The Sanjiang Church garnered international attention, according to the Daily Telegraph, when the Chinese city of Wenzhou threatened to demolish the large church, which has over a thousand members and occupies 100,000 square feet of land.
Open Doors’ China coordinator Xiao Yun explains that Wenzhou, like many Chinese cities, has a lot of registered and unregistered house churches. These days, it is very common to build illegally or partially illegally in China. In this case, the church received permission to build a church on 20,000 square feet, but their building expanded to 100,000 square feet. The local government turned a blind eye and even called it a “model project.” In 2013, however, the provincial government implemented a policy to reconstruct or demolish any old or illegal constructions. This far-reaching policy applied to all sorts of buildings, and not only churches. The Sanjiang Church was on this list of illegal constructions.
In November, when the authorities gave the church a three-month ultimatum, church members began 24-hour shifts surrounding and guarding the church. The government was not happy and threatened other Christians, saying that if they supported the Sanjiang Church, their churches would also be demolished.
Earlier this month the church reached a peaceful settlement with the local government, agreeing to remove the top two floors from the annex building behind the church while the authorities agreed not to demolish the church or the cross. In other words, the area occupied by the church buildings remains virtually unchanged.
While believers in China have shown mild concern, the ability of Chinese believers to advocate for themselves and negotiate successfully with the government is a positive development.
While persecution in China has diminished in recent years, several kinds of persecution still exist. All churches, both registered and unregistered, are still monitored, but not to the degree of ten years ago. Usually the police and authorities just want to know about church activities and don’t restrict their teaching or gatherings, according to Yun. Of course, very large churches are closer monitored than others. Churches with overseas connections have even more surveillance. A connection with foreigners, especially Westerners, is still discouraged.
Christians are not routinely arrested anymore; the days of extreme persecution are generally over. The government recently even cancelled its labor camp policy, in which the police could send someone to a camp without trial. Yun said that research shows that most recent persecution in China takes place among Chinese Muslim and Tibetan minorities, where families and clerics can make the lives of Christian converts very difficult. Believers may be abused, mistreated or thrown out of their families.
Yun said that Open Doors still conducts a lot of research among the Muslim and Tibetan minorities to map out the problems, the communities that can be helped and how that help can be effectively implemented. “We are searching for the most persecuted to see how we can support them. We also try to make the Chinese Church aware of the kind of persecution which still exists in China, but also outside the country. We hope to connect them more and more to persecuted Christians,” concluded Yun.
Father, thank You for the greater freedom for Your church in China and that Your Word can go out more openly. We continue to pray for those within the Muslim and Tibetan communities as they live out their faith in the midst of persecution. We praise You for the way this dispute was resolved and even that the local government was generous in their final agreement. We pray for the work of Sanjiang Church that the gospel will continue to go forth in power and authority in Wenzhou. In the name of Jesus, to whom belongs all glory and honor and praise. Amen.