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Prisoners for Jesus Christ in China

Pastor Wang Yi & Elder Zhang Chunlei

We believe and are obligated to teach the world that the one true and living Triune God is the Creator of the universe, of the world, and of all people. All men should worship God and not any man or thing. We believe and are obligated to teach the world that all men, from national leaders to beggars and prisoners, have sinned. They will die once and then be judged in righteousness. Apart from the grace and redemption of God, all men would eternally perish. We believe and are obligated to teach the world that the crucified and risen Jesus is the only Head of the global church, the sole Savior of all mankind, and the everlasting Ruler and supreme Judge of the universe. To all who repent and believe in Him, God will give eternal life and an eternal Kingdom.”

These are the opening sentences of “A Declaration for the Sake of the Christian Faith”, drafted by Chinese Pastor Wang Yi of Chengdu Early Rain Covenant Church in August 2018. Earlier that year, the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] had issued new “Regulations on Religious Affairs”. These regulations required that all churches register with the state and agree to promote the state’s “Three-Self” ideals, which are in conflict with Jesus’ teaching. 

Over 400 Chinese church leaders signed the “Declaration for the Sake of the Christian Faith”. Many of these are Presbyterian or Reformed.

Pastor Wang Yi was imprisoned in December 2018. He was convicted a year later, in a closed trial without access to a lawyer, for “inciting subversion of state power” and “illegal business activity.” He is serving a nine year sentence, without permission to visit or call his family.

Prisoners for Jesus Christ in China
Pastor Wang Yi

Before his arrest, he and several other church leaders who signed the Declaration made an agreement: if any of them were arrested, they would share the gospel in prison, and pray together in spirit every day at 5 pm. One of these others was Elder Zhang Chunlei of Guiyang Ren’ai (Love) Reformed Church. That church was banned in September 2018 for failing to register with the state and become part of its “Three-Self Patriotic Movement”.

Prisoners for Jesus Christ in China 2
Elder Zhang

Yet the members of Love Reformed continued to meet, though raided and harassed, sometimes detained, sometimes having their belongings confiscated, from one location to another. On the morning of March 16, 2021, they gathered for a 3 day retreat in a room rented from a hotel. They opened with prayer and these verses from Philippians 1: 

But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from good will: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.

[Philippians 1:12-18]

Pastor Wang Yi

At this point, they were interrupted by a number of police and security officials. Most of the attendees were released much later that day, around 11 pm. Elder Zhang went to the police station to negotiate their release: he and three other members were detained. Those three were freed after three further days, but Elder Zhang continued in custody for many months. Only after being held for ten months was he charged with “inciting subversion of state power.” His case was finally tried on November 29, 2022.  No information has ever been released about the verdict or sentencing. The trial lasted over six hours and some of the security present said they had never witnessed such a show of force. No one from the church, not even his wife, was allowed in. 

Elder Zhang

Since then it is only known that Elder Zhang was treated in Sanjiang hospital for a gall bladder inflammation, in August of 2023.

One of the members of Love Reformed Church who was initially detained with Elder Zhang for the three days they had planned the retreat said this, after his release:

“I accomplished four projects in those three days: I fasted for three days. I saw a blurry world (officers temporarily confiscated my glasses). I didn’t hear anything from the world (officers temporarily confiscated my cell phone). I shared the gospel with others at a specific time in the three days.”

Sometime in 2020, Pastor Wang Yi, who was imprisoned after drafting the Declaration, issued one of the few statements that has reached his family and friends:

“If someone attacks me, I will be meek as a lamb. But if someone attacks the Church, I will be brave as a lion. I remain silent if something happens out of God’s will. I have criticized the authorities before. It was not out of hatred, but out of love. When I make comments on authorities, nobody believes there is no hatred. But when I was arrested, I submitted myself to the authorities. That’s when people knew it was true, that I criticized the authorities out of love.”

Pastor Wang Yi was able to receive one visit from his wife in November 2021, the only one since his imprisonment in 2018. She said he is allowed to read, and seems healthy, though he has lost a lot of weight.

Please pray: And ask your churches to pray for Pastor Wang Yi and Elder Zhang, and for all imprisoned Chinese Christians in their intense trials.

Further Reading: For more history and understanding of the growth and challenges in China’s Reformed churches, see the Winter 2021 ssue of China Source Quarterly, available online here:

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