Dying in April, Part Two: “The Shepherd is Struck and the Sheep are Scattered”

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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.


In the days when the pastor was still around, I heard many difficult sayings from him, the latter ones harder than the earlier ones.

There is a somewhat embarrassing “middle-class dream” for many city-dwelling Christians, so he said, “What is believing in the Lord? Just as the water flows upwards, so humanity moves downwards.”[1]

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When the smog was dreadful in the Chengdu winter, he said, “The most romantic thing I can think of is to undergo chemotherapy with you in the haze.”

He does not fancy travelling and never visited Mount Emei, even though he is from Sichuan: “The most exciting trip is knocking on your neighbor’s door – a day tour in the kingdom of heaven.”

As the city gradually became anti-Christian, he was harassed every few days, so he said, “I have three bags of tricks: moving to another location anytime; going to jail anytime; returning to heaven anytime.”

He was giving out gospel tracts with his family on the street, but was seized and threatened by the local policemen, who asked: “Wang Yi, do you believe that I will one day obliterate you?” He said, “I do. But can you resurrect me? If you can’t, then you are not my Lord, and I have no fear of you.”

When I first heard these words, I did not believe any of them, and I did not intend to accept them. In my heart, this was “the creed of a fool,” the thoughts of a simpleton. “Humanity moves downwards”: after I became a Christian and was baptized, my baldness was covered by a head of hair and obviously became more attractive. Even though I’m still not married, I was definitely moving up. 

After the church case occurred, Chengdu’s walloping descended on me, making a huge ruckus; as I sat dazzled and shamed, I realized I was a fool. If God’s people are in Christ, then they live in this world involuntarily. Everything spins out of control. Even if our hearts display the utmost reluctance, defying death to clench our valuables (house, car, children, wife, position, knowledge, reputation, health) – the foundations of these things have inevitably been demolished.

There is a mysterious principle in life, and God’s will in it far surpasses the ploys of men.

I lived in the bustling Jiuyanqiao district of Chengdu, in a large and luxurious dwelling which gave me contentment and happiness. But when the Jinjiang bureau evicted me, I had to move to rural Majiagou. This was a true gully[2]: when I returned the keys of the house, it was pouring in Chengdu, and the alley to my place became a furious tributary. I shrieked as I waded through the water. With tears in my eyes, I thought: “Wang Yi, you said that humanity will move downwards and indeed I am chased to Majiagou, should I admire you or grumble against you?”

If they refuse to sign a guarantee to leave the church or to renounce relationship with Wang Yi, the Christians of Early Rain Covenant Church will be plunged from their middle-class affluence into Jurassic Park – an upside-down world. The sounds that wake us up at daybreak are neither woofs nor purrs, but the savage breathing of the T-rex. If only we say, “King Nebchadnezzar, we will not bow down your golden image, Jesus is my only Lord and my King, and my soul is given to him,” the policemen will tear their robes [and exclaim], “What else could we say? These are the hideous, iodine-laced, Shandong canines!”[3]

The difficult sayings you uttered are slowly unravelling in this way. You are, after all, my pastor.

The last Silent Night,[4] I wrote a letter to you. At that time the war was raging, and the battle compelled us to brace for certain death. You are my brother, and in the letter, I called you Big Brother Yi, and even invited you to have a cold beer at Yulin Market. Other brothers and sisters were anxious, and at least five stepped in to decline that invitation: “He has arthritis and cannot drink.” The subject was dropped.

Actually, it’s alright to drink some, isn’t it?

Now the shepherd is struck and the sheep are scattered, and I’m lost once again in the wilderness of Chengdu. Only now do I realize how precious it was that you were indeed my pastor, and I have unconsciously received the unimaginable grace of God through your office, your authority, your diligence, and your faithfulness.

On the night of May 12th last year, not long after I came out from Xinlian police station, I heard that you also had returned, so I visited you. It was my first time visiting the Guojiahuating of the Old South gate, and my only time in fact, to this very common city space. The house was already filled with people. Jiangrong [Wang Yi’s wife] and Ruolin [his adult daughter] were busy pouring tea, cutting fruit, arranging snacks; you were greeting many and discoursing over the events of the day. I could not think of what to say, but I was immediately awed and drawn to the four floor-to-ceiling bookcases chock-full of books lining the four walls. The living space was a four-sided shaft constructed by words, with the waterfall of knowledge cascading downwards and saturating the surrounding atmosphere with wisdom. An illiterate who visited Wang Yi and had tea in his home would have learned how to compose and write by the time he left.

My heart was promptly touched, and tears welled up in my eyes. This is the exhibition of a pastoral heart – you have preached many sermons, written many words; and every mouth of spiritual milk to a baby like me requires you to bury your heads in dozens of books. You once mentioned that in order to prepare a sermon about vows in Matthew, you bought a French book entitled The Sacred Covenant of Words: The Archaeology of Philosophy. I was astounded that to write a passage you would buy a book, for I have never done this before. Ruolin later told me that when you were at home, doing devotions, reading, and composing are just part of your normal routine. But you were also good at cooking Western food; you would occasionally indulge Jiangrong in them, or you would praise her while holding her hand.

At that time, you thought you would be apprehended. The police took you from your home and stripped you, even taking your wedding ring. You later said that you lost count how many times you were detained after being a Christian, but that was the first time they took your ring. When they detached the ring from your finger, they also severed your last fetters and your bonds to your wife and your family. That was a moment of significance, a moment of trust, a moment of peace in the heart. You prayed in your heart: “O Lord, my house is now entrusted to your care; your own house [i.e. the church] is also under your care. I’m alone here in the inner room with none other but you.”

Half a year later, your prayer was fulfilled by God. Even today, you are still hemmed in the inner room of prison. Pi-shank[5] is 30 kilometers from me, but it feels like a black hole that is 5.5 million light years away from the Earth – devouring everything, but revealing nothing. The occasional escape of light rays which deliver fragmentary news of you brings nothing but joy to my heart. The Chengdu police went as far as Taiyuan to detain preacher An Yankui, and he was exasperated; yet then the police rebuked him, “Even Wang Yi is not exasperated in detainment, why are you?” Thus, An Yankui received comfort and definite news: “Wang Yi still has good spirits, he is plump and fair!” Alright, plump and fair, [you must be] the child of God. Even with water and vegetables, [your] appearance is more handsome and strong than those who dine on the king’s food; After a brother was bailed out of, he mentioned that, whole on the way to his own trial, he peeked past a cracked door to another trial room: “Wang Yi was sitting there, wearing a yellow vest and praying with his head down.”  

Wearing a yellow vest and praying with his head down. After the events of December 9th, 2018, this is the portrait you left for mankind. If I were the one who walked past that trial room, would I rejoice over a coincidental encounter? Or would I weep over the corruption of goodness, and wail with my greatest strength: “Pastor Wang Yi, I am Jia Xuewei, are you alright? Are you alright?” All this for the sake of getting a familiar voice to you, so that when you are enveloped in the thick mist of sin and lies, there is still a faint link to the days of the past. Although life has been severed into two halves, yet there is still a pale connection; even though breathe is nearly imperceptible, yet there is an intricacy in life;[6] and we will never be separated as we are held together in the unity of the covenant.

[1] This is the opposite of a Chinese idiom, 人望高處, 水望低流

[2] Majiagou means the Gully of House Ma.

[3] there’s a pun here – the description by the policemen mimics the sound of the charge to Wang Yi: inciting subversion of state power

[4] Christmas Eve of 2018, shortly after Wang Yi’s arrest

[5] This is a pun to Shawshank Penitentiary in Shawshank Redemption, with Pi being the county of the Chengdu prison

[6] The two chinese idioms played on the word 丝.

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