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On Wednesday, a month after authorities raided Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, China, police released church member Zhu Xiaoguang. He had spent 27 days in detention. Twenty other leaders and members of the church remain in criminal detention as the persecution continues for Early Rain and its church plants.
Last Sunday, authorities arrested 20 members of a Sunday school class as they studied the Bible and ate dinner at a restaurant, according to the church’s prayer bulletins. The police released all the class members around midnight after asking them to sign a pledge stating they would no longer attend Early Rain Bible studies or worship services. The next day, police took three of the members back into the station for more questioning, and had still not released them 24 hours later.
According to the church’s update, one man arrested on Sunday recalled: “When we got to the police station, I remembered those brothers and sisters who had worshipped and prayed here before. When I realized that we got to share with them in the bitter cup of the Lord, my heart was continually grateful.” Other recently released church members said fellow inmates and even some of the police officers were eager to hear the gospel and asked for Bibles to read.
On Christmas Eve, the authorities took over the Early Rain sanctuary, located on the 23rd floor of an office building, and converted it into a community police office space, even though the church had paid for the space. Police also took possession of two of Early Rain’s church plants, Linxishu Church and Enyue Church.
Church members have gathered in small groups inside homes for Sunday worship as well as Wednesday Bible studies. Police started monitoring some of these homes to prevent gatherings: On Dec. 23, they interrupted a meeting at the home of church elder Su Bingsen (currently in criminal detention) and took 20 people, including children, to the police station until 5:00 that afternoon.
Before his arrest, Pastor Wang Yi and his wife, Jiang Rong, wrote their annual New Year family letter to the church. In it, they discuss the persecution the church faced in 2018, Wang’s resolution to devote his next 20 years to China’s gospel movement, and his plan for a three-month sabbatical in 2019. “If God is willing to put Wang Yi in prison for a prolonged sabbatical, we will also receive it as abundant grace,” they wrote.
“As long as God allows him to be free to move around, may the Lord use up this freedom until we no longer have this freedom.”
‘If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands …’
Recently, Chinese officials allowed a small group of foreign reporters to visit three Uighur re-education camps in Xinjiang. All the detainees claimed they chose to enter the center because they were “infected with extremist thought.” One classroom of Uighur detainees sang the song “If You’re Happy and You Know It” in English for the reporters.