It’s increasingly hard for unregistered Protestant churches to survive, as numerous venues are closed to make believers join the official Three-Self Church.
by Yao Zhangjin
On July 28, the Public Security Bureau of Nanbu, a county in the prefecture-level city of Nanchong in Sichuan Province, dispatched more than 30 police officers to a Sola Fide house church. They arrested the venue’s pastor and about 50 members.
A congregation member told Bitter Winter that when the police came at around 7 a.m. that day, over 70 believers were attending a service. Warned by a believer who stood guard outside the venue, 20 church members managed to escape. When the pastor protested being handcuffed, telling the officers that he had not broken any laws and that people’s religious liberties should be respected, they kicked him hard several times.
The officers confiscated all Bibles and hymnbooks and tore down the cross and a Jesus image. They also took away the venue’s air conditioner, audio system, and music equipment and shut the site down.
Residents in the neighborhood recounted that two days before the raid, four plainclothes police officers were seen outside the venue. According to a young man from the area, officers were spotted at 4 a.m. on the day of the raid.
A released congregation member revealed that all arrested believers were taken to a police station to register their ID information, photograph and fingerprint them. They have been blacklisted by the police and can be surveilled or harassed for a long time. Some members were released later that day, while the pastor and several believers were detained from 4 to 15 days.
On June 21, more than a dozen Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau personnel and police officers in Daying county of Sichuan’s Suining city raided a local house church venue where five members were in a prayer meeting. They were accused of “illegal gathering,” and officers took down their ID information and phone numbers and photographed them. The officers then removed the cross from one of the walls and confiscated 21 religious books, including Bibles and hymnbooks, before shutting down the venue. The church director was kept in detention for three hours.
On May 19, police officers raided a house church in Lujiang county in the eastern province of Anhui. Most congregation members managed to escape, while five were caught and taken to a police station, where they were interrogated until late that night.
After the police shut down the venue the next day, the congregation met in nearby woods but were tracked down. Officers sprayed pepper spray on the group of all ages, trying to disperse them. “The spray was very hot, stinging our eyes; even a 4-year-old child was sprayed on,” a church member recalled.
The congregation found another temporary venue for their gatherings nearby. Still, the police raided them again on June 17, forcing the believers to move to another site 50 kilometers away.
An old Local Church venue in the Dongxiang district of Fuzhou city in the southeastern province of Jiangxi has been continuously persecuted for refusing to join the Three-Self Patriotic Movement. Not only was the venue emptied and shut down, but its members were put under constant surveillance.
On July 22, a church member was arrested and detained for eight days for sharing the gospel at a local crematorium, after a village official, assigned to watch her for refusing to join the Three-Self Church, reported the woman to the police. During her detention, she was pressured again to become a member of the official church, but she said no again. “I’m not afraid of being arrested,” the believer said. “I’ll continue to share the gospel.”
Another church member was also arrested the same day and detained for eight days. The police banned her from sharing the gospel after her release.
A house church believer from Fuzhou, the capital of the southeastern province of Fujian, was arrested for distributing gospel leaflets at a subway station. “They do not allow us to share the gospel. This is the persecution of our belief,” the churchgoer said. “Instead of retracting, we’ll go on sharing the gospel.”