Tuesday, April 13, 2021

RLPB 593. China: Intense Suffering Descends on Church

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 593 | Wed 14 Apr 2021
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CHINA: INTENSE SUFFERING DESCENDS ON CHURCH
By Elizabeth Kendal

On the morning of 16 March some twenty Christians gathered in a rented room in Yuli Plaza, Guiyang City, the capital of Guizhou Province, to begin a three-day retreat. Most were members of Guiyang's Ren'ai [Love] Reformed Church (RRC). At 9 am, as Brother Chen Jianguo led the people in prayer, a contingent of police, security officials, administrators and others burst into the room to break up what they claimed was 'an illegal rally'. The Christians co-operated as the police proceeded to interrogate the believers, record their IDs and examine their phones. At around 1pm, most of the Christians from Guiyang were given permission to leave, while Brother Chen and nine other believers were detained and transported to a police station.

Elder Zhang Chunlei
of Ren'ai [Love] Reformed Church,
Guiyang.

RRC elder Zhang Chunlei and several other church members went to the police station to negotiate on behalf of the detained believers. With his companions outside, Elder Zhang entered the station where he declared his intent to remain until all those detained at the retreat were released. At 11 pm, police handcuffed Elder Zhang, Brother Chen, Li Jinzhi and Li Lin, and transferred them to another police station where they were charged with 'illegally hosting events under the name of an organisation'. Brother Chen, Li Jinzhi and Li Lin each received a three-day administrative detention and were released on 20 March. Elder Zhang, on the other hand, was sentenced to a 14-day administrative detention. [Note that an 'administrative detention' does not require a trial.] Security officials also raided the homes of several church members, confiscating computers and other items.

Pastor Wang Yi
of Early Rain Covenant Church,
Chengdu.
left: at home pre-Dec 2018
right: in prison March 2020

A small house church of less than 100 members, Guiyang Ren'ai Reformed Church has steadfastly refused to join the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-approved Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM). In August 2018 Elder Zhang was among the first of several hundred pastors to sign a petition written by Pastor Wang Yi of Chengdu Early Rain Covenant Church (ERCC). The petition (or 'joint statement') was essentially an appeal for religious liberty in protest of the CCP's new Religious Affairs Regulations (enacted 1 February 2018) which unleashed a whole new era of increased repression and persecution [see RLPB 483, 'The CCP's War on Religion Heats Up' (12 Dec 2018)]. In September 2018, just weeks after the petition was published, the CCP officially banned Ren'ai Reformed Church. Since then, the CCP has confiscated the church's equipment and the believers have struggled to find a place where they can meet without being raided by police. Arrested in December 2018, Pastor Wang Yi was sentenced on 30 December 2019 to nine years in prison for 'inciting subversion of state power and illegal business operations' [RLPB 534 (29 Jan 2020)].  

On 28 March, after 12 days in administrative detention, Elder Zhang Chunlei was placed in criminal detention as a 'fraud suspect'. China Aid Association reports that many Chinese pastors - including Pastor Wang Yi and Elder Zhang Chunlei - have covenanted that, if any of them were imprisoned, they would pray together at 5 pm every day. [Note for those who would care to join them, see: https://www.thetimezoneconverter.com/ ] Before he prayed and was arrested, Brother Chen had opened the retreat by reading from the Apostle Paul's letter to the church in Philippi, specifically Philippians 1:12-18. 'I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ ... [no matter the circumstances] Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.' Please pray.

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RESIDENTIAL SURVEILLANCE AT A DESIGNATED LOCATION 

On 1 April Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported: 'Authorities in China are detaining Christians in secretive, mobile "transformation" facilities to make them renounce their faith.' [Note: The facilities are described as 'mobile' because they can be set up anywhere - such as in basements and other 'black'/secret sites - and relocated at any time.] RFA interviewed several believers who claimed to have been 'disappeared' for months, even years. They testified of having been beaten, abused and threatened, while kept in isolation, often in darkness, until they 'broke' and agreed to sign a confession and/or make a public apology. Many were so deeply traumatised by their treatment they resorted to self-harm and even attempted suicide.

Everything Belongs to Caesar Here
Radio Free Asia (5 April 2021)

What RFA is describing is undoubtedly 'Residential Surveillance at a Designation Location' (RSDL) - the CCP's euphemism for enforced disappearance, complete with punishment, coercion and interrogation, outside the judicial system. According to a book entitled, 'The People's Republic of the Disappeared: Stories from inside China's system for enforced disappearances' edited by Michael Caster (2017), RSDL has been the CCP's preferred method of dealing with dissidents since the 'Jasmine Revolution' of 2011. Revised in 2012, China's Criminal Procedure Law grants China's secret police the legal right to 'disappear' whomever they wish and treat them however they wish, for as long as they wish, without oversight and with total impunity. According to RFA, this method is increasingly being used, not merely against anti-CCP political activists, but against non-compliant Christian believers.

Gao Zhisheng

Internationally acclaimed human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng - a convert to Protestant Christianity, torture survivor and doubtless China's most severely persecuted Christian - has been 'disappeared' for more than three years now, with no notification of his status and no known criminal procedures against him [see: RLPB 432 (15 Nov 2017)]. In May 2020 Gao's sister succeeded on her third attempt at committing suicide. Driven deep into abject despair by the CCP's suffocating oppression and cruel treatment of her family, she drowned herself in a river. Doubtless the CCP wasted no time in informing Gao of his sister's death. On Tuesday 20 April Gao Zhisheng will turn 57, suffering and alone but for the eternal presence of the Spirit of God.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* protect, comfort, encourage and sustain

- Elder Zhang Chunlei, his family, and the believers at Guiyang's Ren'ai Reformed Church;

- Pastor Wang Yi, his family, and the believers at Chengdu's Early Rain Covenant Church; and

- lawyer Gao Zhisheng, along with his surviving extended family.

'I am with you always, to the end of the age' (promise of Matthew 28:20).

* protect, comfort, encourage and sustain every faithful Christian believer currently detained in a Chinese prison or 'disappeared' in a secret facility that the Chinese Communist Party thinks God cannot access, and in the custody of cruel men who think their evil is not seen (Hebrews 4:13). May every Christian prisoner know the closeness of their Saviour (Psalm 139:7-12) and may God intervene in justice and grace to vindicate his suffering servants and free the Chinese Church (Habakkuk 2:12-14).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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INTENSE SUFFERING DESCENDS ON CHURCH IN CHINA

On 16 March police in Guiyang City broke up a retreat run by Ren'ai [Love] Reformed Church (RRC), deeming it 'an illegal rally'. Three believers served three days in administrative detention, but RRC's Elder Zhang Chunlei has been placed in criminal detention as a 'fraud suspect'. Fears abound that Elder Zhang might share the fate of Pastor Wang Yi, of Chengdu's Early Rain Covenant Church, who in December 2019, was jailed for nine years for 'illegal business operations'. Imprisonment is not the only option. For a decade now, the Chinese Communist Party's preferred method of dealing with dissidents has been to 'disappear' them into secret sites where torture is rife. According to Radio Free Asia, this method is increasingly being used against non-compliant Christians, 'to make them renounce their faith'. Please pray.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com