Dying in April, Part Three: “We Are Connected by Flesh and Blood”

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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.

How should I describe your family to you? You have entrusted them to God, and I’m not sure if you’re satisfied with his arrangements.

Jiangrong [Wang Yi’s wife] shares the same criminal charge as you, and she is under “special house arrest” – a legal term which I’m not sure I grasp, because nobody saw her, and nobody knew where she was detained. Ruolin [Wang Yi and Jiang Rong’s adult daughter] has been deported back to Santai and forbidden to step foot in Chengdu: she came once secretly like an illegal immigrant, and though she was careful and covert, the Santai police were quick to realize and extradite her. Once, she came to the house where Shuya [their young son] was living, and both brother and sister were separated by an assemblage of police. They could see and talk to each other, but Ruolin was forbidden to hand her gift to Shuya: the two jigsaw puzzles which you and Jiangrong had prepared as a Christmas gift for him. Ruolin cried in frustration, but only those who love could collect and wipe away her tears. A cold and calculating authoritative regime would not be loosened by mere weeping.

Shuya is now with his grandparents in the small house at Xiandaicheng, a place which has become the universal center of the police station at Wangjiaguai. Throngs of police surround that place, and almost noone can visit them. I was entrusted with many gifts from brothers and sisters – health supplements for the grandparents, journals for Shuya – and I could only do express delivery.


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On Shuya’s 12th birthday, brothers and sisters sent their blessings to this child who was destined to live an unsettled life. Two pictures caught my attention: in the first, you were sitting with Shuya at the riverbank, your backs to everyone. The trees’ shadows enwrap you, temporarily separating you from the world. Father and son, talking like friends, with words dense and long like the river flowing slowly before, awaiting the essence from within. There is a thick forest on the other bank, alive with sunlight; a realm awaiting exploration. The second picture is you, riding on your renowned electric bike, Shuya grasping you tightly from the back. Your faces are like children, with innocent smiles, devoid of agony.

I sat on the spring pasture of Qinglong Lake and saw you lifting up your view on the empty riverbank. My father and I used to sit beside the ditch at the northern part of the village, discussing what we should do after mother’s passing. I also used to sit behind my dad on the bike, and his back was the entire dependence and support of my young life. I am not merely your true spiritual son in Christ, with you as my spiritual father; I am like another Shuya, and we are connected by flesh and blood. You disappeared, having left behind a group of young ones on the riverbanks of Chengdu, who stretched their hands toward you in vain, and could only gaze at you in their memories and think of you in emptiness. Could these tiny mental efforts pass through the thick walls of Pi-shank into your inner room? 

I imagined on this Easter Sunday that you are preaching in your inner room while wearing your yellow vest. After eating your simple meal and finishing your exercises, you crossed your legs and sat on your seat, praying and asking God to separate this prison cell for himself, that it may become a holy temple while waiting for the sermon to begin. In other cells, Yingqiang is moderating, Defu is reading Scripture, Yingfeng is collecting offering, Shuqi is ushering, Sister Xiaofeng is leading praise; the Holy Spirit is omnipresent to harmonize everything, and the worship service in prison is like the one in Jiangxin building – everything done decently and in order. Even in prison, the theme continues: “everyone serving and every household an altar;” a show put on corporately for the world and for the angels.

Because there are more than 30 people in the same room, your sermon cannot be too loud. If you are caught, you might be shackled and you might have to sleep on the floor. This is difficult, because everyone knows that your voice has a powerful projection, so much so that I imagined only people like Zhangfei could be pastors: with a boom, the waters reverse, King Nineveh repents, the foundation of the Philippian jail cell was shaken so the doors flung open. I hope that your sermon is focused on Acts 16, but you must be willing to preach on the martyrdom of Stephen in Acts 7. You have already mentioned to the congregation that a church which does not produce martyrs will never experience true revival.

Whether it’s loud or soft, noisy or distracted – this doesn’t matter. When you commit your heart in preaching, when you commit your heart in listening, the wind blows according to the will of the Spirit; and when we hear the rustling of the wind from the fiber cables, we know it comes from you.  

God will use unthinkable things to accomplish his decrees. When I was still a seeker in Beijing, I heard a sermon of yours online. At that time, the church was still “The Blessing of Autumn Rain,” but it was already tossed about by persecution – losing the building and congregating publicly at the riverside. It was 2009, [and you were preaching on] Nehemiah. The summer day was accompanied by a cacophony of car honks and the babble of parents calling to their children. But most interestingly, a giant cicada was wailing with all its might and you – because you wanted the people to hear – bellowed louder with a voice brighter than usual. All these noises collided to form a life-like scenario, and I arrived instantly – not traversing through imagination and abstraction – but united in spirit with you, with the brothers and sisters, with this church, with the ever-continuing persecution.

At that time, I didn’t know that I would come to Chengdu after a year; the racket of the cicada was but a noise that broke through to my emotions, but not yet a sign of my path. After baptism, the Spirit fortuitously led me to Chengdu to build my “five spiritual projects”: one God, one church, one city, one wife, one calling. Thanks be to God, he gave four “ones.” It seems enough. One wife – if the project fails, so be it.

In my life, this “One” is like the “One” in [Laotze’s] “One begets Two, Two begets Three, Three begets all things.” It is simultaneously simple yet complex, mysterious and incomprehensible, powerful and attractive, all existing together in this “One.” To me, they were fatal. After grappling and tasting the sweetness, my legs began to shiver; at the moment of eruption, the energy of a planetary collision capable of disintegrating bones and flesh brought my remains to the very end – the beginning of God.

Pastor Wang Yi, talking about these things that happened in the past can never diminish the great influence you have had in my life. In the frenzied scene of a passionate love story, your words were the first responders to arrive at the carnage.

The darkness that emerged after I unintentionally plummeted into a desperate situation – the dark energy that brought about destruction, desolation, annihilation, wreckage… if I were to write them down, even the world would not be able to contain them. No matter what, with my last breath – probably an instinctual “I-can-still-salvage-this” – I searched for answers everywhere. On a winter morning, while I was on the bus to work in Ganjiakou, I surfed randomly on the phone. After passing by Chegongzhuang but before Fuchengmen, I chanced upon your written article for the 2014 college camp of Huaxi University – Dream and Reality: A Love Article.

If a star was to rise every time something paramount happened in a person’s life, my encounter with this article would be the radiant star of my life. It is the brightest in the night, the first sight of the blue Pacific by Balboa, the last note of Handel’s Messiah, the reversal of death to life when Dostoevsky was about to be executed, the disrobing of Francis to take up his alms bowl… I was rummaging furiously in Wang Yi’s words, knocking, seeking, reflecting; faintly recognizing that I was unearthing a great and precious treasure, yet anxiously worried because I didn’t understand what he was saying. Why is it that in the deepest part of our soul there is a hole, a hole that cannot be satisfied with anything? Why is it that love here is an idol, a deep and hidden sin? Why is it that love means to sacrifice power, and not to defend it? Why is it evil to look for good and beauty apart from Christ? Love is a plan, a commandment, a calling – what do all these strange things mean? O God, when I said “I love you” in the past, was I declaring a massive lie? When I was looking for love, was I doing something dirty?

My heart was terrified; in your calm assertion, the basic convictions about the world that I spent countless hours fostering were under serious assault: it quaked turbulently, as though a huge building was tumbling, and a mountain was perishing. I opposed this violently, but there were no words to describe and no ways to manage. What you said seems to be true – I did not want to hear every sentence, yet every word penetrated my heart, targeting precisely my predicament so I was without excuse. When I said I loved her, was I not declaring that I loved myself? I was measuring my worthiness of being loved by using her; when I said I loved her –a person without love in his heart – was I not like a love-terrorist, steeped in blackmail and extortion? The amazing thing is, after my immaturity in love was exposed (indeed it was shameful to be naked) the darkness that engulfed me previously was no longer so gloomy from a certain perspective; there was a glimmer of light shining through. I kne,w that this is the direction where I should flee and that the glimmer is my hope of living. Yet where is the concrete path? I did not know; but it did not matter, because if there was no path, I would crawl among the mud and rocks [to get there]; and even if I failed, it doesn’t matter – I could die trying, [but I must] move towards the direction of the light.

I re-posted your article to [my love]. After some time, she said she cried for two hours upon reading it. We were drifting in no-man’s-land for too long, we were blindly grappling in the darkness for too long. When the day dawned, we decided to become Christians – marching towards this light of way, truth, and life.

This was not the time when I was regenerated. I was still impenitent, unlike Peter, who fell down before Jesus and cried, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” It happened a year later, only three days before I was baptized – on Good Friday, my regeneration came.

In the beginning, I was merely escaping suffering – the kind others brought upon me. Until one day, when I realized in a panic that sin was upon me, crouching at the doors of the soul, and it desired me and controlled me every moment. Sin is like a cell phone, where your deepest darkest secrets lie, yet it follows you everywhere. I wanted to discard it, but it is like the will-o’-the-wisp by the master wizard Ding Chunqiu[1] which seeps into your bones and is impossible to dispose of. I wanted to escape, but there was no way out as long as it insists on staying. In a class about hymns taught by Wang Yi last year, he mentioned that he does not like Chinese classical hymns. Even though they are beautiful, they do not deal with sin. If a sinner is standing at the best place; or if a sinner has the best words, still, they are all corrupted.

In the following two years, I recounted again and again the scene of my regeneration. In the deepest ocean of my memory, it is as though I am searching for the pearls of the kingdom of heaven, collecting and gathering carefully, refusing to neglect any detail, and mindfully placing them into the spiritual treasure pouch. This was the first drip of honey from the honey-comb of grace to me, and I am not willing to miss out on one strand of sweetness.

Walking out from the Fenglan International Plaza, I had in tow two pieces of luggage as I marched into the sunshine of the Beijing noon. The luggage weighed down my steps, and inside they contain the miserable lives of two individuals. Three days later, on Easter, I was to be baptized; but the days were still spent in quarrels, the problems old and new were still piling up, the relationship was still going downhill, and the circumstances were worse than before. We were at the usual Sibei Restaurant which we frequented, and we ordered the usual pot of beef with oat noodles, but we could not enjoy a good meal with our troubled souls, and our cold hearts could not call warmer times.

I squinted in the bright light and looked outside to a white residential skyscraper – it was a familiar sight. Before leaving Beijing, we lived right there. The small room stored up all the love – and hate, if there still was any – of two persons. Suddenly, there was a white flash above the building, and my sight blurred for a second; my mind was blank, and my body was struck, rendering a slight shiver. I was hit. The Holy Spirit is a sniper, aiming and shooting me from that building right at my head: the bullet was all the memories, emotions, and occasions of that building – intense quarrels, unrestrained laughter, cooked food, hopeless stares, tear-stained cheeks, long eyelashes, pillow sobs, extended hugs, violent pushes, uttered romance, smeared papers, unfulfilled promises, hopeless hopes…

I could not think. I could not speak. I could not move. I wanted to cry but I couldn’t. I was sober. I clearly saw that I indeed donned a layer of armor – black, hard, rough, and thickened – and like the ice sheet in the gentle spring wind, it was disintegrating piece by piece from my body. The exposed part felt cool like mint, but also burning like cauterization; it was sensitive and soft like a flower bud, where the moonlight causes it to bloom and the dawn causes it to fade.

Finally, I could speak, I could cry: “All wrong, all wrong, I was all wrong.” I could not utter anything else. There were a thousand words at the bottom of my heart that swept through my life and crystallized into one sentence: “I have been living in a gigantic error my entire life.” All my self-confidence was merely egotistical opinion, all my criticisms were actually selfish excuses, all the reasons for quarrels in effect started from me. I am a sinner in and of myself; sin and its corruption has formed a thick layer and crust around me, yet I thought I was impenetrable. When the crust falls off, I am soft and weak like an infant. I could not walk, yet I experienced unprecedented freedom and peace.

At a certain street corner of Jishuitan, in that afternoon sunlight, I cried continuously. The two suitcases of my life were cast aside, and the angels watched plainly from the sky. She did not say anything, but only wiped the tears off my face. Perhaps she was shocked and was in a daze – it seems as though she understood what had happened to me, yet she also did not.

A week later, we came to Chengdu, just in time for the planting of Early Rain Covenant Church. I did not know the causes and I was totally unaware then, but looking back, you [Wang Yi] must have felt a deep pain in your heart, with nobody to talk to. It is like the hidden scars of the rest of your life.

[1] This is a pugilistic character in the novel Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils.

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Further Reading

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The External Cross: A Pastoral Letter
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Qingdao: How to Pray
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Qingdao: Locals and Outsiders
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With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

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