China Detains Prominent House Church Leaders In Gansu Province

Thursday, January 10, 2008

By BosNewsLife News Center with Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife and reporting from China

BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife) -- At least two prominent church leaders of a main house church in China's Gansu Province remained detained Wednesday, January 9, after Chinese security forces raided a worship service, fellow Christians said.

Tian Ming-ge, Su Dean, and Wang Hongliang were detained by local police in their church in Jiuquan City on December 20, said Zhang Yinan, a prominent Chinese house church historian, in comments released by advocacy group China Aid Association (CAA). While Wang has was released January 5, the other two remain behind bars, apparently on charges of "gathering in an illegal assembly under the guise of religion."

The 71-year-old Tian, affectionately known by locals as "Uncle Jin" for his missionary work, was escorted by authorities from Jiuquan Detention Center to the Fangcheng County Public Security Bureau of Henan, his head shaved and donning prison garb, witnesses said. Su's whereabouts were not immediately clear Wednesday, January 9.

Retired and unmarried, Tian "has devoted the past 20 years of his life to full-time missionary work in China," since becoming a Christian in 1977, CAA told BosNewsLife. "He founded the management team of Daqing Church [in] Heilongjiang province and in July of 1994 was elected as one of seven leaders of the Fangcheng house church in his home county."


The detention has also been linked to his missionary activities in the last decade which included "trying to unite all of the house churches in China," CAA said. Chinese officials have denied human rights abuses, saying Christians are free within the government-backed denominations. However most of China's millions of Christians prefer to worship within house churches outside what they see as Communist government control over their affairs.

CAA said Tian worked closely with church leader Zhang Rongliang, who serves a 7.5 year jail sentence for his involvement in what the government sees as the "illegal" house church movement. Tian and other officials also formed a group in an attempt to pressure authorities not to declare the house churches as cults, and to avoid splits among various denominations, CAA added.

Tian's friend and co-worker Su was a house church teacher and spoke in over 30 counties and cities, CAA said, adding that he also oversaw "a ministry of more than 200,000 Christians" and led efforts in training "and equipping" of full-time missionaries.

This is not Tian's first detention. In 1994, he was detained for receiving Pastor Dennis Balcombe from Hong Kong, a case that generated international concern. He was eventually released from prison on medical parole, but again detained last year for one month by Fengcheng officials, while teaching Christianity outside of his home town, according to rights watchers.


CAA said that the arrest "of these highly respected and founding members of the house church comes" comes two days after the Chinese Communist politburo held a national session on the implementation of its "religious freedoms" policy.

At the conference, President Hu Jintao, reiterated his party’s past position on religious affairs and expressed new ideas on implementing religious freedom in China. "This latest proposal strategy will be measured by the way Tian and Su are treated in the coming weeks. In light of over 50 years of persecution amongst its leaders and members, the house church remains weary of the [Communist Party's) promising rhetoric," CAA said.

China is under growing international pressure to improve its religious rights record at a time when it prepares to host the Olympic Games later this year. "It has been 10 years since [China] signed the United Nations' International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It is time that they keep their promise on religious matters," CAA argued.

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