Early Rain Covenant Church–They passed through the valley of tears: Part 1

Li Yingqiang
(Photo: ChinaAid)

Li Yingqiang: the “Alien”

ChinaAid note: This is part one of an article written by ChinaAid correspondent Yu Ren regarding the persecution of Early Rain Covenant Church.

During December, the season of Advent, Christians throughout the world look forward to Christmas. Christians in Jiangxin Building in Chengdu welcomed this day of universal jubilation in a unique way, which they had practiced for several years.

By the afternoon of Dec. 10, 2018, however, hundreds of Christians, including pastors, elders and fellow workers, had unexpectedly lost contact with each other. Below the Jiangxin Building, the location of Early Rain Covenant Church, police cars and trucks had lined up. Police officers methodically removed all books, audio/video products, and other assets from the church. Police also transported a primary school student attending the church’s school to the police station for questioning. Police officials then deployed officers to the doors of each of the more than 500 congregation members’ homes.

At 5:00 p.m. on Dec. 10, the fleeing elder Li Yingqiang sent an open letter to his friends on Facebook, encouraging them to be ready to bear the persecution that had arrived. He said, “Thank you, Lord. The Lord has rewarded us with this Dec. 9 persecution [Editor’s note: The arrests began on the evening of Dec. 10] at the end of 2018. Using words of the apostle Peter, Li Yingqiang exhorted church members, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13). On behalf of the church, Li Yingqiang again stressed the bottom line of uncompromising faith in the face of coercion and persecution. The Early Rain Covenant Church will neither register with the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA), nor join the Three-Self Church [Editor’s note: This is China’s national, state-run church]. Even if outdoors, the church will worship openly, unless each person in the church loses their freedom.

Li Yingqiang told the still free elders to take up the responsibility of shepherding the entire church. “Group gathering is the bottom line of the church. If there is a little chance for the whole church to worship together, we will never return to group worship. And if our worship in group gatherings in the Christian homes is also disturbed, we are willing to pay a greater price to witness the reversal power of the Gospel in our lives. We are willing to have the police arrest and lock up 200, 300 or even 500 people. We will let the world know we are willing to be so persecuted for the sake of faith.”

The original Chinese version
of this letter.
(Photo: ChinaAid)
How should the church face persecution?

Dear brothers and sisters, deacons and colleagues,

Thanks to our Lord. While 2018 draws to a close, He enables us to experience the Dec. 9 mass persecution as a gift.

From yesterday evening to mid-day today, more than 100 pastors, elders, deacons, brothers and sisters have been taken away. We do not know their whereabouts. Even if we knew, there would be little we could do to help. Nevertheless, we are thankful to know that they must be in the light of God, under the care of God’s sovereign grace. It is good to know that our Lord will be with them while they suffer in bondage.

The apostle Peter once said, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you” (1 Peter 4:12-14).

Dear brothers and sisters, are you rejoicing? Are you rejoicing because this church is suffering with Christ? Do you know that we are blessed? Poor as we are, the Lord has opened up treasures of grace to us. We, the weak, are to receive the heavenly consolation God has bestowed upon us. We, the blind, will receive the light from Christ our Lord. Our brothers and sisters fighting the war of the Gospel on the front line of the battle will earn a spiritual fortune.

Thank the Lord for choosing us; thank the Lord for His edification through His Word; thank the Lord for providing us with continual training; thank the Lord for today’s persecution upon us. May the Lord bestow upon you great joy and true hope, so that we are strengthened by relying on Him.

What will happen in a couple of days? What will happen in a week? Neither do we know. Just as He turns dew into frost, rain into snow, and lets the fragrance of plum blossoms spread even in extreme cold, these days are in God’s hands. We are in the hands of God. How wonderful if we can spread the fragrance of the Gospel in the midst of our sufferings and hardships.

Dear brothers and sisters, next, we may have to face the constant state of persecution.

Three years ago, the formal persecution of Huoshi Church in Guiyang officially started. Authorities took the brothers and sisters, one-by-one, from their homes. Several police officers and community workers were deployed to control one church member and disbanded the small groups this way. How are we to cope with this? Based on the emergency plans the deacons’ board prepared, we must:

1. While waiting for the consecutive release of the pastor, elders who have not lost their freedom should assume the responsibility to shepherd the whole church. If Pastor Wang Yi is not released in 48 hours, the still-free elders shall, according to the order previously decided, lead the church during the next stage.

2. No matter what happens, Early Rain Covenant Church shall not change its previously declared faith, nor shall it ever abandon its path of being a public church.

We will not change our steadfastly maintained position that the government and church must be separated; that the fine spiritual traditions of the house

church on the path of the cross in China must be followed. We will not register with SARA nor will we join the Three-Self Church.

3. We will not give up our church easily and backtrack to small group gatherings. Regardless of who will lead the church, we will endeavour to go back to the church God has bestowed to us. No paper strip seals nor detentions will shake our determination to return to our church. Unless all elders, those missionaries who can lead the church in public worship, and Bible college students lose their freedom, we will never backtrack to small group gatherings. If we cannot access the church, we can rent another place. If we cannot worship indoors, we can worship outdoors.

Although small group gatherings remain our bottom line, if the slightest hope to worship as one congregation exists, we will not backtrack to small group worship. If our worship in small groups or in the homes of brothers and sisters is interfered with as well, we would like to sacrifice more to testify the overturning power of the Gospel in our life. We are willing to see that 200, 300, or 500 people are seized and detained by them. Let the entire world know that we are volunteering to be harassed and persecuted for the sake of the faith.

Dear brothers and sisters, I am writing this letter to you on my way as a “fugitive.” May you be full of joy because of the Gospel of Christ. Be prepared to receive a heavier cross, and a harder life, however, with hope.

Christ is Lord. Grace is king. Carry the cross and revive the Gospel— the vision of Early Rain Covenant Church. May all of us receive and treasure this vision. May we practice this vision of sharing and reviving the Gospel. May we live out this vision during these times of persecution.

Elder Yingqiang, who loves you all.

On the afternoon of December 10, 2018 

Li Yingqiang with his family.
(Photo: ChinaAid)
On Facebook, Li Yingqiang forwarded photos of police arresting, threatening and assaulting Christians. He also recorded a video the church later released on its Facebook account. In the video, speaking with a low-pitched voice with no sign of anger, Li Yingqiang appears to be unusually calm; giving the impression that an unseen, powerful force was leading him.

The next day, he sent the message: “I guess I’ve been found.” Soon afterwards, a netizen added a message beneath Li Yingqiang’s message, saying “he has already been criminally detained.” Another netizen added, “As the world hears about your courage and your faith, thousands of people are praying for you.”

Following the mass media reporting of the “709” lawyer’s arrest in 2015, out of all the targeting of Christians in China, this “12.9” mass arrest happened [Editor’s note: “709” refers to July 9, 2015, when China began a nationwide campaign to arrest lawyers. “12.9” is named for Dec. 9, 2018, when about 100 Early Rain Covenant Church members were taken into custody]. Li Yingqiang, 40, born in rural Hubei Province, holds a master’s degree in economics from Peking University. A former liberalist and founder of Liren Rural Library and Liren University, two non-governmental educational institutions, his path of faith simultaneously appears ordinary yet extraordinary. In the seven years Li Yingqiang lived in Beijing, he wrote articles, gathered information, chatted and criticized the ruling party with friends, who, like him, cherished the ideal of helping the world day by day; fantasizing about the one-day arrival of a democratic society.

One day, Li Yingqiang suddenly realized that the kind of life he lived had no effect on social change. “I see my friends, whose names are written in books and newspapers. known as first-class individuals in China as well as the conscience of China, yet when I interact with them in real life, I find that they send their children to public schools as well as the best schools. When they eat at the table, if a waiter pours water a little slower, they may shout out, “Waiter, what’s the matter?” I see that these who claim to save China lack responsibility for their own wives and children; that their marriages are broken.

In 2007, driven by Zhang Xinyue, his wife, to pursue a higher sense of meaning, Li Yingqiang and she left Beijing to return to their hometown in Hubei Province. Here, they established the first rural library in Liren. In 2008, after reading the book, The Mounts Tremble at Fraternity —Wilberforce and his Clapham Group, Li Yingqiang humbled himself and repented in front of God. The first page of the book reads: “Christians do not love the world, not to escape from it, but to enter into it and testify for their God.” These simple words touched Li Yingqiang’s heart, and tears flooded his face. At noon the next day, he and his wife determined to believe in the Lord.

Just as the rural school Li Yingqiang had established began to flourish, the church called him to serve full-time. In June 2014, he handed all business matters of the Liren University to others and began to serve Early Rain Covenant Church full-time as a preacher. He also participated in the preparation of Huaxi Covenant College of Humanities and devoted himself to cultivating free as well as liberal education talents for the church and for Christ. In September, state officials completely closed the Liren institution down and summoned many volunteers to imprison them. Li Yingqiang, exempt from this event, lost his household registration, which in turn, caused his house to became a “black” household.

When church members have talked about him, they have often said, “Li Yingqiang has no household registration and no money. He lives in a very small rental house with two children, but he is happy each day.”

Li Yingqiang, a short-statured man, dresses in plain clothes and carries a peddler’s schoolbag throughout the year. Nevertheless, as he walks down the bustling streets of Chengdu, he appears powerful. When he walks, he exhibits extraordinary strength. His eyes and his words, however, appear even more powerful than his steps. He portrays the kind of person who draws instant respect the moment he speaks. After several years of life in the church, Li Yingqiang realized the meaning of The Mounts Tremble at Fraternity, the book that initiated his faith as well as strengthens his commitment to the covenant community. His preaching and his sermons are typical of Puritanism, without exaggeration and ostentation, with enthusiasm; sharing each message as if it were his last sermon. Some of his words, like steel balls thrown on the ground, bounce back to hearts, reverberating within those who heard him.

Li Yingqiang said, “In this evil generation, it is shameful for Christians not to go to prison.” While he worked in Liren, many of his colleagues were arrested, but he has not even drunk tea. As soon as he arrived at the church, Li Yingqiang began to frequently go inside and out of the police station. He said, “In a society of suffering, Christians should take the initiative to bear the hardship.” On May 30, 2015, to prevent one of the church lectures, the government locked Li Yingqiang in the police station for an entire day. On June 4, police again took him away. Since then, every year on [days deemed sensitive by the Communist Party] he has experienced this same scenario. Li Yingqiang regards these experiences as demonstrations of the grace of God. He said, “In the language of economics, the world likes to accumulate treasure on the earth and pursue the economics of paradise lost. Christians, however, need to accumulate treasure in Heaven and pursue the economics of Heaven.”

In 2018, members of the Early Rain Covenant Church, including Li Yingqiang, clearly marked their Christian calendars to note that year, the year the church ordained him as an elder. At the beginning of the year, Li Yingqiang asked his friends about things to note about the detention center. In the first half of 2018, he and pastor Wang Yi wrote and assigned a full power of attorney to Lawyer Zhang Peihong and entrusted him to organize a lawyer’s group to defend the Early Rain Covenant Church members who lost their freedom. The month of praying for the country proved eventful. On the night of May 11, police took Li Yingqiang away for an entire day, accusing him of “internet provocation and trouble making.” On May 28, he, Pastor Wang Yi, and church colleagues took the Gospel sheet titled “We Don’t Hate” to the police station to inquire why officials had insulted and beaten Song Enguang earlier. Police officers treated these men roughly that day. On the afternoon of June 4, as police orchestrated a raid on the church, several police officers assaulted Li Yingqiang….

During a seminar sharing how to deal with the persecution, Li Yingqiang said, “Our family has been ready for a long time … I was ready when I previously worked in the organization. Although my wife had also been preparing, she was not really ready until June 4. On the morning of the 5th, when I came out of the police station, she wrote a poem specifically for this occasion. She said, ‘This time, I really handed you over to the Lord.’ The day before yesterday, I told my wife, who’s clearer about the situation than me, that we might have to prepare for the worst. We can’t bet on our luck. Before I finished, she said, ‘The worst I can prepare for is nothing more than that you are killed in prison, killed and martyred. So, we are ready to go to jail.’”

I have made it clear to my wife that she will have to prepare for me not to come back. “If you anticipate me coming back,” I said, “you will have to wait. And one day you will be very disappointed with God. But if you are prepared at the beginning that I will not come back, it will be the grace of the Lord if I come back. But it is also the grace of the Lord if do not come back.”

Li Yingqiang recorded a video for his child four months before his imprisonment. “Carlson, little brother [Editor’s note: Chinese Christians often refer to each other as “brother” or “sister.” As a result, Li is calling his son “little brother” because they are both Christians], Dad loves you. Dad may not be back for many nights. I’m going to a place you don’t know, but God wants me to go. I don’t know what that place looks like. If God lets me go, I will go. I’m like a working man sent on a business trip … Every day, Dad will pray for God to give you a good blessing. Dad will ask God to send an angel to bring this blessing to you. Dad prays for you every day. Prayer is the best gift Dad will ever give you.”

Li Yingqiang and Zhang Xinyue agreed that if he were arrested, they would pray at the same time at five o’clock every afternoon. They believed that God would hear the prayers they each prayed and would send reassurances to both of them After leaving prison, Li Yingqiang said that his best experience in the prison was to come to God at five o’clock every day and pray with his family outside the prison. He said, “this experience even made me feel the days in the detention center were not that hard. I did not feel that I had been separated from my wife and children for too long. Rather, at five o’clock every afternoon, I felt as if I were with my family, with the church, and with Jesus Christ.” Later, he wrote a poem Five O’Clock in the Afternoon in China.

Officials charged Li Yingqiang with “provocation and trouble making” and imprisoned him in the Chengdu Detention Center for nine months before sending him back to his hometown on bail. In prison, he said that he deeply experienced the presence of God. He prayed 12 times while fasting for his prison friends and for the police. At first, due to stomach trouble, he could only try to fast for one day. Two months later, after he found that prison meals cured his stomach disease, he boldly began two days of fasting prayer. One Sunday night, he decided to pray while on a five-day fast for the salvation of the souls of 38 inmates and police officers in the prison. He stood up and said, “Everyone, you all have watched a show on TV every day called ‘Challenge the Impossible.’ I want to show you a real-life version of ‘Challenge the Impossible.’ Have you ever seen someone alive without eating for five days?”

Those he talked to said that they had not seen this … Yingqiang told them that he had decided to accept this challenge. “But it’s not a hunger strike,” he said,” It’s a fasting prayer.”

His fellow inmates doubted him, and the police threatened to handcuff and shackle him for 15 days. “Do you know what it is for Christians to wear shackles and handcuffs?” he asked. “The Bible calls this person an emissary with a chain. It is great that I can get such a good honor. Please give it to me.” For the first five days in handcuffs and shackles, Yingqiang, felt weak and could not sleep. “But the spirit of God is with me,” he said, “and He has greatly helped me. Do you think I’m happy or sad?” he asked.

His cellmates nicknamed Yingqiang “alien.” Guards also called him by this name. Several drug addicts said that after they got out of prison, they wanted to find him and the church.

After authorities released Yingqiang from prison, photos of him, his wife, and their children were circulated on the internet. Those seeing the pictures found that he had not changed except for his thinner stature. Just like Daniel and his friends who did not eat the king’s meal, the vegetable cooked in plain water, which he ate daily, kept him handsome. He wrote on his own media page, “Pastor Wang Yi said that Christians show the freedom of soul through the suffering and obedience of the body. So he believed, and so he said. So he said, and so he did. Now in his freedom, he has his Lord with him. What can we pray for him? I would prefer, however, that Pastor Wang Yi pray for us, because there is a risk lurking in our body’s little freedom, and we even risk damage to our soul. May the Lord help us.”

“Lord, may you have mercy on the Chinese Church,” Yingqian prayed, “so that we do not ask you why you don’t save us, but rather ask, ‘Lord, what is your beautiful plan behind the bitter cup?’ Lord, if you cleanse and purify the Chinese Church, let it be today. Please give us a bounty of grace and confidence so that we may live through a barren and dark era”.

The original Chinese
version of this letter.
(Photo: ChinaAid)

May the Lord have mercy on the churches in China

Oh, Lord Jesus! Oh, Lord Jesus!

Please have mercy on the churches in China!

1. 1,400 years, 1,400 years, sowing in tears, irrigating in blood, gardens have become desolate, and fruit scattered,

2. Many a soul, many a soul, in a queue walking towards degeneration, day and night, like an ever-flowing river,

3. Masses, masses having no knowledge, bewildered and aimless, lured by worldly fame and gains.

1. Thistles growing, thorns running wild. When will the bleakness of God’s temple end?

2. Devils rampant, heathens everywhere, God’s Gospel falls on deaf ears.

3. Infidels disturbing, errors prevailing. Who will demonstrate God’s righteousness?

Fire of the Holy Spirit, Fire of the Holy Spirit, may You burn the churches in China!

Burning thistles, burning thorns, releasing millions and millions of bound souls.  – By Li Yingqiang, February 2019, Chengdu Detention Center
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