BEIJING (BP)–As China mourned a horrific train accident in Wenzhou, Shouwang Church gathered to worship and pray, which led to 35 arrests.
The Sunday, July 24 worship gathering of the illegal Chinese church marks the highest number of arrests since April during its third week of meeting outdoors. It was the 16th consecutive week that Shouwang attempted to gather outdoors.
Although Shouwang meets more than 1,000 miles away from the scene of the July 23 train accident that left 39 dead according to a Shanghai Daily report, the church says it is praying for the suffering families.
Shouwang, an illegal church, has met each week in an open-air plaza in northwest Beijing since members were evicted from the church’s leased meeting space in April.
In China, churches must register with the government and join the Three-Self Patriotic Movement to be considered legal. But with registration comes restrictions on baptisms, Sunday School and evangelism, said Bob Fu, president and founder of ChinaAid.
“May our Lord have mercy on each person who suffered terror and sorrow in this disaster, on each family who lost their beloved ones in this disaster and on our country as she is suffering from so many disasters,” Shouwang said in a statement published by ChinaAid, a group that monitors religious freedom in China. “We particularly come to the seat of the Most High, and make supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings for our fellow citizens and for all who are in high positions of this country, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.”
The 35 people arrested, which included a pastor, two members of another illegal church (Xinshu Church), and a man from Shanghai, were not released as quickly as had been the case in recent weeks. Previously, church members were sent home by the next day, but after the last meeting some were not released until Tuesday, two days after the church gathered outdoors.
Police had some of the arrested Christians sign a statement saying they would no longer attend the outdoor worship meetings and others were asked for their address so the police could keep them under watch, ChinaAid said.
In addition to the 35 arrests, police detained a church member at a hotel the Friday before the service and took three Christians into custody on Sunday who were visiting detained Shouwang attendees at the Haidian police station. These Shouwang related arrests, which raise the number to 39, show hostility from the police that have not been seen in past weeks of arrests, the church said.
Police also confiscated a quilt and other items from people visiting the detained Christians.
Shouwang said its members did not expect their confrontation with the government to last as long as they have, but they will continue to meet and worship despite persecution from the government.
“As the outdoor worship service is becoming a long-term event, it is proved to be a witness rather than a spur of the moment, a strategy or a political means,” Shouwang said. “It witnesses that the Church only worships Christ as her Lord, and that she only belongs to our Lord, but not controlled by any forces or powers.”
More than 160 people were arrested at the first outdoor meeting of Shouwang Church. The following shows the approximate arrests from the subsequent weeks: Week 2 (50 arrests), Week 3 (40), Week 4 (30), Week 5 (13), Week 6 (20), Week 7 (25), Week 8 (20), Week 9 (20), Week 10 (14), Week 11 (14), Week 12 (15), Week 13 (19), Week 14 (26) and Week 15 (22).
Whitney Jones is a student at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and an intern with Baptist Press.