As a wave of government-ordered demolitions destroy China's churches and the crosses that adorn them, Christians fear their faith is facing its biggest threat since the Cultural Revolution.
In Sanjiang, in Zhejiang province lays the remains of what was once a large Protestant church. One woman, who told The Guardian she preferred to remain anonymous for safety reasons, says that for years, during her evening walks, she had watched the construction work taking place on the massive church, which was just a few hundred meters along the main road from her house.
The horror and devastation she felt when watching government bulldozers level the stately building was evident.
"They want to remove every trace," she said. "During the Cultural Revolution, they burned Bibles, but they didn't remove the crosses."
The women's emotions are echoed by thousands throughout the country who are experiencing increasing restrictions on their religious freedoms.
The city of Wenzhou, located opposite from the town of Sanjiang, boasts of over 1,500 churches with one located on nearly every street corner, earning the name of China's "Jerusalem." However, since the beginning of the year, more than 40 churches in the area have received notice that either their crosses or their building must be demolished, reports American NGO China Aid.
In May alone, six churches or their adjoining buildings were allocated for demolition in the city. One Protestant church was converted into a "cultural auditorium," and shortly after, crosses on 15 churches in the Wenzhou region were destroyed and removed by crane.
Christians in Wenzhou say they have not seen such unrelenting persecution since the Cultural Revolution. Since the demolitions, the heads of the free churches have been forced to speak out anonymously, as they know that their churches are under threat. The government has forbidden "official" pastors to express opinions at all. Now, the Christian community fears the government will focus on the thousands of illegal "house churches" around the country.
According to Pastor Joy, who works within Wenzhou, "The local government and the churches have always got along well here."
However, he notes that since the Christians are no longer a minority within the country, Xia Baolong, the Communist party chief and former governor of Zhejiang province, is scared they may pose a threat to the government.
"The number of Christians has grown to such an extent that there are now more Christians in China than party members and that scares them," said pastor Joy. "But Christians still have a negative image in China where there is a history of persecution. All that has played a part."
In the meantime, Christians within the city continue to gather several times a week to pray for the safety of their brothers and sisters around the country.
"The government cannot stop the spread of the gospel," says Pastor Li, who works as a missionary within the country.
"Despite persecution, Christians will remain strong. The power of God is stronger than any government official."