A Christian pastor was detained while worshipers were prevented from holding a service in Chengdu, China, in memory of the 70,000 or so people who died in the major 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
The New York Times reported that Communist authorities raided outspoken Protestant pastor Wang Yi and his Autumn Rain Blessing Church on Friday night, shutting down a service for the victims that was due to take place the following day.
Police took away hundreds of people who still showed up on Saturday for the planned service, also using trucks to remove publications belonging to the church.
“Today, more than 200 brothers and sisters were taken away by the police, and three still have not been released,” Wang told members of his congregation over the phone.
Officials are said to be looking to “stifle any unapproved commemorations” for the tragedy, which could potentially stir questions about why so many new buildings and schools collapsed in the 7.9-magnitude quake that hit southwest China on May 12, 2008.
Parents who have questioned the government and demanded that a fuller account be given as to why children’s schools collapsed have been targeted with surveillance, warnings and detentions.
ChinaAid, which monitors the persecution of Christians in the world’s most populous nation, said that it received a letter from Wang on Friday.
“During our prayers during last Sunday’s service, we begged our Lord to use us in this city to bring large numbers of government staff and Communist Party members to believe in Him. This week, God drove more than 100 government personnel to visit us, and they contacted more than 50 of our colleagues and members. Is this the result, telling us God has accepted our prayers?” the pastor shared in the letter.
“The Communist government desperately wants to know one thing: if they threaten Christians and prevent them from gathering, will the number of people going to services significantly increase or decrease?” he posed.
The pastor touched upon the widespread persecution that believers in the country face, such as the demolition of church crosses and the crackdown on house churches, comparing it to the fate of the first Christians under Caesar.
“The angels and people of the world both wonder what is going to happen when Caesar meets with Christ; when swords meet with the cross in this city,” he reflected.
ChinaAid noted that Wang is being interrogated by officials for “picking quarrels and causing trouble.” He has openly spoken out against China’s control over religion, and has been warned by officials from the religious affairs bureau.
Before being taken away by officials, Wang apparently told churchgoers in a message on Thursday to prepare to face persecution.
“We will not obey any unjust and unlawful demands, and are willing to pay the price,” the pastor declared.