At approximately 10 am on Sunday February 28, several plainclothes police raided Chongqing Living Fountain Church, breaking up the small house church gathering and arresting two men, one of whom was preaching that day. The police confiscated a church computer and forced those attending to leave. Later, police pressured the landlord of the house hosting the church to gather the names and financial information of the church members.
Church raids seem to be such a common event in China that the Chongqing raid hardly seems newsworthy—except for when considering the church’s membership profile.
Chongqing Living Fountain Church is a church composed almost entirely of elderly women.
“Since the Chinese Communist Party came to power in 1949, the attitude toward the church has always been, ‘Educate the young in atheism and let the old Christians die; then the church will cease to exist’,” says Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley. “But the Party’s actions in Chongqing and on other smaller and elderly house churches show a changing mindset: Police raids aren’t just for young, growing megachurches anymore.”
Representative Foley says that international media coverage has inadvertently obscured this change of strategy by Communist Party officials. “International media tend to focus on high-profile events with impactful photos and videos—events like church demolitions and cross removals. But when a small house church of grandmothers is raided, most of the time no one hears about it. The grandmothers aren’t thinking about recording the raid on their cell phones. Often, no one reports it, and no statistics are kept on it. But clearly the Communist Party is no longer leaving older Christians alone and waiting for them to die off.”
Representative Foley says that she believes Communist Party officials may be beginning to realize that older Christians are far more committed to their faith and thus far better at spreading it than Party officials previously realized. “It’s the same thing we at Voice of the Martyrs Korea learned about North Korean Christians: Old women are the backbone of the church. They are tough. They’re used to getting beat up, neglected, cheated, and left out of just about everything in life. But in this way they learn never to give up. They are willing to endure just about anything for Jesus, and so he uses them powerfully to spread the gospel. Up until now, authorities have underestimated them. But the raids at Chongqing and other small, elderly house churches show that the Chinese authorities are beginning to wake up to who is the real strength of the Chinese church.”
Representative Foley said that one week before the raid, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authorities from the district Religious Affairs Bureau, the Domestic Security Bureau, and plainclothes police officers showed up at the church during the Sunday service. “They requested that the church stop meeting, stating that the church is not registered with the Religious Affairs Bureau.”
File photo of elderly Christians in China praying and reading the Bible together. Elderly Christians are increasingly becoming the target of police raids, according to Voice of the Martyrs Korea.
Representative Foley said that authorities were especially troubled that young children were present in the worship time. “One of the church members who was present was challenged by a plainclothes police officer, ‘Did you know that minors are not allowed to enter religious venues?’ Some of the larger unregistered churches in China have discontinued their programs for children in order to avoid trouble with the authorities, but these old women at Chongqing Church could not be frightened so easily.”
Representative Foley said that plainclothes police also cited Coronavirus risks when they shut down the church service on February 28. “It’s important to remember that Chinese house church Christians are not able to worship either online or offline; any gathering, even a small home-based one, is considered a violation of the law because the church is not registered.”
“The Communist Party knows Chongqing Church because they have been gathering for more than 20 years. They have always refused to register with the Religious Affairs Bureau, in order to keep their faith pure,” says Representative Foley. “In 2018, Cheng Hairong, the church’s minister signed ‘A Joint Statement by Pastors: A Declaration for the Sake of the Christian Faith’. This so-called ‘China Declaration’, was launched by Pastor Wang Yi from the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu. It called on Chinese authorities to stop repressing and persecuting house churches and to respect the personal faith and freedom of conscience of all Chinese citizens.” Representative Foley says that since the publication of the statement, CCP officials have targeted many of the pastors, ministers, and elders who signed.
Representative Foley says that on February 28, in response to the raid, Chongqing Living Fountain Church members circulated an urgent prayer request letter which Voice of the Martyrs Korea received through its network of China church partners. Representative Foley says that the letter asks Christians around the world to join them in prayer.
“Their letter says, ‘The Lord has protected our church since its founding more than 20 years ago. Most of our members are elderly and women. We pray that God gives us the courage and wisdom to testify His name to the kings and rulers, as well as to soldiers of the earth. May God’s peace be with our detained brothers’.”
Voice of the Martyrs Korea published translations in Korean, English, and Russian, of the China Declaration at https://chinadeclaration.com. “This is the document that had been originally signed by Minister Cheng and 438 other Chinese church leaders,” explains Representative Foley. “Last year we invited church leaders around the world to sign their names to the document as a show of support for the Chinese church. We ultimately presented 28 pages of signatures from 4,400 Christian leaders to the Chinese Embassy in Seoul. Although we are no longer gathering signatures, we encourage all Christians to go to https://chinadeclaration.com and read the declaration and pray for the original 439 signers, including Minister Cheng, Pray also for the brave, elderly saints at Chongqing Living Fountain Church and across China, who now are increasingly coming to the attention of the Chinese Communist Party.”
The “China Declaration” was a 2018 statement signed by 439 Chinese church leaders, including Minister Cheng Hairong of the Chongqing Living Fountain Church, which was raided by authorities on February 28. Translations in Korean, English, and Russian of The China Declaration can be found at www.chinadeclaration.com.