Joe Woodard, Asia for Life
December 21, 2018
The persecuted churches in China deserve attention right now. I specifically want to share about Early Rain Covenant Church, not only because of its stand of conscience, but also because it is a “pro-life church”. Practically, being “pro-life” in China means that they don’t submit to the Family Planning Policy, and that they help people that have “too many” children. But beyond these basic pro-life commitments, they are conscientiously building a “culture of life”.
I visited the church briefly in 2015 while passing through Chengdu. I very briefly met their well-known pastor, Wang Yi, and also a few other people at the church. Everything about the church impressed me. But I was most impressed by a woman with four children. Having four children is practically impossible in China because of the Family Planning Policy. But because of God’s love, the impossible becomes possible.
Read the full story below.
The church’s former meeting place in an office building in Chengdu.
A majority of China’s 100,000,000 Christians are guilty of attending unregistered church meetings. For many years, the laws about unregistered religious gatherings have not changed. The only difference has been in how strictly the government enforces them.
Every year, leading up to Christmas and Easter, you might hear about police raids at Chinese churches. These big crackdowns discourage churches from holding large gatherings, and discourage a lot of people from going to church altogether.
The government’s efforts to suppress religious belief are continuous, but the recent raids are international news stories because the pastors are well known.
Wang Yi and his wife Jiang Rong have not been heard from since their arrest. Click the video link for a beautiful video montage of all the church members who are currently in detention.
Before he became a Christian, Wang Yi was a respected lawyer and human rights activist. Since his conversion, he has little interest in changing unjust laws. His main concern is fidelity to the Bible’s teaching.
His church has always operated very publicly. Even though he refuses to join the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, Wang Yi welcomes the police to monitor all the church’s activities. They have nothing to hide.
In 2015, I met Wang Yi for about 15 seconds. I knew that he was busy, and that my Mandarin was lousy. So I kept it simple, and just said something like: “Hello, your church is beautiful, I’m praying for you all, God bless you.” I don’t think he said anything besides “Hello” and “Thanks for coming”. That’s what pastors say to everyone.
At that time, I had no idea that he was so well-known in China, and also controversial among Christian leaders, especially because of his attempts to hold a public commemoration of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Although he is involved in so many different activities, these June 4 activities are what got him into the most trouble.
I didn’t know about any of that. But still, when I was introduced to him, I was concerned. I’m embarrassed to say this, but I was hesitant to meet him. It seemed like a security risk somehow, since he was illegally running a large Christian church, seminary, and grade school.
But I immediately felt convicted about my fear.
Photo from Early Rain Covenant Church’s Facebook Page. (Yes, Facebook is blocked in China, but many people know how to access blocked sites.)
In my heart, I felt I should make a decision about my attitude. And I decided that, whatever our differences, this man is my brother in Christ. He is doing his best to be a faithful Christian, and to follow his conscience. Why should I feel nervous about meeting him? Why should I hesitate to join in fellowship with this church, if they’re not hesitating to welcome me? I knew that something in my heart needed to change.
But, I also had the thought…his church would probably be shut down someday, right?
Yes, probably. But EVERY church in China has been shut down by the government at some point.
My brief visit to Early Rain Covenant Church was unplanned. It happened at the last minute, while I was visiting Chengdu. I’m not connected to this church, and since that brief visit, I haven’t communicated with anyone who is in this church.
But I’ll tell you what I experienced that night.
When I arrived at the church meeting place, I was surprised that it was in such a big, open, clearly marked place, inside an office building. The space was huge. How could this be an “underground” church?
I was also surprised that it wasn’t a prayer meeting. Rather, it was a big church gathering, to discuss the integration of ancient Chinese and Western texts into a Christian liberal arts education.
All I could think was, “Are you serious? This is amazing. They have a vision not only to survive, but to thrive, and to build something beautiful for the next generation.”
I met one of the speakers. He was Chinese, probably 30 years old, and he taught Latin and Greek at their “underground” Christian school. I was impressed.
Honestly, I was impressed by everyone I met that night. They were mostly smart young professionals. And they engaged in open discussion of valuable ideas, without any fear.
But they knew this was all illegal. So, why would they go through so much trouble to start their own schools? I actually never asked, but I assume it’s because Chinese public schools teach atheism. Also, it’s important to remember that no Chinese student or teacher is permitted to join in any religious meeting.
The families at Early Rain Covenant Church were building an educational oasis for their children. But last week, the pastor and elders were arrested. And the authorities are threatening to take some of their children away if they don’t put them in public schools.
Click the photo to see ongoing prayer updates in English.
Again, I only attended part of one meeting at this church, and I briefly met several people afterwards. And I doubt anyone at that church remembers me.
But I need to mention the person at that church who impressed me the most. I met a woman who was pregnant with her fourth child.
I’ve been all over China, but I’ve never met a young Chinese family with four children (except for one, at the church I attend in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of China and has separate laws.)
When I met that woman, I felt like I was witnessing a miracle. And she was so happy! But I knew that the only way she could give birth to four children was with the support of a completely counter-cultural church community. She needed a community willing to provide social, emotional, and legal support, and to help pay fines, etc, if necessary.
Jesus said that the world will know we are Christians by the love we have for one another. And that was the biggest takeaway from my brief visit. Only love could have enabled the fearlessness of this Christian community. There are many Christian communities who are willing to disobey China’s religious policy, and who still worship God according to their conscience. Tragically, there are not enough churches that are willing to publicly disobey the Family Planning Policy, which is the greatest human rights violation of the past 40 years.
The woman in the photo above might have been the woman I met after that meeting in 2015, but I’m not sure. As crazy as it sounds, there might actually be another large young family!
Since it’s almost Christmas (and today is the Winter Solstice), I’ll close on a slightly different note. This week I got news about a Muslim woman in China who recently gave birth to quadruplets. Every hospital she went to tried to make her abort. But she met some Christians. She and her four children are safe.
When there is so much darkness and death, only God’s love can light the way. But we can have hope, because of Emmanuel–because God has come to us. It’s fitting that “Emmanuel” (以马内利) is a common greeting among Chinese Christians. No matter what happens, God is with us.
Church buildings will be shut down and Christians will be arrested tomorrow, because it’s Sunday. And then again on Christmas Eve. And then even more on Christmas Day.
But even if every church is shut down, the world will still know who the Christians are because of the love we have for one another. And God’s love makes all things new.
This post is also available in: 繁體中文