Chinese police raid Early Rain Reformed Church in Chengdu China on Saturday, May 13, 2018
Saturday, May 12, was the 10th anniversary of China’s deadly earthquake that took the lives of more than 70,000 people when whole towns and villages were crushed in China’s Sichuan province. So this was a time of renewed mourning for hundreds of thousands who lost family and friends. But it was also marked by escalating levels of persecution by the Chinese government against the church–including the arrest and detainment of my friend and partner in the gospel, pastor Wang Yi.
Steve and Pastor Wang Yi in 2017
He was planning to have a memorial service at his church, Early Rain Covenant Church on Saturday morning in Chengdu, the capital of the Sichuan province. But on Friday night, police detained Wang Yi and the head of their Christian college for about 24 hours, until Saturday night. The charge against him by the police was “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” –often used now to silence any dissent against the Chinese government.
The Communist Party was concerned that any public gatherings on Saturday might rekindle widespread angry questions about why so many new buildings, including new schools, collapsed in the earthquake killing thousands of adults and children. Instead, the Chinese government was using the date to praise China’s rapid reconstruction of the devastated towns and villages.
Pastor Wang Yi arrested Saturday, May 13
On Saturday morning more than 50 police returned to arrest and take away more than 200 people, including college students and children, who arrived for the memorial service. The people were taken in buses to several police stations around the city. The police also raided their church and school to remove Christian books (estimated 50,000 books) from their library and documents from their offices. After loading everything in boxes they took them away in large trucks.
I was reminded of the bible verse: “You joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one (Heb. 10:34).”
Persecution is not new to Wang Yi, who is also a highly respected intellectual and human rights lawyer—with articles about him in New York Times, Atlantic Monthly, World Magazine, etc. He has been an outspoken advocate for human rights, including freedom of religion and freedom of assembly. So, he has had many run-ins with Chinese government officials.
The increased government restrictions on churches under president Xi, beginning in February 2018, were expected by Wang Yi and others to increase persecution. After he was released from custody on Saturday morning, Wang Yi acknowledged these new levels of heightened persecution, saying “The religious case of the Early Rain Covenant (church) has begun.”
Pastor and human rights attorney Wang Yi preaching
Some understandably ask, “Why would Wang Yi continue to take this kind of public stand for justice and human rights when he knows the inevitable consequences of persecution?” And, “Knowing this kind of response from the government was likely, why did he continue to plan this assembly by his church members yesterday?”
Imagine asking Martin Luther King Jr. the same questions. King believed God was calling him to take a stand in his generation for justice and human rights. He knew the price of suffering that he and many others would experience. He also knew that if he and others were not willing to take such a stand, the public was unlikely to know and his nation was unlikely to change. The New York Times article on the persecution of Wang Yi and his church yesterday raised worldwide awareness. I’m reminded of the famous adage, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing.”
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing.”
Members of Early Rain Covenant Church in China assemble for worship and prayer.
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matt 5:10-12).
“If one member suffers, all suffer together.” 1 Corinthians 12:26
The apostle Paul reminds us how we should see such suffering of other Christians, when he writes: “If one member suffers, all suffer together (1 Cor 12:26a).” So, please pass on this prayer request to others. Thank you for your continued prayers for our dear brothers and sisters being persecuted in China.
For the King!
PS: Here’s the link again to the New York Times story on this yesterday: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/12/world/asia/china-pastor-detained-sichuan-earthquake.html And you can read more about Pastor Wang Yi and other key leaders in the underground (unregistered) church movement in China in Ian Johnson’s book, The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao.