“I nearly lost my life in Xinjiang. Sometimes you must risk your life to open doors for the gospel,” said a believer from a Sola Fide house church in the eastern province of Shandong after his visit to Xinjiang earlier this year.
Together with a fellow churchgoer, he came to Xinjiang in the spring for missionary work. In June, both of them were arrested in the north of the region after a tip-off from a resident.
“The government encourages people to report on believers. Even young children would snitch on missionaries when they see them evangelizing,” the believer commented on the culture of spying and reporting in Xinjiang.
During interrogation, National Security Brigade officers pressured the two missionaries to sign a statement promising not to spread the gospel any more, but both of them refused. The angered officers dragged one of the believers (the one Bitter Winter interviewed) aside and beat him brutally until he lost consciousness. The next day, the two missionaries were ordered to go back to Shandong.
The missionaries were shocked at the intensity of surveillance and control measures in Xinjiang. “Guards even outside state-run Three-Self churches are fully-armed,” the missionary recalled. “Congregants have to pass four checkpoints before they are allowed in, their ID cards and belongings are checked, phone numbers registered. Believers are forced to leave the church as soon as the service finishes. Ethnic minorities are controlled even harsher.”
The two missionaries consider themselves fortunate. They learned from some local Christians that in March 2016, five Life Church preachers from the northwestern province of Shaanxi were arrested in a village under the jurisdiction of Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, after a villager reported them to the authorities. All of them were later sentenced to five years in prison, still serving their time.