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 first 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.
When I returned to my original cell, I found that people did not open up to me, in order to avoid my preaching to them. People were lonely and bored every day, and at those times they would say to me, “Father, tell us a story.” Another person would say, “Only tell a story, but no preaching.” So I told them the parable of the prodigal son in the book of Luke: A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, “Give me my share of the estate.” Then he went out and wasted his money on debauchery. Everything was spent, and he herded pigs for other people. They did not even feed him the pods they fed to the pigs. The younger he repented and went back to his father. He said I have sinned against heaven and you, so treat me like your servants. But the father took him in his arms, put his clothes on him, put a ring on his finger, and slaughtered the fattened calf to feast with the guests. But the elder son was not pleased. He said, “I have served you faithfully, and you have not slaughtered a lamb for me. Why did you kill the calf for the son who wasted your money?” The father said, “This brother of yours was lost but now is found, was dead but now is alive.”
I stopped there and they asked, “That’s it?” I said, “Yes, you said only stories, no preaching!” They felt that the story was very deep, but there was something missing at the end that was not told. Therefore I said, “If you want to know, you must face the preaching. That father in the story is God, the younger son is us sinners, and the older son is one who thinks he’s is noble and lives in high society…”
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Later, I didn’t have much opportunity to speak about anything else. But from time to time people would ask questions, especially about relationships between men and women. You know prison is full of sinners, and they enjoy lustful and filthy things. I certainly couldn’t go along with them; therefore I was marginalized for it. They would deliberately provoke me, “Father, what do you think about those things between men and women?” And I would tell them that within marriage that God has established, this is the most beautiful and good thing, blessed by God. But outside of marriage, this is adultery.
When I was inside, I felt deeply that the soil of the culture was very hard. What saddens me the most is a group of people who are very poisoned say that your faith is very poisoned. A group of people who have gone astray say that your faith has gone astray. A group of people who are drug addicts, prostitutes and drunk drivers, say that you are too obsessed with your faith and have gone off the deep end. Not only the officials, but even the prisoners are likewise judging us by assumption, re-enacting the injustice of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Life inside the prison is very simple. We would get up at 6 a.m., clean and organize the cell, fold up the blanket like dried tofu. Then everyone would sit in a row on a bench against the wall. At noon, we lined up for lunch, and later we lined up for water. To speak with the leader we had to shout “report.” When the leader shouted our names we had to say “here.” We slept under surveillance at night; we were not allowed to cover our heads. I also had to take turns to stand in shifts; each person stood for two hours and was not allowed to sit against the wall.
I tried to learn to be obedient in these areas and to respect the officers from my heart, not out of fear but out of conscience. But about God’s faith, I had to continue to stand firm. When a police officer called me a cult, I flatly refused! We can be convicted, we can be sentenced, we can go to jail, we can accept all of these, but the truth is that we have not sinned and what has happened is for the pure faith of Christ and his gospel.
Whether it is police officers or prisoners, we need to learn to identify with them, and we also need to learn to be different. An officer asked me, “What do you think of the Communist Party?” I declared that the Communist Party is of man, not God! We need to worship the true God!
A certain prisoner said I have a mouth that deserves to be beaten. I said “Forget it, I’m not going to say anymore. If I say more you will beat me.” He said, “I won’t beat you.” I continued to share and discuss with him, and finally he said, “I don’t want to waste my breath with you anymore,” and he walked away. But I thanked God for allowing me to make another plea. Our plea is not only made in courtrooms, our court can appear anytime and anywhere.
A certain police officer mentioned a Hong Kong movie in which a priest had influence over the gang members. I thank God for allowing me to play this role in the jail where I was. There are priests or preachers who appear inside the prison and become a spectacle in every heart. Someone inside the cell said, “We have all kinds of people here, and the strangest thing is that there is a priest.” When I was helping people clean the cells, an elderly uncle said, “When I look at all your deeds, you shouldn’t be arrested by them. Why did they arrest you?” I replied, “The Lord Jesus, the Son of God, was innocent, but he was still condemned to die on the cross.” He then let out a long sigh as if he understood, but also as if he didn’t!
A detention center or prison is a hidden place, a place that others fear in their minds. A certain prisoner said that there is too much yin here. [In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang are said to govern the universe. Yin is negative, dark, and feminine.] What each person boasts of in prison is the power of hell and death. Curse words and phrases occur with high frequency. But thanks be to the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave us the keys of the kingdom of heaven. The powers of hell cannot prevail against him. Every time someone exalts and proclaims sin and death, my heart prays repeatedly. What we need most at this time is faith, the seal of God’s personal presence.
Now I have come out of it and had the opportunity to measure the power of darkness with my own personal experience, I am thankful and convinced by the Lord that the power of hell cannot prevail over the keys of the kingdom of heaven. This is my greatest take-away from my time in prison, and a message I purposely bring to you.
The Lord has given us the keys to the kingdom of heaven, which is filled with the Word of God. We may not be able to deliberately conduct religious evangelism, but we can manifest God’s Kingdom in every word and action of our lives. As preachers, as Christians with theological training and depth in life, we have a responsibility to go in front. Even if we are martyred, the key is to manifest the Word!