Tuesday, July 13, 2021

RLPB 606. China: Xuncheng Reformed Church in the Fire

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 606 | Wed 14 July 2021
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CHINA: XUNCHENG REFORMED CHURCH IN THE FIRE
plus update on Ethiopia
by Elizabeth Kendal

Road from Chengdu to Taiyuan.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) appears to be ramping up its persecution of Xuncheng Reformed Church, a church planted in Taiyuan (the capital of China's northern Shanxi Province), by Early Rain Covenant Church (ERCC), located in Chengdu (the capital of China's southwestern Sichuan province). Long-time friends, Xuncheng Reformed Church Pastor An Yankui and his co-worker Zhao Wikai (35), studied theology together in a seminary in Chengdu, founded by ERCC's Pastor Wang Yi (48). In May 2018 Wang Yi openly spearheaded Christian resistance against CCP repression [see RLPB 483 (12 Dec 2018)]. On 1 September 2018, Pastor An became one of 198 pastors to sign Pastor Wang Yi's 'Public Joint Statement'. Arrested and jailed in December 2018, Pastor Wang Yi is currently in failing health; observers fear that the CPP is engineering Wang's 'medical deterioration' [see RLPB 604 (30 June)]. Like Chengdu's ERCC - and possibly due to its close relationship with ERCC, and Pastor An's signature on the 'Public Joint Statement' - Xuncheng Reformed Church is experiencing escalating persecution. This is what happens when you resist the CCP; you get thrown into the fiery furnace.

On Sunday 15 November 2020 officials raided Xuncheng RC during worship [video]. They detained Pastor An Yankui, his wife Yao Congya and five other members, and issued the church with a disbandment notice. At the police station, the detained believers were handcuffed, forced into prison clothes and locked in a cell. They were eventually released at 9:30pm after hours of interrogation. Pastor An and Yao have two children. Then, on 30 December, at around 10:45 pm, 'approximately three dozen security agents' raided Pastor An Yankui's home Bible study. They confiscated the church's choir robes and Christian books, and detained Pastor An and five female church members, leading them away in handcuffs. While the women were released later that evening, Pastor An was forced to serve a 15-day administrative detention (i.e., one in which no charge or trial is required). He was released on 16 January.

Pastor An Yankui: (left) at home with family; (centre) during police raid on church (15 Nov 2020); and (right) upon his release from administrative detention (16 Jan 2021).

Pastor An's long-time friend and ministry co-worker Zhao Wikai and his wife Li Xin have three young children. To give their children a Christian education and protect them from atheistic, CCP indoctrination, Zhao and Li home-school their children. Like unregistered worship, home-schooling is officially illegal in China. It is also illegal to teach religion to minors (defined in Chinese law as those under the age of 18). At 7am on 17 May, some 20 police stormed Zhao's home, seized him and took him away. Despite not having a warrant, they confiscated computer equipment and numerous books, without making an inventory of property taken. At around noon, when they had finished raiding and searching the house, the police took Li to the station. Whilst Li was released later that evening, Zhao was forced to serve a 15-day administrative detention, ostensibly for 'proselytising' his own children. On 20 May, when Li, Pastor An and Zhao's lawyer, Deng Qinggao, tried to visit him in the Lishi Detention Centre, they were denied access on the grounds that the case was 'classified' and involved 'national security concerns'. Zhao was released 15 days later. Despite being arrested for 'proselytism', Zhao's interrogators seemed mostly interested in the church. 

Zhao Wikai (35) with family.

At 8am on 7 July Zhao was summoned again. China Aid Association reports that later in the day, despite not receiving a formal detention notice, the family heard that Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials had criminally detained Zhao on the charge of 'illegal holding of materials promoting terrorism and extremism'.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* sustain Brother Zhao Wikai along with his wife Li Xin and their three young children; may the Holy Spirit fill their hearts with courage, faith and peace; may all those who have contact with Zhao - officials, prison guards, interrogators, fellow prisoners - be restrained and receptive to the Spirit's work, aware that the Lord is with him (Daniel 3).

* grace Pastor An Yankui with courage, faith, peace, discernment and great wisdom as he seeks to guide Xuncheng Reformed Church through these difficult and challenging, faith-testing times (Daniel 3); may the believers stand firm as they 'with unveiled face' (2 Corinthians 3:18) continue to reflect the image of Christ.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places ... (from Ephesians 6:10-18 ESV).

* comfort, encourage, preserve, fortify and continue to build his Church in China ahead of the day when she will be free to impact the world in ways we can barely imagine.

A prayer for the Church in China: Ephesians 3:14-21.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHINA: XUNCHENG REFORMED CHURCH IN THE FIRE

The Chinese Communist Party is escalating its persecution of Taiyuan's Xuncheng Reformed Church. The church has a close relationship with Chengdu's Early Rain Covenant Church and its now imprisoned Pastor Wang Yi. On 15 November 2020 officials raided Xuncheng RC during worship and ordered it closed. On 30 December they raided Pastor An Yankui's home Bible study; Pastor An served 15 days administrative detention. On 17 May the authorities targeted Pastor An's friend and ministry co-worker, Zhao Wikai (35) and his wife Li Xin, on the grounds that they were illegally home-schooling their three young children; Zhao served 15 days administrative detention. On 7 July Zhao was summoned again. The family has been told that Zhao has been criminally detained on the charge of 'illegal holding of materials promoting terrorism and extremism'. Please pray.

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UPDATE on ETHIOPIA

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's Prosperity Party has won the 21 June elections, securing 410 of 436 seats in the federal parliament where elections were held. No voting occurred in Tigray on account of conflict, and Oromo opposition parties boycotted the polls. Polling delayed due to insecurity will be held in September. Polling will be re-run in 10 constituencies. The election was peaceful despite concerns it might be chaotic or marred by violence [see analysis by Gregory Copley, President, International Strategic Studies Association, from Addis Ababa (24 June).] While PM Abiy now has a mandate to advance reforms, opposition will remain fierce.

The Battle for Ethiopia pits the Ethiopian government's vision of a strong, united and prosperous Ethiopia against ethno-nationalists who - with backing from Egypt and the Sudanese military - would tear Ethiopia apart. Whilst ethno-nationalism might empower some – e.g., the TPLF and Oromo ethno-nationalist including Islamist Jawar Mohammed - it would trigger civil war, ethnic cleansing, gross insecurity, regional instability and a Christian crisis of monumental proportions.

New analysis:
Ethiopia's Future Hangs in the Balance
by Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 11 July 2021. 

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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