The morning after the raid on their church site, over 1,000 faithful gathered in the pouring rain amongst the rubble and worshipped God. Twenty believers were seriously injured and over a dozen buildings on the Fushan Church’s site were demolished the day before on September 13, 2009 by 400 officials and hired thugs. It wasn’t the first time government authorities had targeted the house church community, and it wouldn’t be the last.
In the weeks following the raid, authorities cracked down on the leaders of the Fushan Church, which is one of many church homes to the 50,000 members of the Linfen Church in Shanxi province. When the church’s leaders called on the government to repay the damages and issue a public apology, authorities installed state police guards at numerous house church sites to prevent members from gathering for worship. Water and electricity were also cut off among the neighbouring house churches.
Fearing an uprising, officials eventually agreed to pay over a million Yuan in damages to the Linfen Church. But when they refused to release a detained Christian who reported on the raid via text messages, the Christians refused to accept the money. Money would not silence their voices. Instead, head pastor Yang Rongli and six other believers attempted to file a claim in the province’s capital. Officials arrested all seven allegedly to “prevent disturbing the social order.” While being held at the Yaodu Detention Centre in Linfen, the Christians took solace in their faith in Jesus. They shared their beliefs with other inmates, sang hymns and recited scripture. Meanwhile, members of their church community continued to gather for prayer and worship and issued a call to action on behalf of those imprisoned.
Eventually, one of the believers was released. Officials promised the remaining Christians their freedom the next day, holding only Yang Rongli captive. The believers refused. “We are one team in the one body of Christ!” they argued. “We won’t leave her behind alone. We will not leave prison without her!” Two days later, 10 more church leaders were arrested. Officials attempted to break their spirits by threatening to arrest even more leaders and ransack their homes.
In early November, the Linfen Court informed the families of five of the imprisoned pastors – including Yang Rongli and her husband, Wang Xiaoguang – that a trial was scheduled for later that month. The rapid turnaround left the families in desperate need of legal aid. The days leading up to the case were fraught with difficulties, as the lawyers were granted little to no communication with their clients and had access to only 30 of the more than 100 documents submitted as evidence against the believers.
The five pastors endured the proceedings, which were riddled with far-fetched testimonies and inconsistencies. Though their lawyers had strong evidence and the law on their side, the court found the five pastors guilty of “unlawfully occupying agricultural land” and “gathering to disturb the traffic order.” Their sentences ranged from seven years and a fine of 30,000 Yuan to three years with a fine of 10,000 Yuan.
The abuse endured by the Linfen Church is one of the most severe cases of persecution against Chinese house churches in the last decade, both in sentence and widespread impact.
Throughout the country, Christians who worship outside the government-sanctioned Three-Self Churches face harassment and arrests from authorities. The Three-Self Churches were established by the communists in the early 1950s and control many areas of Protestant church life through various regulations. For example, registered churches are not permitted to speak about the creation story in Genesis or Jesus’ second coming. Despite the persecution, Christianity in China is growing at an incredible rate. Six million Catholics and 15 million Protestants are registered with the government, while approximately eight million Catholics and up to 50 million Protestants worship in unregistered house churches.
Just as the members of the Linfen Church refused to abandon one of their own, will you too stand alongside them as a fellow member of the Body of Christ?
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