CHINA: Bengbu Christians prosecuted for “fraud”

Wan Changchun and familyOn 7 January 2024 Cornerstone Reformed Church in Bengbu, Anhui province issued a prayer letter reporting that Pastor Wan Changchun (pictured with his family), Elder Xue Shaoqiang and co-workers Cao Binting, Wan Chunqin (Pastor Wan’s elder sister) and an unnamed male have been prosecuted on suspicion of fraud in relation to the collection of donations from church members – a common charge against leaders of unregistered churches in China. Cornerstone Church, also known as Living Stone Church, is a house church that refuses to register with the authorities.

The letter expresses gratitude to Christians for nearly nine months of prayer since the Christians were arrested and also reveals that Pastor Wan’s father is experiencing a continuous decline in his health following a stroke, and that the pastor’s wife You Xiulin and their three children miss him very much.

Elder Xue Shaoqiang’s wife underwent heart surgery last year and Wan Chunqin’s husband died in 2021, leaving her with two children. Cao Binting’s wife and parents are concerned about him.

Pastor Wan and four co-workers arrested

On 11 April 2023 Bengbu police arrested Pastor Wan at a church activity when he was travelling in Lijiang, Yunnan province, on a charge of “illegal business operations”. He was taken to prison in his home city of Bengbu, where he is being held in Bengbu City Detention Centre. On 14 April police raided Pastor Wan’s home and confiscated religious items and documents.

Elder Xue Shaoqiang, Wan Chunqin, Cao Binting and another male Christian were also criminally detained one after another, on the same charge. Other elders and deacons from Cornerstone Church and Pastor Wan’s wife were taken to police stations for questioning and then released, and the church finances were searched and its accounts frozen.

On 18 May 2023 the charge against Pastor Wan was changed to fraud, which is more serious than “illegal business operations”. His four co-workers also had their charges changed to fraud.

Cornerstone Church points out that financial donation is taught in the Bible and has been a tradition of churches for over two thousand years, and expresses shock at the fraud charge. The church has publicly stated many times that those charged did not commit fraud and states that all donations are voluntary, that the church’s expenditures are transparent and publicly disclosed regularly, and that all expenditure is agreed upon by the congregation. Furthermore, no one has claimed that they were defrauded.

Wang YiIn 2018 Pastor Wan was one of over four hundred Chinese church leaders to sign a statement by Pastor Wang Yi of Chengdu Early Rain Covenant Church protesting against increased state interference in religious activities since the new Regulations for Religious Affairs had come into effect in February of that year. Pastor Wang (pictured) is serving a nine-year prison sentence and many of the signatories of his statement have been harassed.

Birthday post

On 8 January 2024, Pastor Wan’s 43rd birthday, You Xiulin posted an article for her husband in which she stated her willingness to walk the path of faith hand in hand with him, awaiting each other in prayer. Missing him after nearly nine months of separation, she wrote: “Sometimes, I truly wish I could turn into a breeze and fly into your embrace. As long as you are there, I am not afraid of any hardship. On this special day, I really miss you.”

You Xiulin concluded her post, “Anticipating to wait for each other in daily prayers, love is not restricted by iron bars, doesn’t need approval, and transcends time and space to meet with you. In the deepest part of our hearts, we are more closely connected… because none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”

Pastor Wan’s mother speaks out

Pastor Wan’s mother Li Xiuying has strongly protested about the charges against her son and daughter, Wan Changchun and Wan Chunqin. In a statement on 31 October 2023 she said, “I won’t accept this; I have something to say!”

Li Xiuying is a senior preacher who has been a Christian for 38 years. Her husband is in poor health following a car accident in 2022 when he was in intensive care in a coma for more than twenty days. Now, due to a stroke, his memory is declining and his physical coordination is affected.

Now that my two children are being accused of ‘fraud’ for serving the Lord, I cannot accept it! It is an insult to our family,” Li Xiuying said. She questioned the local authorities for using church registration as a criterion to judge what is legal and illegal, asking “How come now, if the church is not registered, we can’t gather, we can’t preach, and if we collect voluntary offerings, it becomes fraud? How come registration has become the only way to qualify for serving Christ?”

Li Xiuying describes family’s journey to faith

“Before I came to faith in the Lord, our family lived lives worse than deaths: our children were frail and frequently ill, and their father was addicted to gambling. I not only had to take care of the children but also had to provide for the family and live like there was a mountain crushing down on my shoulders. When I was at a dead end, God brought the gospel to me through my mother. Since I became a believer, my life has been illuminated, and our family has found hope. I prayed for my husband for five years before he broke free from the bondage of sin and turned to God. Since then, our family has been filled with joy in Christ. Our home gradually became a gathering place for Christians. My husband and I serve the Lord together with one heart. All of this happened naturally, without the approval or permission of anyone. Those who come to our home for gatherings do so voluntarily, all because of our faith to serve the Lord.

“Changchun was called to the Lord when he was 18 years old. He served (the Lord) while studying. At that time, the church didn’t provide support, so Changchun sold edamame beans to earn some money. He couldn’t afford a haircut, so he let his hair grow long. He had only one robe that he washed at night and wore again in the morning. But I am proud and grateful for Changchun. He has been on this path of servitude for 25 years, enduring hardships and never giving up on serving, no matter how tough it gets.

“My daughter, Wan Chunqin, has raised two children by her own hands, enduring hardships. Now, because of her arrest, the two children are also in pain. Her husband had a heart attack and passed away unexpectedly two years ago. My daughter had just emerged from the grief of losing her husband, and now she is separated from her children. The children lost their father, and now they have also lost the companionship of their mother. Every time I think about this, I feel extremely distressed. With this heart-wrenching experience, I can only silently pray before God, asking for him to comfort my child’s heart. If possible, I would willingly give up my own life to spare my children, but I know deep down it is not possible. I can only look up to the Lord.”

(Bitter Winter, China Aid)

Photo: China Aid