A number of Christians from a heavily persecuted protestant megachurch in China have been detained after being caught engaging in an Easter worship service on Zoom.
Several key members of Early Rain Covenant Church were arrested in their homes on April 12 as they attended a virtual service during which they listened to a sermon by their imprisoned leader, Pastor Wang Yi. Early Rain has not met in person since December 2018, when its building was raided and the congregation subjected to mass arrests. Though many elders and members have since been released from custody, Wang Yi has remained behind bars; at the end of last year, he was sentenced to nine years in prison.
Church members told International Christian Concern (ICC) of the moment officers from the Public Security Bureau stormed the homes of six ministry leaders as they worshipped together.
One member said: "At that time I was also in the Zoom call, but there was a long period of time where I did not hear a thing. I thought it’s the network connection issue at first, but I soon heard a quarrel erupt. Our co-worker Wang Jun was questioning some people, [saying], ‘Who are you to do this [to us]?’”
In addition to Wang, a number of other leaders were detained, including Guo Haigang, Wu Wuqing, Jia Xuewei, Zhang Jianqing and Zhang Xudong.
A supporter of ERCC revealed some details of the incident on Twitter, “Since 8:30 a.m., some security officials have entered these Christian families’ homes and pretended to be chatting with them casually. At 9:30 a.m., the worship began, and they were also invited to participate. Once they realised that the sermon was from ERCC’s imprisoned pastor Wang Yi, they immediately shut it down.”
Zhang Jianquing's account recalled what the police said during the incidents: “Don’t participate in already banned [religious] activities anymore! Don’t listen to Pastor [Wang]’s sermons anymore! If you do this again, we will deal with it seriously and take you away!”
One of the targeted individuals had their home power supply cut, while others received intimidating phone calls in which they were told that "police [were] coming to visit them soon".
The six believers have since been released from custody.
Gina Goh, ICC’s Regional Manager for Southeast Asia, said: “It is such a shame that the Chinese government has not once stopped its persecution of ERCC. Ever since the 1209 crackdown in 2018, local authorities have continued to monitor and harass ERCC members, with the hope that the church will disperse itself.
"In a time when the Chinese people are suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic, the heartless regime chose to inflict more trouble on its citizens. The UN should immediately suspend China’s appointment to the Human Rights Council for its lack of respect for human rights.”
Pastor Wang Yi has a history of boldly proclaiming Christ from the pulpit. Shortly before he was arrested, he personally called on President Xi Jinping — who has been waging a years-long campaign of oppression against China's Christians — to repent of his sins.
“When we are not being persecuted, we spread the gospel. And when persecution comes, we continue spreading the gospel,” pastor Yi preached in a 2018 message.
He added: "If we are talking about a President, we declare he is a sinner. And if we are talking about a general secretary, we still declare that he is a sinner. We believe that we have the responsibility to tell Xi Jinping that he is a sinner.”