By Aaron Wilson
By striving to maintain strict regulations on churches, the Chinese government is attempting to restrict the voice of many Christian leaders in the country. But imprisonment and the threat of torture couldn’t keep one Chinese pastor from singing loud about his faith.
Pastor Yang Hua was released from a Chinese prison last week after serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence for state crimes associated with his Christian faith.
Hua is a pastor at Huoshi “Living Stones” Church, a large house church in China’s southwest Guizhou province. According to friends, the 41-year-old pastor is now in poor health as a result of his prison stay. While incarcerated, he developed diabetes and a severe inflammation in his legs that had left him in intense pain and unable to walk for weeks.
Chinese authorities say Hua also owes the government more than $1 million in fines as a result of his church collecting “illegal donations” which Hua says were church member offerings.
Despite these challenges, Hua left prison singing loud worship songs, according to his wife, Wang Hongwu.
“Even though my husband experienced misfortune, his belief remains resolute,” Wang said.
“I am a torture expert.”
Hua was first imprisoned on December 9, 2015, after Chinese authorities raided his church. According to ChinaAid.org, an advocacy group that documents human rights abuses, Yang attempted to prevent authorities from confiscating a hard drive during the raid.
He was charged with the crime of obstructing justice and sentenced to ten days in detention services. Prosecutors extended Hua’s sentence to two-and-a-half years after elevating his charge to “divulging state secrets.”
Those secrets referred to information Hua shared in which he cited a confidential government notice calling for the establishment of a “Municipal Command Center for Dealing With the Living Stone Church According to the Law.” The notice went on to say that, “disposal of the Living Stone Church is a political task.”
Leading up to his trial, Hua reports being threatened with torture and harm to his family.
In an interview from May 2016, Hua recounted one prosecutor telling him, “I am a torture expert. I know how to beat you up without leaving a mark on your body for people to see. Doctors won’t be able to diagnose you. Even you won’t know what you died of.”
Hua also recalled the prosecutor telling him they could turn him into food for pigs and have “three or four guys locked here rape you and torture you every night.”
That Hua could sing praises to God after enduring such circumstances models the narrative of Acts 16 in which Paul and Silas sang hymns after having been beaten and imprisoned on account of their faith.
Persecution on the Rise for Chinese Christians
Hua’s release from prison occurs during a time when China’s persecution of Christians is spiking. The Washington Times reports Christian persecution in China is at its highest level since Mao Zedong’s rule ended in 1976 and that documented Chinese government persecution of Christians has increased fivefold in the last year.
This uptick in Christian persecution in China coincides with new regulations established this February that require all churches and houses of worship in China to register with the government. Churches that don’t register are subject to harassment, fines, and even public destruction of their meeting places.
But it’s not just church buildings and finances the government is going after. China is also making it more difficult for citizens to secure copies of the Bible.
In April, China banned online Bible sales in the country. Even though China is one of the largest exporters of Bibles in the world, Christians face challenges getting access to Scripture within the country.
Despite these problems, Christianity continues to thrive in China, with unregistered house churches like Hua’s leading much of the growth. The Atlantic reports the number of Protestants in China has increased from 1 million at the rise of the Communist Party in 1949 to at least 60 million today.
As such, stories of faithfulness from pastors like Hua represent the current position of many Christian leaders in China who are facing severe persecution but seeing doors for ministry open as they persevere in Christ.
AARON WILSON (@AaronBWilson26) is associate editor of Facts & Trends.