35 church leaders 'kidnapped by cult'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 May, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 May, 2002, 12:00am

Thirty-five 'house church' leaders have been kidnapped by a cult, an overseas Christian group reported.

The leaders belong to a Henan-based evangelical group called the China Gospel Fellowship and were kidnapped by members of the Eastern Lightning - a sect branded an evil cult by the Government and as satanic by mainstream Christians.

According to a report by the Bangkok-based Asia Harvest - a Christian mission dedicated to missionary work in Asia, the 35 leaders were kidnapped on April 19 in cities including Shanghai, Nanjing, Qingdao and several in Henan province. Two of the 35 escaped and the rest remain unaccounted for.

The report said the 33 victims included two founders of the China Gospel Fellowship - Shen Yiping and Shen Xianfeng.

'This kidnapping has shaken all house church believers across China. They have been fighting . . infiltration from Eastern Lightning for more than 10 years, but never before has there been such a co-ordinated attack launched against house church leadership,' the mission said.

Few details were available about the kidnapping, but Asia Harvest said that Eastern Lightning 'in the past separated Christians and spread them in different locations to be brainwashed and beaten individually'.

China Gospel Fellowship is considered a conservative church group in China. Like many other Protestant organisations, it refuses to register with the Government.

Originally called the Church of Everlasting Fountain, Eastern Lightning's founder, Zhao Weishan, changed the name to 'Real God' in 1993. It is better known as Eastern Lightning, based on a biblical verse cited by Zhao.

According to reports by overseas Christian groups, Eastern Lightning preaches that Jesus Christ returned in 1990 in the form of a Chinese woman named Lightning, in Henan province. Her identity is unknown to all.

Asia Harvest's report said: 'They [Eastern Lightning] specially target house church Christians. They often revert to kidnapping, beatings, torture, drugging, sexual entrapment and intense brainwashing.

'There is credible evidence that dozens of Christians have been murdered by the Eastern Lightning over the years.'

The report said the remaining few leaders of the China Gospel Fellowship were caught in a dilemma because they feared that they would expose the church to persecution from the Government if they sought police help.

Despite this fear, one of the two escaped China Gospel Fellowship leaders has hired a lawyer in Beijing to liaise with police in a bid to rescue the kidnapped people.