Pastor Cui Quan, of Shanghai, was probably the most targeted Christian leader of China in 2009. Early in the year, since hosting a group of urban house church leaders from different cities, he was visited by many government agencies of the city.
“The police, the National Security, the Public Security, the Neighborhood Immigration, the Religious Affairs, the United Front… you name it, they came and visited us.”
“Of course, senior officials of the Three Self Patriotic Church and China’s Christian Council have also paid us visits,” Cui Quan recalled.
Then, in November, his Shanghai All Nations Missions Church, or Wanbang Missionary Church in Chinese, was suddenly sealed off. And by December, Wanbang was officially eclared “illegal.” She was eradicated.
“For the government, Wanbang is dead. She is no longer a potential problem to Shanghai,” Pastor Cui said.
This prolonged, highly publicized, and high-handed process was watched with great concern by all the house churches in China. Of course, when Wanbang was closed down and hundreds of her members met in the freezing cold open air, with rude disturbances from the police and Public Security personnel, it also became international news.
Pastor Cui was saddened. “Unwittingly and unwillingly Wanbang has become a public display (1 Cor. 4:9). Even though we were China’s largest urban house church, we never intended to become a show.”
“Yes, we have aimed to be a role model for China’s rising urban house churches: we keep our records clean and clear, we maintain a balanced theology, we operate by team leadership, and we serve the poor and needy. We never dreamed of becoming a center of attention for the church worldwide.”
Cui has been inundated with well wishes and enquiries of deep concern since the closure. “I did not respond to any at all. Our first and foremost burden is for our flock. They have gone through a lot. All have been threatened — from the youngest students, to the oldest grandmothers — without exception they were all personally visited and warned by the authorities.”
Wanbang has now disbanded into small-group home meetings. “We lost half of our co-workers, and nearly two-thirds of our members. Our main focus at the present is to learn lessons and re-evaluate our strategy. God has a reason and a purpose,” Cui said. “Our hearts are filled with thankfulness for all the prayer support. We are grateful that Christians in China and around the world are praying. But some are saying that they don’t know how to pray for us.”
Pastor Cui Quan identifies three specific prayer needs:
1. Pray for healing for the teams and the flock. Many are carrying deep pain, grief, and disillusionment. Some are quite fearful of the threats from the authorities.
2. Pray that Wanbang can sense the heart of God amidst these turbulences. How are we to cope? How are we to shepherd? How are we to grow? We are waiting before God for a new model to grow His church in China.
3. Pray for wisdom for all concerned. As a church, how does Wanbang show the community, and the government that we are a true blessing, and not a threat? That our refusal to join the Three-Self is not anti-government, or anti-China?
Soon after Wanbang’s eradication, leaders of the five big rural house church movements met together. They have also issued a five-point prayer suggestion. All are based on biblical principles.
1. Pray for our Government (Psalm 33:12)
2. Pray for our Society (1 Tim 2:1-4)
3. Pray for our Church (Col 4:12)
4. Pray for our Workers (2 Cor 1:11)
5. Pray for our Mission (Acts 13:1-3)
I met one of their key leaders last week. He was grateful for the global prayer efforts for China. And he was most sincere in saying, “I pray they know how to pray for us.”
Can we now pray for China?
Dr. David Wang is President Emeritus Asian Outreach International, David is a specialist on church and missions in China, and author of over 20 books including Still Red.