Mourner with picture of Rev. Yuan
The revered leader of China’s “house church” movement, Allen Yuan Xiangchen, has died in Beijing at 91.
He died in a hospital in the capital from pneumonia-related organ failure and is survived by his wife and six children.
The house church movement in China is believed to include tens of millions of participants who worship without the sanction of government.
Yuan was invited by the White House to attend a breakfast prayer meeting in Washington, but turned down the offer because he did not want to worship with Chinese members of the official church.
After the creation of the official Protestant churches – known as the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches of China – he steadfastly refused to join it. In 1958, he was sentenced to life in prison for counter-revolutionary crimes. He was released in 1979 and soon returned to his mission.
He was buried in the Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery with some 2,500 people attending the funeral service, mostly from house churches. Plain-clothed policemen prevented another thousand from participating.
The Chinese government allows religious activities only within official and registered patriotic associations, which function as virtual tools of control for the Chinese Communist Party over religious life in the various communities.
Yuan began his mission right after Japan’s surrender in 1945, helped by a Norwegian clergyman. He opened a prayer room in Beijing to preach the Gospel.
In a testimonial published by Voice of the Martyrs, he said: “During those years in prison my wife suffered untold hardships in bringing up the children. I was sent to near the Russian border doing farm work, growing rice. Wang Ming Dao [a fellow pastor also sentenced to the camp] and I thought we would die martyrs there. …”
“In the labor camp it was very cold,” he wrote, “food was bad, and the work was hard, but in 22 years I never once got sick. I was thin and wore glasses, but I came back alive; many did not. I also had no Bible for the 22 years and there were no other Protestant Christians there. I met only four Catholic priests. They were in the same situation I was in; they refused to join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.”
Before his death, Yuan asked his friends to pray “for the lost millions of China, for the newcomers and new believers, for the leaders our country.”