have been more than 100 church leaders and members who have been taken away.
And based on the updates that the church has been sending out, it seems that there were two dormitories where two students from the seminary linked to the church and liberal arts college, those were raided and the students taken away.
So, I spoke with the remaining elder and he said that when he heard about the crackdown starting, he shut down his phone so the police couldn’t reach him. Then he found a family who would take care of his kids and then he went into hiding. The police came, broke down his door, and they most likely have taken his wife away. And from where he is, he was telling me that this church, because Pastor Wang Yi is very outspoken, they knew that there was going to be a crackdown coming. They just didn’t know when. And so they had made preparations for it.
However, they never took into consideration that all of the leaders would be gone immediately. And so because of that, he said that the plan could not go on as planned.
REICHARD: Well, why are they targeting Early Rain and Wang Yi?
CHENG: So Pastor Wang Yi has always been very outspoken. He was a former constitutional law professor before he became a Christian, and so he knows the law back and forth and in the past when he has been arrested, he has been able to counter the police who are arresting him, saying, “No, you can’t charge me with this. You can’t arrest me with this.” He’s able to debate these things with them. He’s been outspoken when it comes to things about policy, about the religious regulations that went into effect this year. And, also, the church is very influential. It’s very well-known in China. And it’s kind of always been at the cutting edge of, or just pushing the boundary of what a house church can do. And so this school — they have a classical Christian school. They have a seminary with about 400 people they have a liberal arts college, grad school, they have a lot of ministries, they do a lot of work in society and in the community. So, as there has been these crackdowns going on in other places in China, such as in Henan or in Zhejiang, everyone kind of expected that Early Rain would be next, but they just didn’t know when.
And so on May 12th, that was the 10th anniversary of the earthquakes in Sichuan, and on that date, Early Rain decided to have a prayer meeting commemorating the 10 years. And the Sichuan earthquake has actually become a sensitive topic in China because there was controversy over poorly constructed school houses that collapsed and killed many children inside. And a lot of people had started to blame the corruption in the local government. And so that caused the government to completely censor this issue. And because they were commemorating it, police came and they ended up arresting 200 people. Although, they released everyone within 24 hours. And so at that time, they knew that the day was coming when the government would really kind of crack down on them.
REICHARD: And I want to ask, how is the government taking a stance against Christian education?
CHENG: The police have also been coming to the houses of the parents of students and in one notable instance, the wife of Matthew Su, who is one of the elders who was taken, she said that at 4 a.m. two women from the ministry of education came to her apartment and after talking to her, getting the information about her children, the women told her that she needed to send her two oldest children to local public schools rather than the Christian school they were currently attending. And so she actually declined. And according to her account, the officials then just said, “We’ll keep in touch,” and left. And so the school has shut its doors this week. And apparently on Monday morning one of the students had not gotten the memo that school was cancelled, showed up, and was taken away by police.
REICHARD: How can the overseas church be praying for Early Rain?
CHENG: Yeah, so when I was talking with the one elder who has not yet been detained, he said that it would be wonderful to know that the global church is praying for them. That God would give them courage and the strength to deal with this persecution. And he says here—quote—”that those in detention would be a good witness and that the church members wouldn’t compromise.
REICHARD: This is all very concerning. June Cheng is our East Asia reporter. Thanks so much for this report.
CHENG: You’re welcome, Mary.