The past few months in China have seen a number of high profile unregistered churches and church leaders come under increased pressure and harassment. Sometimes this comes in the form of orders to install security cameras or lease cancellations, as has happened with Zion Church in Beijing. In other cases, churches have been ordered to stop meeting in large groups.
In Chengdu, Pastor Wangyi of Early Rain Covenant Church was detained and then released, along with other church members when they attempted to conduct a memorial service for the victims of the 2008 Wenquan earthquake. One of the church members who was detained with Pastor Wang Yi posted an account of his detention experience on WeChat, that quickly garnered a lot of attention in the online Christian community.
Unlike believers in years past, for many young, urban Christians, this is their first experience of pressure and outright hostility from the government. How they respond is an important story.
Because our aim in Chinese Church Voices is to present a variety of views from Chinese Christians, and to highlight articles and posts that that are generating discussion within China, we have chosen to translate this account of a believer’s experience in detention. We would like to warn readers that this account may be difficult for some to read.
You Know, Oh Lord!
According to the preaching habits of preachers, I will share three points:
Point One: Joy in My Heart
On Friday, May 11, I finished preparing the PowerPoint slideshow for the special gathering on May 12. With great hope, and with great joy in my heart, I looked forward to the special May 12th gathering. The same day, the Caojia Alley Police Station called me to forbid me from participating in this gathering. They said it was an illegal gathering, and I attended at my own risk. The joy in my heart greatly surpassed the risk of attending, so I was willing to participate for the Lord’s sake.
Point Two: Letters from Prison
My wife Feng Xiaojing, a Christian brother Zhu Hong, and I rode in a police car, along with three other police officers. A young auxiliary police officer sat in the front passenger seat. A female police officer and a male police officer sat in the middle. The three of us sat in the back row (which was separated from the middle row with bars like a security window). There were only two seats in the back row, and the two seats were not connected. The police told me to sit between the seats, but I suggested that I sit in the row in front. I said that sitting between the seats was not comfortable. The auxiliary police said, “So you know it’s not comfortable. Why didn’t you listen when we called you?”
Then the police officer numbered _____ started cursing at me in the Sichuan dialect (“We called you countless times yesterday, telling you not to go, why didn’t you listen?”) My wife asked why he was yelling at us, and he yelled even more, saying something along the lines of, “I’ll yell at you if I want,” and was even cursing our parents. The female police officer said that yelling at us was educating us, that he was our parent-like official, that we deserved scolding. Finally she asked if I fixed cars, and I said no.
We three were the first to arrive at the Caojia Alley Police Station. We went into the interview room, and set all our possessions on a table, including watches and rings. And then we were searched very roughly one after another. Police number _____ started cursing at me, and dragged me to the metal gate, telling me to raise both hands, and started searching me. He was very rough.
After I was searched I went back to sit on a chair, and his seemingly calmed rage was stirred up again for some reason. He pointed at me, “What’s your job?” I told him I worked on the 23rd floor of Jiangxin Building. He asked, “What kind of work do you do?” I told him I was a preacher. “Well, preach me something.” So I started with John 3:16. Before I could finish, he interrupted me and pushed me. My wife said, “We can talk but let’s not get rough.”
Following this, a male police officer numbered _____ pulled me to a corner of the room, and shouted at me harshly to squat and raise my hands. The police officer numbered _____ was beside him, and pulled off my glasses. Number _____ started hitting my head, and I yelled, asking that they turn on their body-worn cameras. But they were even rougher after I finished yelling.
They dragged me violently to the interrogation room, which was an separate room. And in the interrogation room they started shouting at me and pushing me. They told me to sit on the metal chair, but did not unlock my handcuffs. When they saw that I had trouble sitting down, one of them unlocked me, and pushed me onto the chair hard, and locked me up again. Number _____ started hitting my head with his palm, shouting at me very harshly, and knocking me about. I asked for my glasses back, but they refused (they only returned my glasses after a long time).
A few other auxiliary police started yelling at me. Number _____ also pushed my head very hard. As he walked to the door, he angrily said, “We’ll blacklist his ID.” Then the whole group of people left. This happened at about 11:40. This was what happened in the interrogation room.
In the afternoon, an auxiliary police took me to the second room on the right of the second floor, to start preparing an interview statement. During the writing of the statement, I was beaten again. There were four people present, including myself. One was the female police officer who came in the same car. One was police officer Shi. One was the auxiliary police taking the statement. Including me, there were four people in all.
When they asked my father’s name, I told them that that is unrelated to the case, and refused to answer. They said, “so it’s unrelated just because you say it’s unrelated?” Number _____ hit my face very hard. He hit the left side of my face, and then the right side, and then my chin. I immediately felt pain.
He started yelling at me in Sichuan dialect that I did not understand. The female police officer smiled slightly, and said, “He doesn’t know what names you’re calling him.” It was true that I did not know. I looked at him. His hands were shaking and his body was trembling a little. I said to him, “I have a right to sue.” He seemed to understand something, and his attitude came around a bit, until the statement was finished. After beating me, Officer Shi left the office temporarily. They started asking me questions again. I said, “There were police beating me. Did you see?” The female officer said, “Who beat you? How come I didn’t see anything?”
They asked me how much I earned. I said it was unrelated. The female officer said, “We need to know your income. If somebody gave you a lot of money and asked you to do something illegal, would you do it?” I said that I wouldn’t. The female officer said, “How do you know you wouldn’t?” I said that I wouldn’t, because of my faith and my conscience.
They made a phone call to bring in their boss. Police officer numbered _____ looked very kind and friendly. He came in and said, “I’ve read some of the Bible. The church has baptism by immersion, affusion [pouring], and aspersion [sprinkling]. Which kind are you?”
I said: Baptism by immersion.
The officer: Do you know the Bible really well?
I said, I’ve read it a few times. There are some places I still don’t quite understand.
The officer: Do you have parents?
The officer: Who made you?
Me: I am born of my parents.
The officer: He gave me a hard slap. “You are made by God.”
He slapped me again very hard, harder than before. “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, what comes next?”
Me: Turn to them the other cheek also.
He gave me another really hard slap. “What book was it?”
Me: The Gospel of Matthew.
He slapped me again. “Which chapter?”
Me: Chapter 5.
He slapped me four times in a row. The Gospel of Matthew, in the New Testament, Chapter 6 verses 38-42.
The officer: I see anger in your eyes. You’re supposed to love me. Jesus taught that you are to love me, in doing so, you heap coals on my head, not to burn me, but to touch me.
Another slap. On which day did God make people?
Me: On the sixth.
Two more slaps. God made people on the sixth day, from earth.
The officer: Can only one person give birth to more?
Another four slaps. God made a women. They ate the forbidden fruit, and gave birth to humanity. I see the anger in your eyes. You are to love me. Smilingly, he cupped my face in his hands. Jesus taught you to love me, in doing so, you heap coals on my head, not to burn me, but to move me.
Another four slaps. My face was starting to get a little numb.
The officer: Where in the Bible is the book of Exodus?
Me: The second book of the Old Testament.
The officer: Who wrote it?
The officer: What’s the content?
Me: God used Moses to bring the Israelites out of Egypt. There is a lot of other content in there too.
Another dozen or so slaps. Even though I was getting a little numb, it still hurt. They were Hebrews, that is, the modern Israelis. God used Moses to bring them out of Egypt to enter Canaan. But the Egyptian Pharaoh did not allow it, so God sent down ten plagues. The first plague was fairly light. The second was harsher. In the tenth plague, the Pharaoh’s eldest son died. They left Egypt.
A curse word. “I’ve read the Bible too.” He looked at his watch and left.
The statement was being written.
My face was a little swollen. The next day, when I was chewing food, my cheeks felt a little uncomfortable.
Point Three: I’ve Got Peace Like a River
“I’ve Got Peace Like a River.” It was in that moment that I understood the heart of Pastor Wang Yi. No, not understood the heart of Pastor Wang Yi, but understood the heart of Jesus Christ, understood the heart of our heavenly Father.
When stepping into the police car in front of Qingyang District Distribution Center, I encouraged some Christian brothers, saying, “What’s inside of us is greater than what’s outside us. May God be with you!”
When we came to Caojia Alley Police Station, and I was dragged forcefully from the interview room to the interrogation room, sitting on the icy cold metal chair, with the monotonous décor, the interrogation room seemed so sad. But God did not let me lose hope. He did not let me lose the will to share the gospel. In the interrogation room, I shared the gospel with four auxiliary police. I talked with them about faith, and why I was a believer.
When I was slapped over thirty times by someone else, even if I am afraid to resist, surely there would be extreme anger, and inhuman desire for vengeance, a hateful heart as hard as stone. But I could not find any such words within my mind. I really wanted to use these phrases to describe my emotion at the time, my thoughts, my reason, the entirety of my life.
At that point, I was deeply convinced that my savior lives. In difficult times, he all the more demonstrates that he is Lord, that he is God, that he is whom I rely on. Because God has not abandoned me.
Even though God did not save me from the hands of wicked men, God comforted me with his word, and gave me strength in my heart, so that I could withstand it.
In the moment I was slapped, God helped me experience the moment when Christ was slapped by the soldier. That scene came alive before my eyes. God also allowed me to experience the apostles being beaten for the gospel, and yet spreading the gospel as soon as they left the Sanhedrin.
God helped me truly understand, the meaning of “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” Because in that moment, God took away my fear, and placed peace and joy in my heart.
Praise and thanks be to God! I was slapped by two station masters (officer-in-charge _____ and deputy officer-in-charge _____) as well as civil security police. But God’s love is so long and wide and high and deep, that it is beyond what we can understand. I do not feel any hate against these people, but only deep, deep pity. May God save them. Because the harsher they were against me, the more I saw that they are being used by the devil.
Having been slapped 30-some times, I thought to myself, this is it. My face must be swollen, green, and purple. But my Christian brothers and sisters did not notice a thing. At that moment, I understood how it was that the Israelites could wear shoes for forty years that did not wear out, and that their feet didn’t swell.
I, too, am weak.
I don’t entirely want to come on Sunday. I am a little afraid in my heart. I’m not sure what I’m afraid of, just that I’m afraid. My wife Feng Xiaojing and I are both afraid.
Please pray for us!
Image credit: Guilin, China by Bernd Thaller via Flickr.
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