An elder at Early Rain Covenant Church in China has been questioned by police after posting about its imprisoned leader Wang Yi.
A year ago, Wang Yi, the pastor of Early Rain in Chengdu, was sent to prison for nine years for 'illegal business activity' after he was detained alongside many of his congregation. Early Rain church is an unregistered Protestant congregation and Wang Yi had spoken about the Communist Party's 'persecution against the church'. Wang Yi was referenced by the MP Iain Duncan Smith in Parliament last week in a debate about China and the church is often used as example of China's treatment of churches.
Another elder from the same church has now been interrogated about his church's activities. Li Yingqiang says his family were also threatened and that he suspects guards now have a semi-permanent watch station outside his home.
He told the church: "There was a knock on the door at about 8:40 am. I asked who it was, and the person at the door said it was the police. I said, 'please tell me your name, police number, and the police station where you work, and state what you want to see me about.' The person outside the door did not answer but just shouted loudly at me to open the door.
"I said to them, 'I told you clearly last Sunday to please not disturb me on Sunday and that if you had to come take me away to please fill out a warrant. Who are you and do you have a warrant?'"
He said they tried to kick the door in but explains that later another officer arrived, and said he had a document allowing summons for his arrest for 'picking quarrels and provoking trouble'.
"When I opened the door, Officer Wang of the Qingyang District Public Security Bureau flashed a piece of paper before my eyes and then put it away. I only saw my name-nothing else. I asked to see the summons clearly, but he wouldn't give it, and then he reached out his hand to take me away.
"I shouted goodbye to my wife and said to her, 'Don't get into any arguments or conflicts with them.' But what I didn't expect was that after I was taken away, Officer Wang went into my home and acted like he was going to hit my wife. He threatened my wife and yelled at my 5-year-old son. I found this out after I came home from the police station."
Li Yingqiang was taken to Caotang Road Police Station where he was questioned by four police officers: "The questioning mainly focused on two things: 1) a message I had tweeted about praying for Pastor Wang Yi; 2) the church's Sunday worship service and other church-related things.
"He repeatedly asked me, 'What special reason did you have for retweeting this message?' (I said I had no special reason) 'What do you mean by 'may the resisters and persecutors repent soon'? Who are the 'resisters' and the 'persecutors'? Why did you retweet this? Was it because you endorse it?' And so on.
He said once questions were repeated he refused to answer as he guessed they were trying to stop him attending church on Sunday.
"He asked, 'If we didn't bring you in today, what would you have done?' (I said I would have attended Sunday worship) 'Who do you worship with? Where do you worship? Who decides when you meet? How are tithes collected?' and so on.
"I replied, 'None of this has anything to do with the reason you brought me here today, so I will not answer.'"
Li Yingqiang recalls that Officer Xu "stated two things very clearly to me: 1) 'Early Rain Covenant Church is banned by Chengdu authorities, and we will thoroughly enforce this ban and will not give your church any room to survive'; 2) 'You are not welcome in Chengdu, and as long as you are here, we will make sure you can't do anything or see anyone.'"
He said the police repeatedly emphasised that Early Rain Covenant Church was banned and that no activities can be done in its name.
I replied, "The church is heavenly and no earthly power can restrict its existence. We are simply believing in God and preaching the gospel in this city. Why can't you tolerate our existence?"
Li Yingqiang told his church that he had questioned whether it was wise to still live in Chengdu.
"God has put many of his people in this church, and our pastor has been sent to "prison seminary" to study. As an elder and pastoral assistant in this church, it is only right that I return to Chengdu to shepherd this flock. In order to shepherd this flock, I must be with them… To be a preacher and a labourer for the Lord in today's age is to face the danger of being summoned at any time, of being surveyed at any time, of being forced to move at any time, of being arrested at any time, and even of being killed at any time. Life and death are in the hands of the Lord. I believe that no one can harm God's children apart from his permission. If the Lord hands us the bitter cup, should we not drink it?
"Therefore, today I have given up hope of trying to persuade the Chengdu police to relax their persecution against our church through dialogue and through helping them to understand our church. In good conscience I will accept whatever treatment members of Early Rain and our presbytery receive."
Li Yingqiang said he later saw a tiny temporary housing unit below their house which he suspects will be used to guard them for some time.