Founder of ASSIST Ministries
BEIJING, CHINA (ANS) -- The extraordinary battle between the Chinese authorities and the Beijing Shouwang Church (shouwang means "to keep watch", is continuing unabated with the embattled Chinese House Church, the biggest of about 3,000 of such congregations in the city, holding its latest outdoor worship service of 2013.
Members of the Shouwang Church during an outdoor worship service
This evangelical House Church group, were kicked out of their previous location, a restaurant, nearly two years ago, when the landlord of the venue was ordered by the authorities to cancel their lease.
In a posting on Facebook (www.facebook.com/
prayforshouwang), a member of the beleaguered church, which has been forced to change headquarters more than 20 times, and was prevented from buying or renting a church building, shared about their latest "illegal" gathering.
The message said, "Dear brothers and sisters:
"Peace in the Lord! On this past Sunday, we held the eleventh outdoor worship service of 2013. It was a cloudy day with haze. As far as we know, two sisters were taken to be detained at a hotel separately on Friday and Saturday, and at least nineteen believers were taken away from locations near the platform or from their homes.
More than 100 church members were taken away when they tried to hold an outdoor service
"Some of them were released soon after they were taken away, and the rest of them were detained at three police stations, including Zhongguancun Street police station. They all got released around noon on Sunday.
"We have held outdoor service for nearly two years now. Although we don't know how much longer this journey will take, we believe that what we have experienced in this journey, with the permission of God, is not in vain."
The message concluded with, "Peace be to the brothers,[a] and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible." (Ephesians 6:23-24)
The church was founded in 1993 by Jin Tianming, a chemical engineering graduate of Tsinghua University. Since then, the number of its members has increased from 10 to 1,000 as of June 2011.
To start with, the Shouwang Church's services are conducted at members' homes or in rented conference rooms; its other activities include 40 biblical reading groups, choir practice and catechism. Shouwang members typically belong to the middle and upper classes, and include professors, doctors, lawyers, students and even Party members.
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The only state-sanctioned Protestant Church officially allowed in China is the Three-Self Patriotic Movement or TSPM, but the House Church Movement, including the Shouwang Church, refuses to register with what they consider an atheistic government and so are considered by the government to be illegal.
The House Churches claim that registration brings government restrictions on evangelism, Sunday School, baptizing teens and children and other activities. In addition, ChinaAid's founder and president, Bob Fu, says government-appointed leaders, many of whom are Communist Party members, are at the helm of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement.
Because of their location in the capital city of China, the Shouwang Church appears to have been especially singled out by the authorities who have tried to shut them down, but despite constant arrests, they have so far failed.
Persecution of this particular church intensified in the context of the general 2011 crackdown on dissidents, following an announcement by church leaders that they would begin holding Sunday prayer meetings in public, if they were not allowed to acquire premises.
As of June 2011, several dozen Shouwang followers were detained every week and forced to sign a disavowal of their spiritual leader before being released, and six church leaders were placed under house arrest at that time.
According to the German weekly Die Zeit, on one occasion, Beijing police used around 4,500 officers to provide surveillance of Zhongguancun Square and of the homes of about 500 church members, to prevent the church from congregating, but despite this, they are still meeting and being arrested.
"The Chinese Communist Party is always afraid of any form of organization independent from the control of the central government," said Mark Shan, news analyst for ChinaAid, a group that monitors religious freedom and has chronicled Shouwang Church's struggles.