What is Early Rain?
Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, Sichuan, first began meeting as several small groups in 2006 and became an independent church in 2008 with 63 members. In July 2011, the church elected and installed Pastor Wang Yi as its pastor. The church now consists of 500 members and regular attendees from a wide range of people: blue and white collar workers, children, college students, young professionals, and young families. Attendees and members range from infants to 80-year-old seniors. The church has been meeting in an office building at the heart of Chengdu. Since its founding, Early Rain has planted six other churches in Chengdu and a nearby city.
What happened to Early Rain?
Beginning on Sunday, December 9, and continuing until now, Early Rain has been experiencing significant and persistent government persecution. More than 200 members of Early Rain have been arrested at various times in past months, with many key leaders held in criminal detention since December. Church and personal property has been seized and destroyed, and many families have faced repeated eviction from their homes or deportation from Chengdu to their hometowns in distant provinces.
As members of Early Rain write and share urgent updates and prayer requests, including lists of the detained, China Partnership has been assisting in maintaining a written record of the events. To read these updates visit:
Bold Statements of Faith
At the beginning of 2018, new religious regulations were implemented across China. Though many were uncertain of how strictly the regulations would be enforced, Wang Yi was active in calling for China’s house churches not to comply with the regulations. You can read an extensive interview with Wang Yi and another influential pastor, Gao Zhen, about how the house churches should respond to the new regulations here:
On September 1, 2018, Wang Yi and Early Rain’s leadership released a statement along with many other influential house church pastors regarding their stance toward the new regulations. The statement was signed by hundreds of house church pastors across China, many of whom are also now experiencing persecution. You can read the statement here:
Though Wang Yi had been detained many times during his years of pastoring, he anticipated his eventual arrest and in October 2018, he prepared a personal declaration to be released by Early Rain should he be detained for more than 48 hours. On December 12, Early Rain published this declaration to be shared with not only Chinese readers, but the worldwide church. You can read his statement here:
Wang Yi and Early Rain have been engaged in the church-state question for a long time, reflecting on it earlier than the new religious regulation. He was the leading author of a key document published by Early Rain in 2015. The document is 95 theses on the nature of the church in China and was intended to reflect and celebrate the Chinese house church’s connection to the historic Reformed faith. You can read the theses here:
Who is Wang Yi?
Pastor Wang Yi is a former attorney who represented persecuted churches in China, advocating for religious freedom and freedom of conscience. He started a Bible study in his home in 2004, which later became the Early Rain Fellowship. He was baptized in 2005 and became the leader of the fellowship. He was part of a delegation that represented the persecuted church to meet with President George W. Bush in the White House in 2006.
Wang Yi received a call into full-time ministry in 2008, was elected and installed as a ruling elder in 2009, and in 2011 Wang Yi was examined by a committee of ordained Presbyterian pastors, and ordained in the Fall of 2011 at which time he was also installed as the lead pastor of Early Rain. He is a prolific writer and poet, with great zeal to increase theological reflection and writing among China’s house church pastors. His writings and sermons have been widely shared online in China.
Wang Yi is married to Jiang Rong. They have a son, age 12.
Wang Yi and Jiang Rong were arrested on December 10, 2018, and remain in criminal detention. No one has been able to communicate with either of them since their arrest. Their son has been kept, along with his grandmother, in isolated house arrest. He has only been allowed outside of his grandmother’s small apartment two times since December.
You can read Wang Yi and Jiang Rong’s last family newsletter, written and sent shortly before their arrests:
Wang Yi’s Theology of the Church and City
Wang Yi’s theology does not focus on the church-state question alone. He has spent significant time reflecting on the nature of the church and eschatology of the city. A good example of his theology on the topic can be found in his series “The City of God on Earth”:
Wang Yi’s Theology of Suffering and Persecution
Wang Yi believes deeply in the Christian’s call to suffer as part of his or her union with Christ. He teaches that all believers are called to the life of the cross and was intentional in preparing his congregation for the suffering he believed to be eventual in every Christian’s life. You can read some key articles on the topic of suffering and persecution here:
Get to know the people of Early Rain
It is important to hear directly from Early Rain’s leaders and members.
Early Rain Covenant Church follows the Presbyterian Church tradition and is governed by a group of elders. The church elects and ordains both teaching and ruling elders to provide spiritual guidance and make major decisions for the church. Deacons in the Presbyterian tradition are elected and ordained by the church to minister to those who are in need, to the sick, to the friendless, and to any who may be in distress. They also care for the physical needs of the church.
You can read an extensive interview with Early Rain leaders and members before the beginning of their persecution here:
A Special Interview with Early Rain
All of Early Rain’s elders were detained and arrested by the police. Some have been released and placed under house-arrest. Early Rain's deacons and assistant deacons were also detained and arrested. Many were detained in the process of checking on other church members.
Many of those who have been detained, particularly church leaders, have young children from whom they have been separated. In situations where both parents have been detained, families from the church have helped to provide care for the children left behind.
Elder Li Yingqiang was detained after evading the police. Before he was detained, he published a handwritten letter to encourage Early Rain to hold firm to their faith and continue public worship. You can read his letter, as well as testimonies from the experiences of Early Rain members in detention, here:
Support from those outside Early Rain
Not all house churches agree with Wang Yi and Early Rain’s theology and decisions, but many do. You can read letters and prayers of support here: