A large group of police officers and other government officials raided a house where children from a heavily persecuted megachurch were being homeschooled in Chengdu, China, the church said on social media, pleading for Christians worldwide to pray for them.
Police officers, education bureau officials, national security officers and urban management officers on Thursday morning raided a home where homeschooled children of Early Rain Covenant Church were playing together, the 5,000-member church said in a Facebook post.
“The police are now raiding the home. There are a large number of police officers outside and inside of brother Liang Huali and Sister Shu Qiong’s home, and they are currently removing brother Liang’s personal belongings. Please pray!” the church wrote.
In December 2018, police shuttered the church, broke down the doors of church members’ and leaders’ homes and arrested more than 100 people. Police have continued to harass ERCC members since then, according to a report from China Aid.
ERCC’s Pastor Wang Yi was later sentenced to nine years in prison on charges of subversion of power and illegal business operations.
China has more than 60 million Christians, at least half of whom worship in unregistered or “illegal” underground churches. The country is ranked as one of the worst countries in the world when it comes to the persecution of Christians, according to Open Doors USA’s World Watch List.
On Dec. 30, dozens of officials in Taiyuan city, the capital of Shanxi province, raided Xuncheng Church, which was planted by ERCC and meets at the home of preacher An Yankui, confiscated Christian books, and detained the preacher and five members during a Bible study, according to the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern.
The officials cordoned off the church members who were studying the Bible, confiscated their choir robes and books, and apprehended the preacher and five women, ICC said.
Officials released the five female detainees around midnight on New Year’s Eve, but An was held in administrative detention for 15 days.
Xuncheng, which was targeted possibly due to its association with the ERCC, was earlier raided on Nov. 15 and received a disbandment notice from the police.
Last April, several members of the church were arrested by the Public Security Bureau for participating in an online Easter worship service on Zoom and ordered to cease all religious activity.
A supporter of ERCC shared on Twitter at the time: “Since 8:30 a.m., some security officials have entered these Christian families’ homes and pretended to be chatting with them casually. At 9:30 a.m., the worship began, and they were also invited to participate. Once they realized that the sermon was from ERCC’s imprisoned pastor Wang Yi, they immediately shut it down.”
A November 2020 report from the Pew Research Center showed that restrictions on religion in China had risen to a record level. Researchers found that China continued to have “the highest score on the Government Restrictions Index out of all 198 countries and territories in the study.”
In addition to ERCC, the Chinese Communist Party has forced a number of well-known churches to shut down, including Rongguili Church in Guangzhou and Xunsiding Church in Xiamen.
China has also been labeled by the U.S. State Department as a “country of particular concern” for “continuing to engage in particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”