Photo: Members of Early Rain Church waiting outside the Yongquan Police Station for summoned Christians (ChinaAid source)
(Sichuan province, China—March 14, 2023) Leading up to a violent raid on Early Rain Covenant Church on March 12, authorities harassed the church for nearly nine days.
March 5: canceled venue
On March 5, Early Rain Covenant Church’s in-person Sunday service was once again forcibly dispersed. Police pressured the owner of their venue to cancel the reservation. The owner claimed a water pipe burst, and the venue was therefore unavailable. The second venue, a farmhouse, hosted Early Rain’s service. Nonetheless, this gathering was still raided by the police during worship.
Early Rain members dispersed peacefully after singing hymns and praying. Authorities took four Christians to the Yongquan Police Station. They were released a few hours later. Guards stood outside the homes of Elder Li Yingqiang and other long-term church leaders, keeping them from leaving their homes.
Photo: National security outside the window monitoring the Early Rain Sunday service (ChinaAid source)
Not surprised by persecution
Early Rain Covenant Church was not surprised by the persecution of the Sunday service, because the authorities closely watched many church leaders the week prior. Several church members were summoned to the police station or were forced to move out of their homes. In other cases, police blocked their doors, cut off water and electricity, and punctured car tires. However, everyone still regarded worshiping God as the most important aspect of their lives.
Crackdown in 2018
Since the massive crackdown on Early Rain Covenant Church in December 2018 by Chengdu police, the church has been banned and the houses it bought were confiscated by the government. Pastor Wang Yi was sentenced to nine years in prison, and Elder Qin Defu was sentenced to four years in prison. Other staff and members of the church have since been followed, driven out of Chengdu, threatened, beaten, or summoned.
Early Rain could not meet in person for a long period after the crackdown. They divided into small groups, and members of each small group participate in online worship at members’ homes. Even so, the church faced constant persecution.
For the past four years
In the past four years, Early Rain insisted on public Sunday worship. At the beginning of this year, the church resumed full-scale, in-person worship. Church leaders worked together and rented large meeting rooms in various hotels. Every Sunday, nearly two hundred people gathered for public worship. All the services were held in a peaceful and orderly manner.
Photo: Early Rain Covenant Church was forcibly dismantled on Sunday (ChinaAid source)
But good times did not last long. On the eve of the Two Sessions of the Communist Party of China at the end of February, Early Rain Covenant Church once again was targeted and was subjected to “large-scale stability maintenance.” Police contacted several church leaders, members, and catechumens of the church on the evening of February 24. Authorities verified each person’s participation in the previous Sunday service.
More than five members received calls from the police, asking them to go to the police station for questioning after work or on the next day. On Tuesday afternoon, the police also came to the residence of Elder Li Yingqiang in Chengdu to “register and confirm” his residence. Four to five members reported that community workers came to their doors and asked them to register “important information.” In addition, starting from February 24, community personnel were posted in front of Pastor Wu Wuqing and Deacon Ge Yingfeng’s homes.
Photo: Chinese police punctured Early Rain member Shu Qiong’s tires (ChinaAid source)
February 25: threatened not to attend church
On February 25, some church staff and members received calls from the police or were visited by community personnel. Chinese police tried to persuade or threatened them to not attend a Sunday gathering. A couple from the church were summoned by the police. After being admonished and intimidated by the police, authorities asked the couple to promise not to attend the Early Rain gatherings. They could not make that promise, so police held them at the station until 1 AM.
Elder Li Yingqiang held in Deyang
On the afternoon of the 25th, Elder Li Yingqiang held a wedding ceremony for a couple in the Deyang location. Many believers from the church attended the wedding, and the event went smoothly. Afterward, Elder Li Yingqiang returned to his home to pack some clothes, but Deyang State Security immediately stopped Elder Li, saying he was not allowed to leave until the end of the Two Sessions on March 15. They allowed Li’s wife and children to leave.
Preacher Dai Zhichao
In addition, Preacher Dai Zhichao was once again house detained by the police and street community members. Shen Bing and his wife, team leaders of the Dayi small group, were also interviewed by the police and officials of the Political and Legal Committee. Police interviewed Deputy Deacon Zeng Qingtao on Monday. Deputy Deacon Chen Zhibin also received a call from the police, asking to talk to him at 9 AM on February 26. Deputy Deacon Jia Xuewei received a call from the United Front Work Department of Jinjiang District on his mobile phone two days ago, but he did not answer it. These events show that the police in Chengdu is very aware of the situation of the church and have focused on suppressing the church’s Sunday gatherings.
February 26: Successful turnout
Despite the absence of countless leaders, more than 100 members of Early Rain came and worshipped in person, and another 100 participated in the online live broadcast. Elder Li Yingqiang, detained in Deyang, preach his sermon unhindered. He preached his sermon from 2 Corinthians 2:12-17:
“When we are led to death, the life of the gospel will be manifested in many people. When we are driven by the world and considered weak, the power of the gospel will be manifested in our weakness.”
Elder Li’s family threatened
As Elder Li preached, many policemen and unknown persons took his wife, Zhang Xinyue, and their two children from their rented home in Chengdu. They demanded that Elder Li’s family leave Chengdu immediately. Police even threatened to take action to force them to leave. Community personnel came to send Zhang Xinyue, Elder Li’s wife, and the children back to Deyang.
Photo: Chinese authorities continued to harass Early Rain Elder Li Yingqiang by puncturing his electric scooter tire (ChinaAid source)
“We only have one law”
A national security officer of the Chengdu Public Security Bureau asked Zhang Xinyue, “Do you feel tired after dealing with us all these years?” Zhang Xinyue said she wasn’t tired. The officer said, “Even in the United States, you can’t do this. Don’t you all take American beliefs as your orthodox beliefs?” She responded, “We have only one law, which is the law of heaven.”
“Your church has been banned for 18 years,” the officer continued, “but you have been active and breaking the law,” Zhang told the authorities that if Early Rain broke the law, the officers are free to follow their laws. But members of Early Rain are willing to pay the price for their faith.
Interrogated and asked to move
At the police station, the questions were mainly about the gathering on February 19. Zhang Xinyue refused to answer anything except her basic personal information (name, ID card, age, etc.) and whether she had religious beliefs. The authorities continued to harass her by saying that she claimed to be a Christian but did not tell the truth. Zhang Xinyue corrected them, refusing to answer was not giving false testimony.
After the interviews were completed, the police allowed Zhang and her children to return to Deyang. They asked Zhang and Elder Li Yingqiang to move out of their apartment and leave Chengdu. When she replied that they would not move, national security agents began to threaten her.
Photo: Early Rain Deacon Xiao Luobiao Fu was summoned to the police station (ChinaAid source)
Deacon Xiao Luobiao Fu unable to leave home
On the morning of February 26, Deacon Xiao Luobiao Fu’s family was detained at home and not allowed to go out. He wrote an account of what transpired:
“When we were about to go out in the morning, around 6 people (a man and a woman, two official policemen, two auxiliary policemen, and community and property personnel) blocked us at the door and did not allow us to go out. The other party declared: the Early Rain Church Sunday meeting is an illegal meeting. You are not allowed to go!
During this period, Chen Yan’s [his wife’s] mobile phone was snatched by the other party, causing her to lose control of her emotions. Later, I eased the atmosphere and asked the police to give me the mobile phone, and he gave it to me.
The police threatened to summon me to the police station to investigate the situation of the last Sunday meeting. I said that last time all five of my family went together to the station for questioning. If I had to go today, the whole family would go too. Unexpectedly, the other party softened and said that they will summon me another time.
Then I said I was going to buy breakfast, but I was not allowed. So the police arranged for people from the community to buy it for us. We chatted with them until about 9 o’clock, and we had no choice but to attend Sunday worship at home.
At around noon, all the staff withdrew and left, leaving only a smell of cigarettes at the door. “
Locked doors and flat tires
On the afternoon of February 27th, Xiao Luobiao and his wife found that someone blocked the keyhole to their front door. The next day, Mrs. Xiao pulled out three nails from the tires of her electric car. She went with two Early Rain members to the property center and asked them to check the surveillance tapes. After a day of no progress with police or the property managers, the director of the local police station interrogated her on her religious beliefs and background.
Director Shi of the Jiujiang Police Station hoped that they would move away; he threatened that they are trying to be “courteous” first but would resort to violence if necessary. Shu Qiong, one of the women who accompanied Mrs. Xiao, said that it is impossible for Early Rain to move.
Regarding the punctured tires, Director Shi joked that it was a way of “dealing with hooligans with hooligans.”
Photo: Deacon Xiao Lubiao’s front door is blocked with a nail (ChinaAid source)
Shut off water and electricity
In the evening of the same day, Xiao Luobiao called the lock company to open their front door. After going inside, he found that there was no electricity or water in the house. He started calling property management, the mayor’s hotline, the police station, the power company, and the water plant. A technician arrived over, and he found out that one of the fuses in the meter box had been taken away. The water bill reading was also abnormal.
The property company of Languang Changdao International Community did not help to deal with it after learning about it. The authorities coerced the technician and company not to solve the issues.
Cry for help
Xiao Luobiao posted a message in the tenant group but was immediately kicked out of the group by the group leader. So he continued to send messages in another tenant group chat managed by a fellow tenant. His messages were followed by a flood of profanity and abuse. Brothers and sisters in the church brought them water and food so that they could live normal lives.
Deacon Xiao Lubiao responds to Early Rain’s help
Xiao Luobiao said,
“Although the other party wants to take away our peace (blocking our door) and material comfort (water and electricity cutoff), the loving Lord encourages brothers and sisters who are members of the same body to come and love us so earnestly that we may want nothing.”
March 3: Dai Zhichao
On March 3, Dai Zhichao went out to drop off his children but was stopped by guards around his house. The guard did not listen to any reason and used brute force to enforce the law. He said that the government would not let Dai Zhichao go out. Dai Zhichao posted on social media:
“The word ‘government’ has been infinitely magnified as if anyone standing in front of us can represent the government and justice; as if we are street rats, and everyone can be punished. May the Lord have mercy on this country. May God also have mercy on me and my family and help us feel safe in the Lord because this is the world of the Father.”
Services as usual
After discussion among church leaders, on March 5th, the Early Rain Covenant Church’s Sunday service was scheduled to continue as usual. The church leaders who were not restricted in their freedom went to the second farmhouse early in the morning and immediately notified the brothers and sisters to to go the new location for worship. The Sunday gathering was held online and offline, and the worship time was postponed from the regular 9:00 to 9:50. More than 100 believers sang and prayed together on site, and more than 100 people online worship.
Police arrive on March 5
A dozen police officers and plainclothes and national security officers soon came to the scene to negotiate, hoping that the church would disperse immediately. But the church staff refused their orders and kept the order and safety of the entire meeting. Two plainclothes policemen said that they might take all of them away today. Everyone still listened to the sermon in silence.
The church held a complete Sunday service. Pastor Wang Yi’s sermon “All Speak the Same Thing” twelve years ago seemed to be speaking to the current situation. The sermon mentioned the situation of Shouwang Church, of them worshiping outdoors. This is happening to Early Rain Church today. Preacher Ding Shuqi led the onsite, while Preacher Dai Zhichao preached online. Elder Li Yingqiang gave the blessing and benediction, and brothers and sisters prayed and sang praise persistently.
Authorities watch Early Rain
This scene caused all the plainclothes police officers who had been holding cellphones and law enforcement cameras to record the video in silence. The venue was a solemn and joyful atmosphere.
Early Rain disperses
Due to pressure from the police, the farmhouse where the meeting was held could not receive their pre-booked meals. Early Rain dispersed safely after singing hymns and praying. Hao Guiru, Lan Kai, Zhang Haiyan, a new member Xu Jiachun and her three-year-old child were taken to the police station by the police. They were part of the welcoming staff. All of them were released around 2 PM.
Church leaders who were restricted to their homes or harassed on March 5th:
Elder Li Yingqiang, Preacher Dai Zhichao, Preacher Wu Wuqing, Deputy Deacon Zeng Qingtao, Deputy Deacon Fan Hailing, Deputy Deacon Chen Zhibin, Shen Bing, Shen Xiaoqing, Pan Fei.
Among these, Preacher Dai Zhichao and Preacher Wu Wuqing were guarded 24/7 since the morning of March 3. Elder Li Yingqiang was restricted from going to Chengdu in Deyang, and the tires of his electric car were punctured.
Members affected by persecution:
In addition, to avoid being guarded, Deputy Deacon Xiao Luobiao left home early the night before and was able to attend Sunday worship. Recently, Deputy Deacon Xiao Luobiao’s family was frequently cut off from electricity and water. Shu Qiong’s two car tires were punctured. Deputy Deacon Jia Xuewei was called by the police in turn. Furthermore, probably due to pressures from the police, both landlords of blind Christian Ma Taibing and new churchgoer Liang Zhongyuan stated that they could no longer rent the house to them after the contract expire.
Unfortunately for Early Rain Covenant Church, the persecution and raiding continued the next week on March 12. Read more about that service here.
~Yu Bing, Special Correspondent of ChinaAid