China Frees Church Elder, But Online Gathering Interrupted
By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
BEIJING (Worthy News) – A Christian leader has been released after spending four years in a Chinese prison for his involvement in a banned church, but concerns remain about other jailed church members, Worthy News learned Thursday.
Christians in China’s southwestern Sichuan province “welcomed home” Elder Qin Defu of the independent Early Rain Covenant Church (ERCC) at an online meeting, Christians said.
Meeting him in person was impossible for most members as police in the provincial capital Chengdu cracked down on the ERCC, a prominent house church movement with more than 800 members.
Since December 2018, about 100 church members have been detained, and some eventually jailed, including 39-year-old Elder Qin Defu, who was freed earlier this month.
Yet the December 9 online meeting where Qin appeared was interrupted by Chinese police after a video was played featuring the church’s still detained pastor, Wang Yi.
In the middle of the video, Elder Li Yingqiang was seen interrupting the meeting, saying: “The police are already here. They are knocking at my door. I’ll be gone soon.”
After praying with everyone, Li was taken to the police station, where he was accused of “disturbing social order,” according to Christians familiar with the gathering.
Soon after, police officers summoned his wife, Zhang Xinyue, and their two children on similar charges, but the family was allowed to return home in the evening, Christians said.
After Elder Li’s arrest, Dai Zhichao, one of the church’s preachers, took over hosting the online conference but was summoned to the police station that evening, Christians said.
He was reportedly charged for “organizing activities in the name of a banned social organization.” Although released several hours later, Elder Dai was apparently told China’s security forces would monitor him for longer than planned. He was already under “residential surveillance since September 29 with orders that he is prohibited from leaving his home,” Christians added.
Despite the interruptions, more than 1,000 people attended the December 9 online event commemorating the fourth anniversary of a massive police crackdown on ERCC members.
The online gathering, which lasted almost eight hours, featured “testimonies” from several church members, including those imprisoned for their faith and involvement in the ERCC, Christians said.
Christians urged prayers that “the charges against Pastor Wang, Elder Li, and Elder Dai be dropped” and that members of their church “will no longer be subjected to harassment.”
Under China’s President Xi Jinping, pressure has increased on independent churches and devoted Christians who are seen as a threat to the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s ideology.
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