A Special Interview with Early Rain Covenant Church, Part 1: What Did ERCC Experience?
Editor’s note: The following is Part 1 of an extended interview conducted by a Chinese writer with the leadership and various members of Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu. It was shared online in China over the last month; the Chinese original can be read here and the entire English translation here. To understand the people and places discussed in the article, please refer to China Partnership’s Early Rain Prayer Guide. We will be sharing additional sections of the interview in the coming weeks.
In October, we walked into ERCC for the first time with a heart filled with anxiety and excitement. What surprises me is that the atmosphere of the church does not exude any sign of distress from continuous pressure and persecution. The worship in the new sanctuary is still full of peace, joy, and glory. It is only when Preacher Zhang Xudong begins to share the gospel with the plain-clothed officers in the back rows that I realize that pressure and persecution are always present. However, the church's focus is not on anxiety and worries under pressure, nor is it on their own courage and bravery, but on God himself. God is the center of worship.
Interviewer: Given the continuous pressure and persecution after the events of May 12, May 28, and June 4, what have you experienced in the church, and how do you feel?
Jiang Rong (Wife of Pastor Wang Yi): I think the most significant emotion is nervousness. As a Presbyterian church we have the session and the deacons, and the church also has a contingency plan. When a crisis hits, the pastoral staff will be the ones who lead the church to face it together. Unless I have to look for my husband at the local police station, or they come to look for us at our home, we will not interact with the authorities.
On June 4, I was taken to the station as well. As a pastor’s wife, I have the same status as a regular church member. I do not face the matter head-on like the elders or deacons, but I care more about the safety of my husband. The church does have a thorough contingency plan, and many pastoral staff are working together diligently so that I do not have to worry about many of the internal matters of the church.
A student from the liberal arts college: I have never experienced these events personally, but I feel the pressure. As a church, we are a spiritual family. The main source of pressure I feel comes from public opinion in society – that is, I feel the generally antagonistic attitude from the society and country toward faith. Therefore, I feel a sense of pressure on my future career and life.
Brother Ye: I have experienced this [persecution] personally. From our church’s WeChat group, I saw that many police officers barricaded our church’s entrance on the evening of May 12. I originally had other things planned for the next morning (Lord’s Day) and did not intend to attend the morning prayers. But when I saw that the police were causing a commotion and some sisters were already taken, I came to morning prayer. As children of God, this is necessary, because when one member suffers, all other members suffer together.
Sister Ji: I felt joyful! It is counted as his grace to be able to suffer for his name’s sake. Our whole family was taken to the local police station, including a niece who was about one month old.
Sister Zhang: I have previously interacted with the police, the Domestic Security Protection Bureau, and the Bureau of Religious Affairs because of my ministry. But I had never experienced something like that on May 12, where 100-200 brothers and sisters were taken to the police station and had their freedom stripped. There was a sense of fear at the time. That morning, my husband and I came early to morning prayer, and we never imagined that the doors would be barricaded even during the early hours of the morning. They threatened to take us away if we enter the door. There were some struggles in both our hearts: we had lots of worries and we wanted to protect things with our own hands. Thanks be to God for his grace that when we saw other brothers and sisters entering, my husband and I decided to join them and be taken away.
We also experienced the event on June 4, where they aggressively barricaded the door. To be honest, we were very weak and fearful throughout this whole process. But through it all, I saw how the pastoral team led the brothers and sisters to trust God in a more definite way. I saw how the lives of many brothers and sisters were turned upside-down and revived by God, including me and my husband. Therefore, even though it looks like persecution, in reality we must give thanks because God desires to build up our church. This is something to be grateful for.
Brother Lin (baptized on June 25): On the night of May 12, my wife was taken away and she texted me that I should either go with her (and be taken away) or stay at home and look after the kids. Because both our kids were still young, I decided to bring my kids over to some other families to find out more information. I felt that the pressure was still pretty intense. They came to knock on my door even two days after the event. But if you truly believe that God is real, there’s not much to fear. As a dad, I ought to set a good example for my kids.
Brother A: On May 12, the Public Security Bureau in my hometown made dozens of phone calls throughout the night to harass my parents. They even went down to my parents’ place to pressure them so that they would forbid me from going to church because there was going to be a raid that day. Because I have just recently been released from prison (I have felt immense love in this church, and I have attended Bible Study, Gospel Class, and was baptized in 2016), I have many struggles and weaknesses in this area. Even though I did eventually come, I only observed from the sideline and did not go near the church. May God forgive my weakness.
An elderly seeker who was there for the second time: The word on the street is that there is a church here, so I came to check it out. The first impression is that their pastor speaks very reasonably. When he talks about the Bible, he relates it to the benefits of the people, the fate of the country, and the preservation of justice and equality. So when I heard it, I identified with the message. It is as if this is my own family, very heartwarming. Thanks be to God, because this faith is worth our time.
Deacon Zhao: I have always worked in the government. In 2012, I came to ERCC. After going through pre-marital counseling with the pastor, my wife and I were married in 2013. In 2014, we opened up our home for ministry. The church is my home. At the end of 2015, I was elected as assistant deacon, and they came to look for me at my in-laws (it is still strange to me that they did not look for me at my work because I was never shy about my faith there). From 2016 until the New Year of 2017, my company seated me directly across from the secretary of my department. To put it bluntly, they wanted to keep an eye on me.
On the night before May 12 at around 11pm, the local Community Police came to my place and I hosted them. From then on, we were branded as an “illegal gathering.” I said that our gathering will not be a hush-hush event, and many in Chengdu knew what happened on May 12. Ever since our church was planted in 2009, we have been praying for this day. If you call us “illegal,” how are we violating the law? The church is public, and our faith is public. They left after that, but past midnight, they called again to confirm whether I would be going tomorrow. I told them that I would certainly go, and he sighed. The next day they were posted downstairs from my home in order to keep me from going. I then shared the gospel with them from Genesis all the way to Revelation. The greatest protection for the church is actually to be public. I told them that the church bulletins are at my home, and everything that we are doing is printed there.
Brother Xiao: The pressure that we are enduring is not the greatest yet among the churches. On May 12, four police officers took turn to watch us, so we could not go anywhere.
Preacher Li Yingqiang: Our family was already well-prepared. We were already prepared when I was working for the government. My wife was also constantly preparing, and she was truly ready on June 4. When I was released from the local police station in the early morning of the 5th, she composed a small poem especially for the event, and she said, “I have truly committed you to the Lord this time.” In the past, there was all sorts of anxiety because my family situation was not good. My dad is paralyzed, and my mom is taking care of him full-time. My younger brother is still an unbeliever and he is still in prison because of drug trafficking. He has a son out of wedlock, and my parents are taking care of the child. We have to bear this burden and for many years, I was the sole breadwinner for the entire family. My wife's parents are also not in their best health back in the village, and we have two children – this generates tremendous pressure for us.
Thanks be to God that he has been preparing us for many years. I have shared with brothers and sisters before that when I started working for the government, many of my friends and co-workers were captured. But I have never been taken in during those few years, not even a brief visit to the station (colloquially, these visits are termed “tea-drinking sessions”), and nobody has ever looked for me. But when I started serving in the church, I was taken in twice in 2015. I had a seminar on May 30, 2015. In order to keep the seminar from taking place, I was taken in and detained for a full day in the local police station (I was the organizer of the seminar). Even though I was just a lay-leader, I was taken in together with Pastor Wang Yi on June 4, 2015. Throughout this process, our family saw the guidance of God and we knew that it happens according to his promise. He leads his people, and we see his grace.
My wife is even more clear-headed than me. Just the day before yesterday, she told me to prepare for the worst with no margin for chances. Before I even finished, she said, “The worst-case scenario is that you are beaten to death in prison, and this martyrdom is nevertheless good.” So, we are ready to go to prison, and I told my wife clearly that she should not prepare for my return. If she is preparing for my return, she will eventually be disappointed with God; but if she is mentally prepared for me not to come back, it is God’s grace whether I return or not.
Preacher Zhang Xudong: Thanks be to God, my wife is from ERCC. When I came to Chengdu in March 2014, I was taken to the station in June that year. It was very sudden because I had never been arrested before. I was nervous because I was still dating my wife at that time. I told the pastor’s wife not to tell my girlfriend because I was afraid she would freak out. But the pastor’s wife told me that members of ERCC are not afraid of such things. I was really moved that she was there to pick me up at the local police station about 11pm that night. It showed that she could handle these things. I quit my job to come to Chengdu and so my residency is not registered in Chengdu. When the police come, they will look for her and not me. When they go to her work, they will look for her supervisor and not her. She has experienced all of this. She was worried that her parents could not handle the situation, so she told them these things clearly beforehand.
Therefore, from the perspective of my family, there is nothing much to worry about. My wife knows me very well. After being single for over a decade, I saw that God’s providence truly is the best. In my seminary years, she gave me great support. The key point is that if you submit to God, everything will be okay. Stephen Tong said something that really struck my heart once, “If you think for God, he will think for you.”
Elder Su: It was quite sudden on May 12, so we were not very well prepared. Some of the kids were shocked during the event, because the police were pretty aggressive in front of the kids; some even got violent. But the process was also quite ironic because the police also have some basic decency. Some of the members brought their children; the police felt a bit embarrassed and became more gentle in their approach. All four of our kids were together at that time, and I heard that the police had to take them out for a meal and then bring them back. The kids experienced the event together, and they understood better what is meant by persecution.
Of course, our kids also need certain protection and appropriate teaching in their faith. When we face persecutions, we need to tell our kids that this world is not Eden. If you sugarcoat it and they face harsher things later on, they will not be prepared. On the one hand, you explain that there are often unpleasant things in this world so that they will have a sense of realism; but on the other hand, you also give them spiritual teaching when they face these things, that is, how to face and make sense of the events happening around them. I think that if the members, pastors, and staff always experience these pressures and harassments from the police, and if the kids are taught from a young age how to love one another in Christ, there will be less bitterness. So, on the one hand we show our kids the reality of sinfulness and suffering of this world, but on the other hand that God adequately provides a true way out.
Jiang Rong: For the kids, this is an important step in their spiritual education. For our son, he is slowly growing and experiencing all these things with us. When Shuya was about 6 or 7, our family was blocked by the police below our apartment when we were handing out gospel tracts on International Children’s Day. The police said to my husband in front of our son, “I will put you to death sooner or later." At that time, he did not fully understand it, but he was scared. After that, we had many conversations with him. We are thankful that Shuya is committed to church life and he attends the school set up by our church. For these many years, we experience the relationship with the government together with unity. Sometimes the police will go to the school or the church, and the children will know when they come. When the police frequent the school or the church, the teacher will lead them in prayer together. In the community of faith, their fear and anxiety are shared together. Whether or not his dad’s method is biblical, he has his own basic judgment.
On the night of May 11 this year, the police took his dad away. The situation was more intense than ever before, and they even wanted to stayover at our house (I eventually sent them away at midnight). Before sleeping we prayed together in his room, and he had a good night of rest. On the next day, I told him that this time might be different and dad might be detained for a very long time. I said we were all prepared for this, and I told him if he misses his dad, he can start to write something for his dad every day. So, I bought him a new and thicker diary (because we do not know how much he has to write) so that he could write all that he wished to tell his dad, even record his prayers in the diary.
On May 12, we were blocked [by the police] and could not go out. Our niece was also with us (she is 19 and was baptized last year) and the three of us prayed together. We read the Bible together according to the Bible reading plan and we memorized and shared as per normal. Shuya is already 11, and he knows how to find strength in God's word. Therefore, when we experienced all these in this year, it is quite different.
On June 4, I was also taken away. He was still in school at the time, so I asked the teacher to look after them for a while. I found out later that Shuya went to his teacher’s house and several of the students did homework together, and they read the Bible, prayed, and spent the night with ease. He is at a stage of his life where he can depend on God himself. He experienced God’s word and prayer together in a covenant community of believers without fear, and he spent the night peacefully at his teacher’s place. When we returned eventually, he was very joyful.
Brother Xiao: I will share another encouraging example. It was either on June 4 or May 28, and many policemen came up to the 23rdfloor. The children saw them because it was during recess. All 13 of the first-graders said that we ought to return to the classroom to pray. Because the walls are not adequately sound-proofed, the teachers heard their repeated hymn singing and praying from the office next door. This is what God is doing.
Deacon He: We are truly thankful to God that from the young to the old, I have not seen any who are fearful or who desire to flee and escape. I am very grateful for this. This is because the pastor encouraged everyone according to the truth of the Bible, and he did not lead us to face persecution with mere gallantry. Gentle disobedience and joyful disobedience are our responses, and we reject and refuse things that contradict God's teachings. We all acted according to the contingency plan set forth by the presbytery. People my age have not experienced much persecution. Even if the persecution reaches a certain degree, we have also made thorough preparations to obey God and not obey man. We have to commit all things to God because he has his good will. Even though we have made arrangements for the worse-case scenario, we do not have to speculate all the time. God’s will is indeed higher than our will.
If you ask me about my family – my father-in-law suffers from dementia, my son suffers from Down’s Syndrome, my wife is not healthy and strong – the entire family requires my attention and care. How do I cope? We cannot depend on ourselves to cope [with this]: what is man? Man has no strength in this, especially for sinners. When the real persecution comes, man can never bear it. How strong are you without God? So, for us it is simple. We do not care about anything except walking with the Lord daily. For those things that we ought to bear, we will bear them joyfully because this is the grace of God for you. It is not based on how much strength you have; grace is grace.
Jiang Rong: When we face persecution, the only thing we are capable of is to trust God. When Wang Yi came back on May 12, he shared with me that he had to remove his ring during an inspection at the police station. When he took off his ring, he felt that he had to sever all relationships with this world to face God alone, including his family ties. At the beginning, I did not understand what he meant, but it left a strong impression on me. When I was taken on June 4 his words resonated with me: the only thing I could do was to depend on God, and I can entrust all earthly things to him.
English translation provided by Moses, Ryan, and Brent of the China Partnership translation team. Please refer to our reposting guidelines for permission to share on your blog or website.