Even pigsties, sheep pens, and cemeteries can become meeting venues for believers – as long as it allows them to avoid questioning and inspections by the state.
by Wang Yichi
The Chinese authorities spare no effort in persecuting people for their religious beliefs by vigorously cracking down on “unofficial” and state-approved churches alike. Many meeting venues have been shut down, forcibly demolished, or taken over for government use. To continue their gatherings and avoid being found out, believers have to be creative and think of every possible method to practice their faith. For them, harsh environments and long distances aren’t real issues – as long as they can find a place to gather in peace, that is enough for them.
Praying in pigsties and sheep pens
After a Three-Self meeting venue in Shangqiu city in the central province of Henan was shut down in August, the congregation rented a sheep pen on a farm for 100 RMB (about $ 14) per use. To avoid the working hours of government personnel, believers begin each gathering before dawn and wrap up before 8 a.m.
Video: Believers from Shangqiu city gather in a sheep pen.
One of the church’s believers said they are determined not to join the Three-Self Church to avoid being controlled and regulated by the CCP, even if it means holding their gatherings in a pigsty and keeping it a secret.
Forests and cemeteries become places for worship
In late August 2018, a Three-Self church in Henan’s Xinyang city was forcibly closed down. Its congregation managed to gather in the church’s kitchen for a while, but the local government threatened to demolish the church if they continued gathering there. The believers then started meeting in a congregant’s home. Still, officials became aware of this and threatened to revoke the host’s minimum living subsidy and pension if more gatherings were held.
Driven to despair, in May, the congregation started worshiping in a forest.
One of the church’s members told Bitter Winter that because the forest is quite far away and the terrain is difficult to traverse, it is extremely hard for elderly believers to attend the gatherings. “We have to sit on the ground, and lots of small insects crawl all over our clothes. During the summer, the heat is unbearable, and everyone sweats profusely. We gather wherever we can find the most shade,” the believer explained the circumstances of their worshiping in the forest.
Members of a Three-Self church in Henan’s Luohe city faced a similar ordeal. After they were driven out of the church in May 2018, they built a makeshift construction with sheets of galvanized iron. Unexpectedly, however, the government forcibly cut off the venue’s electricity and water supply, claiming that their gatherings were illegal, and later, demolished the whole building. Since June this year, believers started gathering on a riverbank.
After a Catholic church in Changchun city in the northeastern province of Jilin was forcibly shut down in August 2018, the congregation was forced to hold Mass in a cemetery.
Members of a house church in Jilin’s Meihekou city don’t dare to sing or pray loudly during gatherings, and no religious symbols can be seen at their meeting venue. Every time they meet, all windows are firmly shut and covered.
One of the members revealed that in September last year, the church director was summoned for a “discussion” by the Religious Affairs Bureau. Officials warned her that as soon as they discover that she set up a new private meeting venue, she will be fined and may even be detained and sentenced to prison. With no other choice, believers were forced to meet in secret, shorten the duration of their gatherings from over two hours to 40 minutes, and leave quickly at the end of each meeting.
Church disguised as business
In December 2018, the Home of God’s Love Christian Church in Xiamen city in the southeastern province of Fujian was closed down for “sub-par fire prevention measures.”
In late January this year, the congregation renamed the church into “Human Resources Company” and removed all religious symbols and wording, except for some scripture on corridor walls, which were obstructed with potted plants. Despite this disguise, the church didn’t evade persecution – on June 21, the local government posted a closure notice on the entrance, saying that the venue has been prohibited for being illegal.