A house church in China's central Henan province is refusing to bend to the demands of the Communist government, rejecting an order to stop all religious activities and remove all Christian signage from the building despite ongoing threats.
ChinaAid, an organization dedicated to bringing awareness to religious freedom violations and support persecuted Christians in China, reports that in September, government personnel informed the members of Emmanuel Church that they lacked the appropriate documents to meet legally and threatened to arrest anyone who continued to attend the church's services.
Zhao, the woman in charge of the church, told China Aid the local religious affairs bureau then issued a notice on Aug. 24, commanding the church to move out of its building by Sept. 25 and requiring its attendees to destroy any "illegal structures" within three days or face penalties.
"If we don't move," Zhao said, "they said they will throw away our materials, seats, and quite a lot of our other things."
Officials also urged members to join the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), China's state-run church. Once churches join the TSPM, they must accept government supervision and obtain approval from the religious departments before holding any activities. In addition, the TSPM explicitly bans its members from bringing their children up in the Christian faith, labeling the practice "brainwashing."
Despite these ongoing threats, Zhao says that the church now meets daily, sometimes even gathering at night or going out into the wilderness to study the Bible and pray.
Another house church in China's southwestern Sichuan province recently experienced similar persecution at the hands of government officials: Last month, the congregation was ordered to immediately stop meeting at their building, cease singing hymns and adhere to a list of restrictions - or face severe legal action.
Zhang Mingxuan, a pastor and president of the Chinese House Church Alliance, at the time told China Aid that the persecution of this house church is symptomatic of a larger operation spreading throughout the country, as a number of other churches have faced harassment from the government due to their religious beliefs.
While the Communist Party says it protects freedom of religion, it keeps a tight grip on religious activities and allows only officially recognized religious institutions to operate.
In April, President Xi Jinping warned that China must be on guard against foreign infiltration through religion and stop "extremists" spreading their ideology. Reuters notes that the country is primarily concerned about what it sees as the growing influence by Islamists in the Xinjiang region where hundreds of people have been killed over the past few years in violence between members of the Muslim Uighur community and majority Han Chinese.
The Communist Party is suspicious of the influence of Christianity, which is experiencing significant growth in the country, and the country is ranked 33rd on Open Door USA's World Watch List of countries where believers face the most persecution.
Over the past year, up to 1,700 churches have been demolished or had their crosses removed in Zhejiang alone province, and a significant number of pastors and human rights lawyers have been arrested and imprisoned.