Editor’s note: This pastor recently spent two weeks in a detention center after he was arrested for preaching the gospel. This is his firsthand account of his experience while in prison. You can read the second part of his story here.
Wang Jianguo is the collective pseudonym for a group of Chinese house church pastors thinking and writing about issues related to the spread of Christianity in their nation. They are committed to preaching a grace-centered gospel, developing resources for the church, and loving China’s urban centers.
I came out of the detention center. I was very thankful when I saw many brothers and sisters coming to pick me up. Before I came out, I had made a long list and thought of sharing it with everyone. But after I came out, I was swept away by the things outside, and the things inside were being rapidly forgotten. It is like a person who dreams at night, but forgets during the day. For this reason, while I remember, I would like to tell you some of the things that happened during the process and the journey of my heart, and ask the Lord to bless and use it.
The night I was arrested we were having a Bible study. We were raided by the police at 8 p.m. First came a few plainclothes officers, then about fifty to sixty special duty officers. They pinned me to the ground in front of my wife and child without a word. They took custody of all of us: several Christian sisters, and my wife and our young child. I accused them of illegally enforcing the law, pointing out that they were infringing on our family life, which should be protected. But no one in the process showed proof of ID or law enforcement documents, and they did not answer a word to my protests.
I was taken to the police station, changed into a prison uniform, and handcuffed in the cell, just like last time. I found the sisters handcuffed in the next cell. I was particularly distressed by the rough treatment of their tender lives. The sisters were of different ages, but each had their own families, jobs, marriages and futures. Although I was prepared, it was hard to ask them to face this together.
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I thought about how we could not worship freely in churches outside. Now that [we were in jail] our space was free, so we sang and prayed inside. The sisters next door echoed each other’s voices. After twenty-four hours, a few sisters were released, and I felt a little comforted. But since the officials had deprived us of basic communication, I again rebuked them for illegally enforcing the law, reminding them that the police should not intimidate good people, but only bad people!
When I was taken away, a leader followed me out. He pointed at the police officer next to me and said he wanted to give him a lecture in the car. I said that was good, and I would love to have more interaction with him. We talked the whole way in the car, and even though my hands were handcuffed behind my back, these officers were extraordinarily respectful and asked questions about my faith. That day was a holiday, and one of the policemen said he had never imagined spending his holiday evening like this, but another said, “We have Mr. Wang with us.” I also wished them a happy holiday.
It was already 1 a.m. when I arrived at the detention center. When I entered the cell, there were several inmates sleeping inside, with one bed remaining. After I laid down, another person asked why I was brought in. I said I was a house church pastor. He said, “Are you a cult?” I said, “No. Now go to sleep and I’ll talk to you in the morning.”
The next morning there was a big debate. “If you are not a cult, why did they arrest you?” When you go inside, the hardest thing is not that the police say you have a problem, but that the prisoners also think you have a problem. The hardest thing is not that the people in power don’t understand you, but that average citizens also think the same about you. This debate is necessary for a basic reason. If they identify you as a cult, the testimony of faith has failed. Christians willingly follow the Lord even if they are imprisoned and arrested; but what is more difficult and important is to present the testimony of the gospel and to ignite the fuel of the gospel. After the debate, people did not think of me as a cult member anymore. They called me a missionary, and later they called me “father,” according to their understanding.
That night, after changing my cell, I was injured by a fellow inmate who was using drugs. The guards came in to deal with the matter and were very angry with the assailant. I interceded on his behalf and hoped for a lighter sentence. I hoped we could become friends. I was later transferred back to my old cell. Two days later, after the concerned officers handled the matter, the assailant sincerely apologized and promised to compensate me. I said, “Compensation is not necessary. Thanks be to God, getting your person is more important than getting your money.” He was very moved, and invited me back to his cell to spend some time together.
When I was scheduled to return, they all gathered around and asked questions about the gospel. One drug addict asked if everything would be okay when people die. He really did not want to live anymore, and his addiction kept coming back to him. That prisoner shared how he started going to prison when he was nineteen, got out every two or three years, went back in after two or three years. He was now thirty-nine years old and had been in jail seven or eight times. I told him what the Bible says: there is a death for everyone, and after death there is judgment. The most important thing is to be reconciled to God. He then said clearly that he would believe in Christianity when he gets out. In that cell, there were at least five inmates who expressed similar faith prospects, but we never had a chance to exchange phone numbers. Although some of the prisoners knew the place where I lived, I came out of jail only to discover that our space in that apartment complex had been lost. By the next day, I was transferred from the midst of those prisoners again, probably because the guards wanted to prevent me from influencing them.