Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Chapter 2: Linfen Church Leaders Detained

CHAPTER 2: Linfen Church Leaders Detained

Fearing an uprising, Fushan officials invited Chief Pastor Yang Rongli and two other church staff to negotiate in a covert meeting on Friday, September 19, 2009. By the next morning, the Fushan County government had agreed to pay 1.4 million Yuan in damages to Linfen Church and allow them to rebuild. However, the Fushan authorities refused to release Shan Yongchang (who was reported the September 13th-incident via text-message) or to lift the ban on neighboring house churches, whose doors were barred and guarded by state military police officers.

Unwilling to be bought for their silence, Head Pastor Yang Rongli refused the payment, and decided to bring the church’s complaints to the central governing authorities in Taiyuan City, capital of Shanxi. Joined by six other church staff (including her husband Wang Xiaoguang) Yang Rongli attempted to leave for Taiyuan on September 25 to file their claim, but was detained without cause by the local police. With the Oct. 1 National Day celebrations fast approaching, the Fushan PSB could not allow the complaints to reach the central authorities. They held all seven Linfen Church leaders without formal charge to allegedly “prevent disturbing the social order.” Only four of the families received notice of their arrest. The crackdown continued on September 26th, when state military police arrived at the doors of Jin Dongtai (Golden Lampstand ) Church, a member church of the Linfen network. All church staff were placed under 24-hour surveillance by military guards.

While held at the Yaodu Detention Center in Linfen, the pastors took solace in their faith. Zhang Huamei and other leaders shared their faith with inmates, singing hymns and reciting Scripture. Members of the Linfen Church community continued to gather for prayer and worship, issuing a call to action on behalf of the Linfen Church pastors. Government officials initiated vicious rumors about the pastors, claiming they were a drain on society, secretly trying to subvert the local government, and painting Christians as greedy, evil dissidents.

On September 28, Fushan governing officials held another secret emergency meeting, to determine whether they could prosecute Linfen Church as an "evil cult group." Yet the 50,000 member church’s reputation for honorable social work and peace-making in its 30-year history could not be denied. The Fushan officials eventually agreed the church could not be considered a cult—but the officials vowed they could not let the alleged wrongdoings of the church continue any longer.

On October 9, Linfen church members saw a glimmer of hope when Shan Yongchang was released from his detention. The authorities then offered nine pastors their freedom the next day, holding only Yang Rongli captive. In solidarity, the church leaders refused to leave the Yaodu Detention center without Pastor Yang. "We are one team in the one body of Christ! We won't leave her behind alone. We will not leave prison without her!"

Retribution was immediate. On October 11, ten more Linfen church leaders were arrested, and Yang Linli, Yang Rongli’s younger sister, was seized from their home and held without warrant. Yang Xuan and Yang Caizhen among others joined the Linfen Church leaders in detention at Yaodu. The Fushan PSB tried to break their spirit by threatening to arrest more church leaders and ransack their homes—but the pastors stood firm. Though Yang Linli and several leaders were released on October 16, they were placed under strict orders not to speak to anyone about the Linfen Church case. The eleven remaining detainees braced themselves for the worse.

As her health deteriorated from fasting in prison, Yang Rongli was soon transferred from Yaodu to the high-security Taiyuan Detention Center. On October 17, Wang Xiaoguang, Yang Caizhen, Yang Hongzhen, Su Qing and Li Shuangping were sentenced to criminal detention (Su Qing was released soon after). Family and church members issued a desperate call for action and prayer on behalf of Yang Rongli and the pastors.

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