As worship services around the world have moved online, some churches are under attack.
In countries with a high rate of persecution against Christians, online meetings have become dangerous.
Recently, several Chinese Christians were arrested for participating in a Zoom service.
Although many churches around the world are thankful for technology and video calls as a way to meet together, Christians in China are meeting online at great risk to their security.
Sometimes, it’s easier for governmental authorities to track Christian activity through the internet than to find congregations gathering physically.
In one such case, members of China’s Early Rain Covenant Church (ERCC) were discovered participating in an online Easter worship service earlier this month.
The Christians were meeting via Zoom on Easter Sunday when officers of the Public Security Bureau arrested and detained six church leaders.
ERCC has been meeting online ever since the Chinese communist regime shut down the church and arrested Pastor Wang Yi in 2018. Wang is currently serving nine years in prison on charges of subversion of power and illegal business operations.
In Wang’s absence, the security of online services had not been compromised before, but the rise in online worship services has provided opportunities for oppressive governments around the world to track religious activity in new ways.
On Easter Sunday, Public Security Bureau officials prepared to infiltrate the ERCC service.
One supporter of the church said, “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.”
It quickly became clear that it was a ploy and the officials had sprung a trap.
“Once they realized that the sermon was from ERCC’s imprisoned pastor Wang Yi, they immediately shut it down.”
A member of ERCC who was on the Zoom call 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]?’”
Wang and five other church leaders—Guo Haigang, Wu Wuqing, Jai Xuewei, Zhang Jianqing, and Zhang Xudong—were arrested and taken away.
Other church members who were present in the Zoom service had their electricity cut off or received threatening phone calls that “police [were] coming to visit them soon.”
The six church leaders who were arrested were warned, “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!”
The leaders were eventually released, but it was clear that further online services would be disrupted and result in more arrests and persecution.
China has long been recognized as one of the most dangerous countries for Christians. Persecution and oppression run rampant, and the Chinese government is using the pandemic as added leverage in its campaign to stamp out Christianity altogether.
Gina Goh, an official from the persecution watchdog group International Christian Concern, reported that the Chinese government has continued to 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 [Chinese communist] regime chose to inflict more trouble on its citizens,” Goh said.
“The U.N. should immediately suspend China’s appointment to the Human Rights Council for its lack of respect for human rights.”
In the wake of COVID-19, pastors and church leaders across China have suffered for their work. Many have been arrested, detained, and thrown in prison for “inciting subversion of state power,” “proselytizing,” and, “distributing Gospel tracts.”
Churches have been demolished as their members are forced to meet at home – and the government has taken the opportunity to remove crosses and other Christian symbols from public life.
“The government does not provide enough help during the epidemic but instead demolishes crosses,” one Chinese believer reported.
Nevertheless, Chinese Christians have continued to step up and reach out to their neighbors. They’re still bringing the light of the Gospel to a world in need, despite the communist government’s crackdown.
Let’s pray for our brothers and sisters in China—especially the members of Early Rain Covenant Church. May God help them stand strong in the face of persecution.