Church torn apart by abuse pens letter describing persecution

Huoshi Church pastors Su Tianfu (left) and Yang Hua pose for
photo before Yang’s arrest. (Photo: ChinaAid)


Updated on June 13, 2017, at 3:51 p.m. CDT

(Guiyang, Guizhou—June 9, 2017) Splintered into small congregations meeting secretively in the homes of fellow church attendees, the members of a house church in China’s southern Guizhou province penned a letter describing how government persecution obliterated their finances, imprisoned and tortured their leaders, and fractured their thriving church body.

Beginning with the church’s founding, the members of Huoshi Church traced its entire history with the government, insisting that the Communist Party abused them despite their attempts to comply with the law, which included reporting on all of their activities to the local religious affairs and public security bureaus. As the church quickly swelled into the largest house church in Guizhou’s capital, Guiyang, officials told the church it must join the China’s state-run Three-Self Church, which is subject to government censorship, or they would be banned. The members refused.

According to the letter, “From then on, the hard days of Huoshi Church in Guiyang began. The government officials often interrupted the regular gatherings, sometimes cutting off the building’s power supply. The police frequently intruded and demanded [the Christians show] ID cards. Many believers were pressured both by their companies and family members and could not attend the regular meetings. The neighborhood committee dispatched workers to persuade the church members to quit. The government workers even spread the rumor among the family members of the believers that Huoshi Church was an anti-government cult.”

These escalating tensions culminated in the arrest of several key church members and leaders. As church accountant Zhang Xiuhong was leaving the church on July 28, 2015, authorities dragged her away and charged her with illegal business operations. Officially, the government said she withdrew church funds at a beauty shop and embezzled 5 million yuan ($725,000 USD), but Zhang suspects they falsely charged her on account of her religious beliefs. The Nanming District Court tried and convicted Zhang on Feb. 10, 2017 and gave her a five-year prison sentence, which she appealed a week later.

On Dec. 9, 2015, government personnel interrupted a prayer session and took Pastor Yang Hua into custody for interfering with their attempts to confiscate a hard drive. The next day, they accused him of “the crime of obstructing justice” and “gathering a crowd to disturb public order” and handed him two consecutive, five-day administrative detention sentences. However, on Dec. 10, 2015—his scheduled release date—he received a third charge, “illegally possessing state secrets,” and was forced into an unlicensed vehicle and transported to another facility for criminal detention.

For more than a month, his wife and lawyers were barred from meeting with him. When his charge changed a third time to “divulging state secrets,” a local court approved his arrest on Jan. 22, 2016. He was tried and wrongfully convicted after a year in prison on Dec. 26, 2016, and jailed for two-and-a-half years.

While in prison, he has experienced torture and contracted severe vasculitis, which the detention center’s doctors inadequately treated.

In addition, authorities also attacked the church’s finances, freezing their bank accounts and then levying a hefty fine of more than 7 million yuan ($1,030,000 USD) against them.

A translation of the letter can be read below.

ChinaAid exposes abuses such as those suffered by Huoshi Church and its members in order to promote religious freedom, human rights, and rule of law.

The Huoshi Church Case—the typical pattern of government suppression of house churches

Prayer letter

By Huoshi Church members

Huoshi Church in Guiyang is an individual evangelical house church founded on April 12, 2009. In the beginning, the church rented an office building in the Tailian Mansion as their gathering place. As millions of other house churches in China, we spread the legitimate Gospel, following the tradition of churches all over the world. At the same time, we hope to bring house churches into the public without violating the constitution and the law. We registered at the relevant government departments several times, and we voluntarily report our activities to the religious affairs bureau and security department if we fail to obtain registration. In order to counter the negative effect of the outdated regulations on religious affairs, we always strive to communicate with the government.

In June 2013, more than a hundred church members were ready to be baptized. The church planned to hold the activity at the historical site of the Qingyan case. The night before, large numbers of government departments summoned Pastor Yang Hua and Pastor Su Tianfu for overnight investigations. Director Long collected a lot of materials relating to the Huoshi Church in Guiyang. He said that he was aware that we were a legitimate Christian denomination. We had a good reputation and upright personalities, and our church also positively influenced society. Because we did not register at the relevant government department, however, many activities we organized were illegal. Accordingly, we would have to cancel the upcoming baptism. He asked us to explain why we refused to register, and we told him that the Three-Self Church is more of a political organization than a church, which contradicted our beliefs in many ways. He asked us if we would register directly with the government without joining the Three-Self Church, and we reached a consensus.

We agreed to cancel the baptism and dine together at the site instead. The government, on the other hand, agreed to grant us the legal documents. Long Defang, director of the provincial religious affairs bureau, promised us on behalf of the government that although Huoshi Church in Guiyang could not apply for the registration of juristic persons because of current policies, we could still legitimize our gathering place. He asked us to submit the application as soon as possible while he reported to the provincial standing committee.

During July 2013, we filled out the application materials according to the government’s requirements, but the city’s religious affairs bureau and the provincial religious affairs bureau kept asking for supplementary materials and used all kinds of excuses to delay our registration. We found Director Long in private, and he explained that a few government departments still could not understand us. He promised that he would try his best to persuade them and accelerate the application process. The rental contract expired in March 2014, and the landlord refused to keep renting to us. We had to move to the Huaguo Garden and again report to the related religious ethnic and religious departments and the public security department.

On Nov. 8 2014, we moved to a site that we purchased with a mortgage. The day before (Nov. 7), many departments of the city’s government and the provincial [government] departments found us and forbade us to hold religious activities. The Nanming District Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau issued a notice shutting down our church. Because of our persistence, the government allowed us to dine and sing on that day, as long as we did not organize any religious activities.

On Nov. 8, 2014, police surrounded the entire church building, including special police, ambulances and fire trucks. The government’s cars were parked from building number 3 of the International Center all the way to the restaurant we booked, about one kilometer. Many of the guests we invited were locked at home and could not attend the gathering. The district, municipal, and provincial ethnic and religious affairs bureaus issued an ultimatum to the two pastors. The director of the ethnic affairs committee (Director Long Defang was transferred to the provincial Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference) told us that Huoshi Church could either join the Three-Self Church and seek the government’s refuge or be banned. The pastors insisted that the church could not become a part of the Three-Self Church. Although the previous government promised that the church did not have to merge with the official church, the current ethnic and religious affairs bureau took a tough stance and differentiated themselves from the previous government, determined to manage religions with law. From then on, the hard days of Huoshi Church in Guiyang began. The government officials often interrupted the regular gatherings, sometimes cutting off the building’s power supply. The police frequently intruded and demanded [the Christians show] ID cards. Many believers were pressured both by their companies and family members and could not attend the regular meetings. The neighborhood committee dispatched workers to persuade the church members to quit. The government workers even spread the rumor among the family members of the believers that Huoshi Church was an anti-government cult.

The church tried to communicate with the ethnic and religious affairs bureau and relevant departments, and the officials explained that it was because some of their subordinates did not understand religions.

Under the pressure, some believers chose to leave, but the larger number of church members persisted.

The government started the rumor that the church was under the control of foreign power and that the pastors were American spies. They also said that the pastors extorted donation money from believers and used the money to buy big country houses. In actuality, the church committee publicized financial details every week; the salaries of the pastors were also discussed publicly during conferences. The long-term members of the church were never influenced by such affairs.

On July 28, 2015, the deacon and church accountant Zhang Xiuhong, was secretly arrested under the church building after finishing her work. All the financial records of the church were confiscated by the public security bureau (the finances of the church were transparent from the first day).

The government charged Zhang Xiuhong with the crime of illegally operating business, but she was mostly questioned on affairs concerning the Huoshi Church during the interrogations. On Aug. 10, 2015, the public security bureau illegally froze a church account opened under Pastor Su’s name with 540,000 yuan ($79,000 USD) inside and another account under Wang Hongwu’s name with more than 100,000 yuan ($14,700 USD) inside. The accounts are still frozen to this day. On Dec. 9, 2015, during a church prayer session, the Guiyang Municipal Ethnic and Religious Bureau and the Nanming District Ethnic and Religious Bureau issued a prohibition notice, formally banning Huoshi Church. More than 100 believers were forced to stay at home when the church was searched and property was confiscated. Pastor Yang Hua was taken away from the church, detained, arrested, and sentenced two years in prison with the charge of “divulging state secrets.”

Meanwhile, Jinyang Church and Jiuju Church were banned and the churches’ property was confiscated. According to informed sources, the government dispatched 6,000 police officers to raid the churches. A large number of believers were brought to the police station, and several of them were detained. On Dec. 14, the government secretly subpoenaed Pastor Su Tianfu with the criminal charge of “divulging state secrets.” Pastor Su was interrogated all night long and bailed out on the morning of Dec. 15. Sister Wang Yao and Brother Yu Lei were also arrested with the charge of “divulging state secrets,” and were detained at the detention center for more than a year, and sentenced to a year-and-a-half in prison and received a two-year probations (The so-called secret was that Guiyang established an illegal command center to monitor and handle Huoshi church. This command center released a so-called document that contains how it will persecute Huoshi church. Sister Wang Yao saw it and passed it on to Yu Lei. Yu Lei showed it to Pastor Yang Hua and Pastor Su Tianfu. The foreign media exposed this document’s use of political methods to suppress the church). Some of the church members were forced to move, some were forced to resign, some were forced to “travel,” some were “invited to have a cup of tea,” some disappeared, some were summoned, some were detained, some were not allowed to leave the country, and some were constantly followed. The methods the government used to persecute the house churches far exceeded the wildest imagination.

On Sept. 13, 2016, the Nanming District Court issued an enforcement notice that the church should pay a 220,000 yuan ($32,000 USD) fine to the city management brigade since the church members changed the original purpose of the house. The Nanming District Court issued another enforcement notice on Oct.18, 2016, seizing Su Tianfu’s private estate and cars belonging to Liang Xuewu and Zhang Xiuhong’s cars, since the church failed to hand in the fine.

On May 19, 2017, at 7:32 p.m., a year and a half after banning Huoshi Church in Guiyang, four officials from the Nanming District Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau came to Pastor Su Tianfu’s house to announce an administrative penalty notice. The officials wanted to collect a 7,053,710 yuan ($1,037,000 USD) fine from the so-called illegal religious activities. The announcement was ridiculous, because the church committee alone, not the pastors, was responsible for the finances. The committee determined the pastors’ monthly salary, not the other way around. Second, the Huoshi Church did not have much money left after subtracting daily expenses; the committee was not capable of paying the 7 million yuan fine. The government’s intention was so conspicuous that everyone knew that the fine was only another excuse to persecute the church.

A while ago, the officials told many church members that the government was about to manage the church properties and encouraged the believers to cooperate with the government’s actions.

Millions of Chinese house churches are in the exact same situation as our church. There are also millions of churches that purchased their own gathering places, just like us.

The government has deemed Huoshi Church illegal for more than two years, but the officials failed to find any evidence. Why does the government portray us as an imaginary “hostile force”? After the fall of Shouwang Church in Beijing, Huoshi Church in Guiyang became another victim of full-on government persecution. The government assigned every department and used every method possible to suppress Huoshi Church. Just as the demolition of church crosses in Zhejiang became the template for the reformation of Three-Self Churches, the suppression of Huoshi Church was a threat for all house churches.

The suppression Huoshi Church suffered is a perfect example of all house churches’ suffering nowadays: political movements, legal persecution, administrative interruption, and economic extortion. The current condition of Huoshi Church may become the future of most Chinese house churches. Paying attention to Huoshi Church equals paying attention to your own future. Praying for Huoshi Church equals praying for all unregistered Chinese churches that are in constant danger of being charged and persecuted. We hope the churches all over the world will pray for us.

Amos 5:24 “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”—Amos 5:24

ChinaAid Media Team
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