On 11 February 2022, Echeng District Court sentenced Pastor Hao Zhiwei (51) of Egangqiao Church in Ezhou city, Hubei province to eight years in prison for “fraud”. Her lawyer Si Weijiang visited her in prison and she decided to appeal.
The pastor has been in detention since July 2019, when she was charged with “fraud” for collecting tithes and offerings from her house church members. Originally a registered pastor in the officially-recognised Three-Self Patriotic Movement, Pastor Hao left the Three-Self Church because she disagreed with the Religion Bureau’s governance of churches. She and the house church she leads have been subjected to ongoing persecution by the authorities, and in August 2019 Chinese Communist Party officials demolished the church building.
First pastor charged with fraud
Lawyer Si Weijiang said Pastor Hao was probably the first house church pastor to be charged with fraud. After she was arrested, the authorities arrested several more house church pastors under the same charge, including Elder Zhang Chunlei of Guiyang Renai Reformed Church and Elders Hao Ming and Wu Jiannan of Deyang Early Rain Qingcaodi Church.
On 28 November 2021, Elder Li Yingqiang of Chengdu Early Rain Covenant Church wrote an article titled “My Three Comments on the Chinese Government’s Use of ‘Fraud’ Charges Against House Church Preachers and Offerings”, in which he wrote:
“Chinese house churches receive offerings from Christians and use the money to financially support preachers. This conforms to the teaching of the Holy Bible and is adopted by churches all over the world. Christians’ offerings and the church’s support for preachers are closely related to the Christian church’s identity and mission.
“Since the new ‘Regulation on Religious Affairs’ took effect in February 2018, the Chinese government adopted many different ways to persecution house churches: Chinese-Characterisation of Christianity; removing crosses, sealing up and demolishing church buildings; banning church offerings; and arresting preachers using the ‘fraud’ charge…. The ‘fraud’ charge is only one of the charges the government uses against preachers. Other charges include: ‘illegal business operations’, ‘inciting subversion of state power’, ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’ and so on. These charges are thorns on loyal preacher’s head and God’s crown for His loyal servants.”
Pastor Hao’s husband Zhang Youwu (pictured) died of liver cancer in 2018. Following the pastor’s imprisonment, her older son Paul (18) took care of her younger son Moses (14) until he went away to university in Zhejiang province. Moses is being cared for by a part-time domestic helper and some women from the church, and is reportedly suffering from severe depression.
After learning of his mother’s sentence, Paul wrote a letter to his mother in which he said:
“Today, that is February 11 around noon, I learned of your news. I don’t know how to express my feelings right now. It is very complicated. I haven’t told Moses about this, since I want him to attend school without worries. Whatever the result, I believe God is using this to temper our hearts.
“I grew up a lot while you were in prison. I am no longer a shy and timid boy. Now I can handle many things on my own. I conquered countless problems with God’s help. I took the College Entrance Exam and was enrolled in college. My college is full of God’s grace. I get along with my classmates. I am really thankful for God.”
A year and a half ago, in a letter dated July 2020, Pastor Hao wrote to Paul:
“God has a plan for our life. He shepherds His people. He will shepherd you. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. God will put His plan for you in your heart. You need to learn to establish a relationship with Him. Pray for the things in your heart. You will have a strong feeling if it is the thing in His plan.
“You did not give yourself up during tribulation because God loves you and holds you. I am very happy when I heard you got more than 500 points in the College Entrance Exam. I fasted and prayed for two days during the exam. I pray for both of you every day. I pray God is with you. My heart is also with you. Do not be afraid. The triumph will come soon. God’s resurrection and triumph are true.”
The pastor also reportedly encouraged her sons to spend more time reading and learning the Bible, especially Romans 8, Isaiah chapters 26 to 66 and Lamentations chapters 2 to 3, and said she would check their “homework” after she comes home.
Read Pastor Hao’s Prisoner Profile.
(China Aid, International Christian Concern)