Five O’Clock in the Afternoon in China

Editor’s note: In December, CP is intentionally remembering and praying for the persecuted church in China. This road of suffering is hugely important to the identity of the Chinese church and is descriptive of the current reality.

In December of 2018, Elder Li Yingqiang of Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu was arrested alongside Pastor Wang Yi and Elder Qin Defu. After being released from detention, he wrote a poem called “Five O’clock in the Afternoon in China,” which changes slightly the lyrics to the famous house church hymnFive O’Clock in the Morning in China” by Sister Xiao Min. This new song, set to the music of Xiao Min’s famous hymn, calls brothers and sisters to come together in prayer for imprisoned Chinese believers each day at 5 p.m. Elder Li hopes this song will serve as a call to prayer for Chinese believers for the coming decades, which may well call for renewed dedication to walking the way of the cross.


At the beginning of June, I read a report about Chen Yu, a persecuted brother. The headline said that Brother Yu, who was imprisoned for running an online Christian bookstore, prays every afternoon at 5. In early April, the lawyer for Elder Zhang Chunlei, an imprisoned brother from Guiyang, told me that Elder Zhang also prays every day at 5 p.m. 

Why are these men praying every afternoon at 5? How did “Five O’Clock in the Afternoon in China” come about?

Before I was arrested on 12/9 in 2018, my wife and I decided, between the two of us, that we would pray together every day at 5 p.m.

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“Of all the preparations I made for my imprisonment, this is the one that helped me the most. Although I did not know what was going on outside of prison, the comfort I received from going to the Lord in prayer every day alongside my wife and children was the most important spiritual support I received during my eight months in prison.

I made a pact with my wife that, if I were to be arrested and imprisoned, we would still go before the Lord together in prayer each day at 5 p.m. Once I entered the detention center, I realized this was an excellent agreement. At 5 p.m., it was time to prepare for dinner in the detention center. At that time, everyone was divided into two columns, and sat in the aisles of the inner cells waiting for the meal to be distributed from cell to cell. The wait usually began at 5 p.m., and took about fifteen to thirty minutes. This was an excellent time for prayer.


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For my family on the outside, 5 p.m. was also an easy time to remember.

Of all the preparations I made for my imprisonment, this is the one that helped me the most. Although I did not know what was going on outside of prison, the comfort I received from going to the Lord in prayer every day alongside my wife and children was the most important spiritual support I received during my eight months in prison. After I got out of the detention center, I realized that not only my wife and children were praying with me every afternoon, but many brothers and sisters also persistently prayed alongside me.

During my time in the detention center, I wrote some poems and songs. One of these reads:

“It’s five o’clock in the afternoon in China

We are seeing each other in heaven

Who can stop it?”

Before Elder Zhang Chunlei’s arrest, we agreed to pray together at 5 p.m.

From November 2020 to March of 2021, our family lived in Guiyang for four months. During those months, our family spent a lot of time with Elder Zhang Chunlei. We had many good fellowship memories with the brothers and sisters of Benevolent Love Church, who welcomed us with warm hospitality. This was a wonderful gift from the Lord to our family. 

The day after we left Guiyang, Elder Zhang Chunlei was arrested. Two days before his arrest, I had dinner with him and a few others. That night we made a pact: when one of us went to prison in the future, we would pray together at 5 p.m. each day.

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“When I pray, I think of how [those] who have lost their freedom for the sake of the gospel are praying alongside me at the same time. Then, my heart is filled with peace from heaven. Each day, I am once again convinced that those I am praying for are in the hands of the Lord.

I thought I would be arrested earlier than the other three pastors, so I hoped that “Five O’Clock in the Afternoon in China” would become a small spiritual support system, which would spread from one family to several churches. Little did I know that Elder Chunlei would “enjoy” this before I did. Every afternoon at 5, an alarm on my phone goes off. Then, I stop whatever I am doing, prepare myself, and come to the Lord in prayer. This is true whether I am at home, on the road, or on my way to the police station. 

When I pray, I think of how Elder Chunlei and others who have lost their freedom for the sake of the gospel are praying alongside me at the same time. Then, my heart is filled with peace from heaven. Each day, I am once again convinced that those I am praying for are in the hands of the Lord. He has given to them more abundantly than he has given us. I believe that the Lord hears their prayers, and that they pray more for us than we do for them.

From “Five O’Clock in the Morning in China” to “Five O’Clock in the Afternoon in China”

“Five O’Clock in the Morning in China” is a reflection of thirty years of revival of the Chinese house church. This song distills some of the best traditions of the house church: godly discipline, a strong sense of eschatology, persistent prayer, and kingdom-mindedness.

“Five O’Clock in the Afternoon in China” is a new beginning for Chinese house churches. In the next thirty years we may once again face intense conflict between the church and the state. Preachers, pastors, and elders must be prepared to be suddenly taken away at any time, and to be detained, arrested, and sentenced for any reason. “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” is no longer a distant part of church history; instead, it is a reality that every Christian must face every day.

Thankfully, more and more brothers and sisters now know that, if they are persecuted for righteousness (no matter under what pretext or name they are arrested and imprisoned), they will immediately enjoy the support of a spiritual system that cannot be destroyed, dismantled, or stopped. A group of brothers and sisters who are still free will pray for them, for their families, and for their churches.

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“In this mutual intercession, we walk together as members of one another; in this mutual love, we fight for the Lord and long for revival; and in this mutual support, we bear the cross and exalt the gospel.

Two things are clear.

First, this prayer gathering before the throne of God the Father in heaven crosses denominations and regions. The author of Hebrews writes: “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”

Secondly, those who intercede for others today will have others who will intercede for them if they are subjected to fiery trials in the future. In this mutual intercession, we walk together as members of one another; in this mutual love, we fight for the Lord and long for revival; and in this mutual support, we bear the cross and exalt the gospel.

Will your name appear on this list of the imprisoned ones for whom we pray? At five o’clock in the afternoon in China, will you intercede for these brothers and sisters?

English translation of the hymn, “Five O’Clock in the Afternoon in China”:

At five o’clock in the afternoon in China, there comes the sound of prayer.

The grace of the Lord comes from heaven, can high walls stand in the way?

At five o’clock in the afternoon in China, there comes the sound of prayer.

Prosper the gospel with one heart and mind, may the Lord be gracious to us!

At five o’clock in the afternoon in China, there comes the sound of prayer.

Flying over all lands and mountains to comfort wounded hearts.

The body is bound, but the soul cannot be trapped.

Suffering for Christ, walking for the gospel, may the Lord’s kingdom be revived!


Elder Li Yingqiang is an elder of Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu. He and his wife have two children.

After being arrested at the same time as Pastor Wang Yi in December of 2018, he spent about eight months in jail before being released. 

FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION

Five p.m. in China is five a.m. EST in the United States. If the Lord awakens you in the early morning or the wee hours of the night, join Chinese brothers and sisters in praying for and with those imprisoned for the sake of the gospel.

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Further Reading

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Qingdao: How to Pray
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Qingdao: Locals and Outsiders
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Qingdao: Good Soil for the Gospel
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LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

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ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

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