Editor’s note: In the autumn of 2021, Tan Jian, a Chinese house church pastor, was arrested and imprisoned. He remained in jail for one year. Today, China Partnership is releasing the first season of our first podcast, “The House Church in China.” Season One focuses on the experience of Tan Jian’s wife, Yang Xiaohui, before, during, and after her own time in jail. It is a story of how light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
When Tan Jian was released from jail, in the fall of 2022, he made a personal statement before the court. This is the first half of what he shared with the court; we will publish part two in a few weeks.
“Sneaking Across the Border”
Judges and prosecutors,
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to present my case. After being imprisoned so long, this is a chance to feel alive again. My case is odd, a case within a case.
The other day while reading history, I realized that Xuanzang, the Tang Dynasty monk who went on a “Journey to the West” to get Buddhist scripture, smuggled himself across the border illegally. When he returned from India 20 years later, he was not imprisoned for trial. Instead, the emperor treated him with great courtesy.
As a preacher, I have some similarities with Xuanzang; after all, both of us are religious clergy. But we also have differences: the monk smuggled himself across the border; I did not. The monk returned with Buddhist scriptures and taught others to worship idols; we believe the Bible, which teaches us to turn away from idols and to the true God, looking to his Son, Jesus, for salvation.
In July of 2021, I learned that five Christian brothers had been arrested in a nearby town. I was shocked, but I was also bemused at the charges. I wondered whose idea it was to charge them with “illegally crossing the border”? They obviously had passports and visas, and cleared customs and security. How could they be guilty of “sneaking across the border”? If this crime were proven, wouldn’t the customs and immigration staff also be implicated? If the charges were proven, wouldn’t many other citizens who left the country and then returned be charged with the same crime?
But what appeared to me to be a terrible charge has pried the lever of public prosecutor and law. The charges spread to my city, where another brother and I were arrested, tried, convicted, and imprisoned.
“This Is Religious Oppression”
One Sunday in the autumn of 2021, our family was with brothers and sisters from church, worshiping as usual. When we returned home, the door of our house was wide open. People in police uniforms were everywhere, inside and outside. As owner, I asked them on what basis they broke open my door? Later, they wordlessly surrounded me and dragged me away. My 6-year-old daughter was terrified, and began to cry. While detained, I worried about her: would it affect her growth? How could I explain to her that these acts of barbaric violence came from police, who were supposed to be open and honest?
Would You Pray With Us Today?
I was not surprised to be arrested. Many of the Lord’s churches had already been targeted; many preachers had already been arrested. Some were convicted of “illegal business operations,” others of “inciting subversion of state power,” or “illegal possession of terrorist material,” or “fraud.” By comparison, my conviction for “illegally crossing the border” is relatively polite!
But surely everyone can see this criminal case is actually religious oppression. This is clearly religious persecution against Jesus’s church. My wife was taken away just one day before my last court hearing – why was she grabbed that particular day, except to prevent her from seeing me at my hearing? If this is not persecution, what is it?
The day after the hearing, the wife of the other imprisoned brother was arrested, right after she attended the trial. Even if he and I did commit crimes and smuggled ourselves across the border, what did our wives do? What is this, if not persecution?
Although we did not commit a crime, our statements explain how officials interpreted everything as criminal facts. Our passports, visas, and customs records are evidence we committed no crimes, but instead they have been interpreted as evidence of wrongdoing. Even more ridiculous and absurd, the video evidence which shows how they broke into and illegally searched our home was instead used to convict us of “smuggling”!
Many times I told the officers handling the case:
“Why not clearly state you are trying to suppress and persecute the church? Why create trumped-up charges? You are working so hard to make innocent people guilty!
“But Article 36 of the constitution explicitly states that citizens have freedom of religious belief. Persecuting the church violates the Chinese constitution and the United Nations World Convention on Human Rights. Even more seriously, you are violating the divine will of God in the kingdom of heaven. When you persecute the church, you are persecuting God himself.”
“They Are The Ones Who Are Illegal”
The “illegal church” they speak of is also a false proposition. House churches are “illegal” because they have been illegally deprived of legal status. If law enforcement officials believe house churches are illegal, that begins a chain of illegal law enforcement actions. Churches are deprived of their status as churches; families are deprived of their status as families; citizens are deprived of their status as citizens: my case displayed all these. Although we are a church, we are not allowed to meet. Although we are a family, they illegally storm and break into our homes so they can arrest us. Although we are citizens, we are arbitrarily imprisoned for a year at a time. We are deprived of all these rights.
These officials explain their case through legal trickery. They go through the motions in court, pretending their deprivation of our rights can be made legal. In fact, they are the ones who are illegal. They are the ones who are committing crimes!
Tan Jian is a pseudonym for a house church pastor in northern China.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Pray for Tan, his family, and others facing persecution because they follow Jesus.