The founder of the Bethel Church near Zhangjiajie, Hunan, was formally arrested on charges of "incitement to subvert state power" on April 2nd. Just weeks prior, state security officials had raided the home of Zhao Huaiguo in the early morning of March 14th, taking him into custody.
Although there are few details on the specifics leading to the charges, Zhao's wife, Zhang Xinghong, says the arrest was likely due to him speaking to foreign news agencies about the COVID-19 pandemic. Another probable factor was his consistent refusal to merge his church with the official Three-Self Patriotic Movement, which resulted in harassment from authorities.
Last year, when the church was raided by nearly 50 government agents, Bibles, hymnals and musical instruments were confiscated and church property was damaged. Authorities have also been examining the church's finances in an attempt to find evidence of foreign influence, but their investigation has been hampered by the Christians' refusal to cooperate with the officials' tactics.
Action against the Bethel Church is reflective of the Communist government's nationwide campaign to eliminate non-official church communities. The government considers Christianity a foreign import and a way for "western hostile forces" to infiltrate the country. For more information on the persecution of Christians in China, go to our country report.
Please pray that Zhao will receive proper legal representation and justice during the court proceedings, as well as needed spiritual strength and encouragement throughout the process. May the members of the Bethel Church he founded receive opportunities to continue with worship and fellowship. Also intercede for the country's governing authorities, praying that they will not only cease in their campaign against religion, and thus allow freedom of worship for every citizen, but that they would personally discover the reality of the Risen Christ themselves.