Editor’s note: Jia Xuewei is a member of Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu. He wrote this highly poetic essay just after Easter, in April of 2019, following Pastor Wang Yi ‘s December 2018 imprisonment. In December of 2019, Wang Yi was sentenced to nine years in prison.
Since then, Jia has continued to be harassed by Chengdu officials for his involvement in ERCC.
I never had deep and long conversations with you; my understanding stems from the sermons and articles you wrote. You never hold back in sharing the details of your experiences, and you let everyone step into your life at zero distance without any sense of precaution – it is living and true, true and touching. In your family life you observed the involuntary nature of sinners. When you were cooking noodles in the evening, Jiang Rong shouted across the hall: “Don’t cook too much, we can’t finish it,” but you deliberately added more into the pot, as if you had gained defiant freedom. When Shuya was still unable to walk, you were crawling with him on the floor. You pointed out all the surrounding things to him and told him that he could touch them all, except the electrical socket: “You may not touch this, because on the day that you touch it, you shall surely die.” After you returned to your seat, you noticed that Shuya focused on nothing else, but solely on crawling towards the socket.
You shared about your regeneration experience as though it was something funny. It always cracks me up when I listen to your testimony, just like the testimony of Ran Yunfei. Once you climbed up a ladder to get books on the top shelf, but you fell and bled profusely on the floor. You started praying, “O God, I’m a couple hundred pounds, and that’s about a few hundred sparrows. If whether a sparrow falls from the sky is under your sovereignty, what does it mean for me to fall?” This was the start of your repentance. Your body weight seems to be a source of humor. Once, you were flying internationally but were blocked by the police at the airport. You decided not to cooperate: “I’ll act like a dead dog on the floor, and even four of them could not move me.” Some asked why you put on so much weight, and you answered, “Because my heart is cold and empty, I can’t help but eat more.”
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When I heard this, it felt like a joke, but it also felt like true sorrow. Once, in an online forum, an old pastor asked you, “What is the greatest obstacle in ministering?” You thought for a while and answered solemnly, “The periodic urge in life to self-destruct.” This is an expression of coldness and emptiness, and I will never forget the deep impression it formed in me. That sense of emptiness has been around as long as diseases – when Chen Zi’ang could not see anyone before or after him, he wept disappointingly; when Zhu Geliang awoke suddenly from his spring slumber in the field, he felt like he awoke from a dream; farmers saw new tombstones erected in ditches, and they couldn’t help but ask: “For what am I living?” You and they represent my emotions – only my experience is not as intense as yours, which continues to exist deeply as a fearful scar.
In the interview with Xujie in 2011, you described such a self-destructive experience. The place was the Baltic Sea, Sweden. It was your first time taking a sea vessel to Helsinki. It was almost midnight, but the sky in this high latitude area was still softly gleaming, like dusk. The wind was howling, and it was raining on deck. You were alone with no others on the starboard of the ship, and you felt something dark and destructive in your life surfacing from within. You were fearful, and there was a strong urge to jump off the ship – to jump would be to enter infinity, to be part of eternity, even if it was infinite darkness or eternal destruction. The temptation of eternity itself was so great that you were not bothered whether it was light or darkness. You did not have confidence in your ability to conquer this urge, so you frantically left. At that moment, you really felt that you were not the master of your own fate. You saw the vastness of all the eye could behold, but you were overwhelmed by the vastness of what you could not see. Looking at the ocean, you were deeply moved, and you cried at that very spot.
Even looking at these words from a distance, my pastor, my heart cannot help but sob. I mourn and have compassion for this great destruction in life – for you, for me, for those whom I have loved, for those whom I have hurt, for those in this world who have not been comforted or treated gently. Now, in the prison of Pi-Shank, has your mourning intensified, or is it relieved? Has your God filled up the black hole of your soul? Are you, like Augustine, praising out loud, “I rest in the love of God, my heart is forever content, and this heart will forever rest”?
I have asked myself the same question. “Is my heart truly and eternally content in the love of God?” I have no answer. I see the kings of both worlds within myself, fighting for my soul. The king of this world invokes hatred and fear in me, yet he promises me a luxury apartment in Jiuyanqiao and high-end massages in Wangjianglou. The king above promises me a free and good new Jerusalem, but requires me to live by faith and not by sight, traversing vanity before reaching the destination.
No matter how hesitant I am under the bondage of lust, nor how fearful I am under the threat of the king of this world, there is one thing God has freely given me that I perceive by faith: Jesus Christ is risen, and I will rise with him. This heavenly, eternal thing is a tiny but immensely clear beam of light, shining forth from the future into the present. The eternal spotlight is forever upon me. Among the billions, God loves me, and he focuses his love on me. No matter where I flee, I cannot hide from his Spirit and his face. If I ascend into heaven, he is there; if I make my bed in Sheol, he is also there.
You have said that those who believe in Christ should go and die. Therefore, in April, I can die. Therefore, in April, let us die together. This is the day of our Lord Jesus’s crucifixion, and I nail my sin, my despicable greed and fear of this world, to the cross. This is the day of resurrection for our Lord Jesus, and I look towards the glorious cloud of his coming and toward his immaculate body, so that I may not linger anymore in this world of sin and suffering and in this body of corruption and destruction.
I will give up on good things, because they impede better things from coming. May the brightness and vastness of Chengdu in April pass; may the white flowers upon giant trees pass; may the orchid that blooms quietly and solitarily in the valley pass; may the newly baked mozzarella pizza pass; may the A2 jacket and original jeans pass; may the poems of Rilke and the novels of Fitzgerald pass; may the woman whose neck is like an ivory tower, whose eyes are pools in Heshbon by the gate of Bath-rabbim, whose nose is like a tower of Lebanon which looks toward Damascus pass…
On that autumn afternoon, time was up. I knelt on the bed, gently hugging my father. He was a stout and sturdy man, but had been whittled down until he was like a fallen leaf beside Lingyindao. He dithered at the brink of life, waiting for the time to return to the dust. His lungs were half-decayed; he breathed with no strength and with great difficulty. He lacked even the strength to peel his eyelid open, and the burning sensation in his body tormented him, which he temporarily calmed by gulping cold drinks. He was humorous, with an outgoing personality. His outlook on life was like a plant – not deep, but sensible and unconstrained; not clingy, but free. After he was sick, he never once complained about his own fate. My dad loved me since I was a boy, and after I entered adulthood, we became good friends. There was never a dull moment in our talks. Every time I went home, after two hours together I was informed of everything that happened in the village and with the relatives. Dad described it all in a lively manner. Even though he had been an employee in the county town his entire life, he always saw himself as one from our village. His emotions, reputations, his life and his death was connected to it. He was familiar with every piece of land. The Jia family had been in that village for over a hundred years. I am the seventh generation, and every male member of the family was clear as the sky in my dad’s memory.
I looked at his face, and remembered hugging him as a child. At that time, he was big but I was small, like Shuya, sitting on the back of the bike and clutching his hips with both hands. I watched the receding trees, the electrical poles, the birds in the sky, the houses with various tools hanging from their rafters. My father pedaled as he attempted to enter a child’s imagination as I pestered him with questions. When we went to the county seat we had to cross a river, but there was only a rudimentary concrete bridge – no rails, and a wide gap in the center, showing the gushing river beneath. I was afraid to cross, so I said, “Dad, I’m scared.” “No problem,” he said He held me with one hand and pushed the bike with the other as we steadily crossed the bridge. After that, we rode again. Sometimes I rode in front, nestled in his arms, feeling the heat of his sweat, hearing his soft breath, looking at the muddy road and falling asleep to the bumpy ride. There was nothing in the dream as beautiful as death. If only I had died back then.
Then he died in my arms. The suffering pain on his face turned to peace, the folded crease on his forehead found relief, and the last of his breath escaped, scattering into air. Half my life was emptied, and my body disintegrated inch by inch; although my heart was compressed to the size of a grain of wheet, I would not die nor would I germinate. You are all so far away, and you have left me alone in this world. Every inch of this unkempt road is deafeningly silent. Such thoughts have no place to call home.
My pastor, my spiritual father, perhaps I carry you in my arms, just as I carried my father. If this life is a definite victory over a lost cause, we have failed and we have wept more than enough. We pray that our heavenly Father shows us mercy to give us death in April – along with memory, love, and suffering – so that dust may return to dust and our souls may return to God. The silver chain is broken, the golden urn is dashed, the bell is struck. We see those from Abraham until now joyously asking: “Where is my unfailing true Friend, Jesus of Nazareth?”
 We have been unable to locate this exact quotation from Augustine in English.