Five members of a small suburban “house church” got up at 4 a.m. Sunday hoping to slip past police and worship Jesus with persecuted believers from the 1,000-member Shouwang Church in Beijing.

However, police were out in force and caught the five — interrogated them and attempted to get them to sign statements “repenting” of their support of the Beijing congregation.

Each weekend for 22 weeks now, teams of police officers stand outside church leaders’ homes much of the weekend — barring the pastors and staff from leaving home. Other policemen ring a park the church designated as a meeting place, removing anybody who begins reading a Bible, singing hymns with others or playing DVDs of sermons.

The park was chosen by Shouwang Church leadership after police blocked the congregation from renting any indoor facilities or taking possession a property purchased by the church for $4 million.

So this Sunday, five members of a small “house church” in Fangshan, Hebei township, outside of Beijing, attempted to show their solidarity with Shouwang’s members. They woke at 4 a.m. and traveled for two hours to the park in Beijing, hoping to worship with members of the embattled congregation.

However, police were already out in force upon their arrival at 7 a.m. The five were taken into custody. There officials urged them to sign documents withdrawing their support of the Shouwang church. All five refused and were eventually released.

“The Fangshan five are part of a growing wave of house church Christians determined – despite the consequences – to support Shouwang church in its stand for greater religious freedom,” said Bob Fu of the China Aid Association.

Shouwang members have attempted to meet in the outdoor venue every Sunday since April 11.

Besides the Fangshan church members, police detained at least 15 Shouwang members who turned up for worship, holding them for up to 48 hours in interrogation rooms. The Domestic Security Protection Squad maintained surveillance outside the homes of senior church leaders, while less senior police camped outside the homesof other church members from Saturday night until noon Sunday.

On Aug. 14, police detained some 16 worshippers at the square. Among them was pastor Wang Shuanyan of Beijing’s Xinshu house church.

In a letter written after her release on Aug. 16 and smuggled out of China, Wang described how police detained her at 7 a.m. and took her to the Zhongguancun Boulevard police station. The previous Sunday, a police officer had threatened to lock her up for 48 hours if she persisted in coming to the worship site; this time Wang came prepared with a sleeping bag.

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