Communist authorities in China arrested five Christians from a house church in Shanxi Province because they attended a Christian conference in Malaysia last year where Pastors Tim Keller and D.A. Carson were speakers.
The five Christians are from Xuncheng Reformed Church in Taiyuan city and were arrested and detained on Monday for taking part in “KL2020 Gospel and Culture” conference hosted by a Chinese Indonesian Pastor Stephen Tong, the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern reported.
Two of the church members were arrested when they went to pick up their church co-worker, Zhang Ligong, as he was being released after serving a 15-day administrative detention for his faith, a church preacher named An Yankui was quoted as saying.
The other three were arrested from their homes.
The five traveled together to Malaysia to attend the conference from Jan. 28–31.
Keller, a theologian and bestselling author, and Carson, emeritus professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and co-founder of The Gospel Coalition, were among the speakers at the international conference.
The five Chinese Christians had legally traveled to Malaysia with their valid passports but are now facing charges.
Preacher An Yankui has requested that believers worldwide pray for the five Christians. “May God never forsake His children and continue to grant mercy to His church on the path carrying the cross,” he wrote on Facebook.
As of Saturday, it was not known if the Christians had been released.
Xuncheng Church has been heavily targeted in recent months, including constant harassment and the detention of a preacher and several members last November.
Open Doors USA, which monitors persecution in over 60 countries, estimates that there are about 97 million Christians in China, a large percentage of whom worship in what China considers to be “illegal” and unregistered underground house churches.
Authorities in China are also continuing their crackdown on Christianity by removing Bible apps and Christian WeChat public accounts as new highly restrictive administrative measures on religious staff went into effect this year.
ICC’s Regional Manager for Southeast Asia, Gina Goh, said, “Since the Revised Regulations on Religious Affairs took effect in February 2018, the Chinese government has added more laws seeking to curb religious activities that are not state-sanctioned.”
Goh added: “Beijing is paranoid about Chinese Christians’ interaction with Christians overseas. As a result, they are penalizing Christians to deter them from ‘receiving foreign influence.’ It is a shame that the Chinese government constantly manipulates laws to violate the religious freedom of its citizens.”
China is ranked on Open Doors USA’s World Watch List as one of the worst countries in the world when it comes to the persecution of Christians.
The U.S. State Department has also labeled China as a “country of particular concern” for “continuing to engage in particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”