Horrors awaited those in the concentration camp, but the families left behind fared no better. Families of prisoners typically endure social ostracism, harassment, and surveillance, which makes them some of the most vulnerable groups ChinaAid serves. Most are left without income or freedom. Their homes become a second cell—the world their prison yard. Zhil and Daniel faced these realities and more because Zhil was born in Kyrgyzstan, a foreigner.
This all took a toll on their family, especially young Daniel. He missed his father dearly, a situation all too familiar for children of prisoners in Xinjiang concentration camps. Unfortunately, visiting Joseph would prove to be difficult. All the families of prisoners had to follow the same rules for visitation: they were only allowed to meet with prisoners once a month for twenty minutes on opposite sides of the glass.
Around the beginning of Joseph’s imprisonment, Daniel suffered a debilitating pain in his knees. Zhil took her son to a local hospital. She did not have much confidence in their resources, but she had no choice. Without any money, it would be impossible to afford any other hospital or the journey to get there. The local hospital diagnosed Daniel with arthritis at eight years old.
Zhil doubted the doctors, but she was already out of options. Well, not completely. Not yet.
Culture under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) cultivates fear between authorities and citizens. This is because the Chinese government maintains and operates one of the most intricate infrastructures for law enforcement in the world. They are simply everywhere. Every population group has authority over them; some CCP officials are assigned even to a handful of families in villages. The same rings true for towns, municipalities, districts, cities, and provinces. Various levels separate and operate independently, though. They have similar goals, but it is much different from disputes of jurisdiction between state, federal, and local law enforcement. These concepts come second nature to those living in the oppressive regime, and their language provides some of these distinctions eloquently. While their purpose is security and protection, these are the last people you would want to ask for help. Especially if your spouse was taken by these same people.
Zhil needed God to go before her. Approaching the authorities terrified her, but no other solution presented itself. She fasted constantly, desperate for God to create some path for her and her son. Daniel’s pain continued, and their situation needed to change. Finally, as she was reading Scripture, she found Isaiah 41:10. It jumped off the page:
Fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
The boldness of the Lord surged in her to approach the officials. Then, “God opened a way for me to go to the leader [of the concentration camp]” she said. Despite every reason not to, she went. Zhil explained Daniel’s visit to the local hospital and how she had no money and could not work because of her foreigner status. Before they knew it, both she and Daniel arrived at another hospital for a second opinion, a trip funded by the CCP.
Unfortunately, doctors at the second hospital confirmed the initial diagnosis. They concluded that stress caused Daniel’s arthritis and recommended a treatment plan Zhil could not afford. She returned to the leader to report the results with the boldness of the Lord. “What do you want me to do?” he asked, “You can go take your son for treatment.” She argued for Joseph’s release, stating that the reason for Daniel’s condition was due to his father’s imprisonment. They, of course, would not allow for Joseph’s release so he could visit his son at the hospital. The leader then offered Zhil and Daniel to meet Joseph more often in the camp.
“I don’t want to take him to do that,” Zhil retorted, “because when he sees his dad in a place that’s just like a prison, it’s just going to make his stress even worse.”
“I won’t put you in a place where you have to talk between the glass. I can arrange it so that you have your own room.”
“It still won’t be enough if it’s just a few minutes. My son will just see him and then leave again which will make his stress even higher.”
“Fine, I can give you two hours. You can even have freedom in this room and eat together.”
After that, the family reunited once a week for two hours and shared a meal together for the rest of Joseph’s imprisonment. Guards would typically search visitors and leave food and other belongings in a secure area. However, with Zhil and Daniel, they would take the items into the room for the family. Not only that, government employees and police delivered food to Zhil and Daniel. “They filled our entire basement storage area,” Zhil said. They were the only family with these exceptions. Another foreigner family from Kyrgyzstan had to feed their children flour soup just to survive.
Some might call Zhil a tough negotiator, but she deflects: “I am not, it is God. This was God causing the police to serve us. I don’t have enough time to say everything that God has done, but He has done so much.”
The food in their basement lasted through Joseph’s 10-month imprisonment and eight months afterward when they left China.
Stay tuned for part three. Click the “Give Now” button to help Joseph and his family as they resettle in the US!