Persecution is a blessing, Chinese elder told church before his arrest

Li Yingqiang, an elder of the Early Rain Covenant Church in China's Chengdu metropolis who was among around 100 Christians detained by authorities as part of an ongoing crackdown on believers, wrote to his church before his arrest on 'How the Church Should Face Persecution'.

The Christians including the church's pastor, Wang Yi, were detained on Sunday. Li Yingqiang was discovered and arrested the following day. He wrote to the church in a post shared on Facebook that the persecution they were facing was a 'reward', and that those who had been taken before him were 'within the gracious, sovereign providence of the Lord. He will be with them in the midst of their chains and trials.'

Pastor Wang Yi, second from right, met President George W. Bush in 2006 at the White House with other prominent Christian activists.Reuters

He said those who were suffering were 'blessed', adding: 'Those of us brothers and sisters standing on the front lines of the gospel war will earn great spiritual riches!'

He said: 'Thank the Lord for being with us in this trial. Thank the Lord for cultivating us according to his true Word! Thank the Lord for training us through these days of hardship! Thank the Lord for sculpting us through today's persecution! May the Lord give us great joy and true hope and make us strong through reliance on him.'

He said persecution might become the 'status quo' for the church in the future and warned of police divide-and-rule tactics. Li said elders who remained free should take up the responsibility of pastoring the church and resist pressure to register with the Religious Affairs Bureau or the official Three-Self Church. He said the church should strive to retain its building, but that 'if we must meet in small groups and encounter opposition while doing so, we are willing to pay an even greater price to bear witness to the great work of the gospel in our lives.

'We are willing to have 200, 300, or 500 people arrested and imprisoned. May the whole world know that we are joyfully willing to receive this persecution for the sake of our faith.'

The church has been under increasing pressure to register with state-approved religious bodies, but has resisted because of its belief in the absolute separation of church and state.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said it was 'extremely concerned' by reports of the arrests. 

'These actions, in addition to the continued systematic repression of Uighur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong practitioners, continue a pattern of escalating violations of religious freedom and other human rights under President Xi Jinping,' it said in a statement.

'USCIRF strongly condemns these actions by Chinese authorities and calls for the immediate release of Pastor Wang and all of his fellow church members.'