China Aid Association
On April 1, just days before the April 10 one-year anniversary of Beijing Shouwang Church’s forced outdoor worship service, reporter Zhong Dao conducted the following interview with a Shouwang member, Sister L, at her home.
Q: Could you speak about your personal experience of the outdoor Sunday worship service on April 10 last year?
Sister L: It will soon be a year since last April 10, so it is a good time now to look back on that day. I remember feeling a little nervous and worried that day. I felt that worshipping our Lord in this way, on an open-air platform, would be very different from before. But I was also very much looking forward to it. After all, we would be worshipping our Lord in the embrace of nature, so I felt strangely excited. As we approached the platform, we saw many police vehicles parked around the area. Assuming that they were there on routine business, my husband and I didn’t think much of it as we walked straight for the platform. To our surprise, plainclothes police came up and barred us, and tried to drag us violently into a police vehicle. … What happened next is now known to all.
Q: When you were being dragged into the police vehicle, did you know where they were going to take you, were you nervous?
Sister L: I really wanted to resist when they shoved me into their vehicle. I felt that these police were just preposterous, and I felt really unsettled and angry. As for where we were going, I wasn’t very scared because I was with my husband so I didn’t feel too nervous.
Q: After you were put into the police vehicle, which familiar faces of other sisters and brothers did you see?
Sister L: There were about seven or eight brothers and sisters in that vehicle and half of them were people knew from when I attended Xinshu Church, such as sister M, brother Y and his wife. This was the first time that we had gathered together in this way, so we all felt a bit awkward and for a while no one could think of anything to say, everyone was silent. I remember that a young sister whom I didn’t know suddenly lost control and burst into tears. She looked terrified. Someone immediately went over to comfort her. I felt very really bad.
Q: We later learned that you were taken to Caihefang Elementary School, which had become a concentration camp for members of Shouwang Church, guarded on all sides by police. How did you feel when you were taken into a classroom and saw so many brothers and sisters detained there already?
Sister L: I was shocked—so many brothers and sisters were already there, 40 or 50 of them and they were all praying. There was a sister whom I knew from before when I was attending Xinshu Church. She was leading others in prayer. Her voice was loud and assured, and she prayed from the heart for the government officials holding power, pleading with God to open their hearts so that they would know our God Jehovah. I didn’t sense any resentment and fear in her voice and I couldn’t help but be startled: This brave, resolute sister praying such powerful prayers before me, could it be the same sister who normally is so amiable and speaks softly and pleasantly? I could hardly believe my ears! In front of so many people, be they church members or police, people she knew or didn’t know, she just prayed loudly and boldly. I thought, “Who but our God has the ability to do such an incredible thing?”
Q: Who else made a deep impression on you?
Sister L: The brothers and sisters of our church, they were unforgettable. At the time, police were standing around the podium, and we were where the students normally sit, either standing or sitting, in several small groups of three and five. Using the service worship sheets that our church had previously distributed, we worshiped there as we would normally have done. There was praise and preaching and prayer, not a single part was left out. An older sister kept sharing the gospel with two or three policemen. She was not only gracious and amiable but also spoke with the authority of an elder, which left those policemen not knowing how to respond. All they could do was listen and agree. She radiated a kind of special power to convert people when she tells them about the Gospel. It was really amazing.
Also, when they took us out of the classroom and herded us into police vehicles, we were waiting to be taken to our respective local police stations and a young brother from our church—he looked about 16 or 17 years old—really left a deep impression on me. I remember he was filled with joy and constantly quoting God’s words from the Bible to cheer us up and encourage those of us who were feeling anxious. Wow! God was using a young brother who had little experience of life to show us that He was with us. I was so grateful for this and also so thankful for this young brother. As it happened, later we were taken to the same local police station, and we continued praying, sharing and encouraging each other there. It was truly a beautiful experience. After we were released from the police station, we had a meal and took pictures together to remember that day. I believe God will continue to watch over this little brother.
Q: In addition to the brothers and sisters from church, what was your impression of the police who were handling this incident?
Sister L: There were a lot of policemen at Caihefang Elementary School. They had been dispatched there by their superiors to be on duty. I didn’t have much contact with them, so I don’t have much of an impression of them. But when I was taken to our local police station and interrogated one-on-one, I had closer contact with a policeman and did have some personal feelings about him. At first I quarreled and argued with him, and I kept saying that I was a believer of Jesus. I said, “There are many things you can control, but do you also want to control what I believe? How can you control it?” That policeman seemed to know nothing about my faith. He didn’t understand what I believed in, why I believed in it, and why I went to the platform. He knew nothing about any of this. So I started to feel some compassion towards him and I stopped arguing because he did not understand me. So then I stopped saying anything.
The policeman could see this truly was an issue of faith to me, so he stopped interrogating me. When we were released at about 4p.m., that policeman was still following us as we left. I looked back at him and at that moment, I felt really upset. That is to say, when you are arguing with someone who has no clue what this whole affair was about, you will lose heart, because all he’s doing is carrying out the orders of his superiors. And his superiors, and even his superior’s superiors, are just carrying out the orders from their superiors. They’ve not been told the truth of the situation, nor have they been given permission to think independently. At that moment, it suddenly dawned on me that what I was facing was not just a single policeman or a particular police station, but rather a kind of government power, an evil political system, and a pack of the Enemy’s lies. Facing these dark forces and authorities, all we can do is rely on God to fight this battle!
Q: Do you still remember the name of that policeman?
Sister L: I remember his surname was Tang. In Chinese, his name not only sounds nice, it has a very good meaning too. I even thought, with such a great name, it’s no wonder he’s been able to get such an important position in such an important government agency. For a moment I was actually quite envious of him and it was just unfortunate that he didn’t yet know our God or the abundant blessings He had given him. A year on and I don’t know if he’s encountered God yet. In this world, there really is no other path but God’s.
Q: You went through the whole process of being taken from the platform by police and shoved into a police vehicle, brought with the others to Caihefang Elementary School, and then taken to your respective local police stations to be interrogated. How did you feel after you were released from the police station?
Sister L: At the time, what I felt was helplessness, very much so. The church is society’s conscience and the deterioration and corruption of our society is already an undisputable fact. Yet the “managers” of society were actually trying to destroy its conscience. What in the world are they doing? And what else are they going to do? I learned from a sister I fellowshipped with yesterday that in the past year, every Sunday during “sensitive times,” police showed up at her front door to keep her under surveillance. They rented a luxury commercial vehicle, at a cost of more than 1,000 yuan (US$160) a day, to keep watch on her around the clock.
I asked her, “Why did they watch you so closely?”
She said, “According to them, there are comparatively fewer Shouwang Church believers in this jurisdiction than other, so they have sufficient manpower.” So an ordinary believer like her, who doesn’t even hold any leadership position in the church, is also closely watched. Alas, who knows how much more of the country’s manpower and money they will continue to waste!
Q: What were the “sensitive times”?
Sister L: For example, National Day, or when the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference are in session, or when the president of a foreign country is visiting China… these are all considered “sensitive times.” She said, “I never used to care much about such things. But whenever the police showed up to monitor my activities, I would turn on the TV and watch the news. Then I would know what the ‘big event’ was. What’s even more ironic is, in the past, I was not able to clearly convey my faith, but ever since they started monitoring me, I became more serious about my faith because I had to discuss it with them. Now I’m more familiar with the significance of church, church charter and vision, etc. because I need to answer their questions.” I think our country really needs God’s mercy.
Q: With regard to the outdoor worship service, which has been going on for such a long time, do you think it’s been beneficial or detrimental to your spiritual growth?
Sister L: Without doubt, beneficial. Before this, my faith was not personal. Society tells you to believe in yourself, to depend on yourself, or to believe in and depend on the group. But what do you do when you find that neither is dependable? So these are all lies and sooner or later you will discover that you’ve been duped. Praise God that His grace was poured out on to me so that I could realize that power, wisdom and love come from God alone. My worth and purpose can only come from trusting in Him.
Just as our church leaders told us at the very beginning, outdoor worship was our only choice because we were left with no other choice. This is the path God led his church onto and we really had no other choice but to follow Him. Outdoor worship is us trusting in and being obedient to God, exposing the lies of the world, standing up for truth, and testifying to life. Why is evil having its way in society today while we as witnesses of truth and messengers of the Gospel have to be in hiding? This is not right.
Through the way God is leading our church, and through the way our church is leading us, I feel that my life has changed in many ways from before without my even being aware of it. What’s worth holding on to, what should be let go, how to live a sanctified life—through the outdoor worship, I’ve matured to varying degrees in all these ways. It’s all due to God’s grace.
Q: The outdoor worship service has lasted a year and is still going on, the warfare is still intense. Maybe at the beginning of the fight, the impact on one’s spirit was greater, but it’s been so long now, do you feel somewhat worn out or numb? With regard to continuing the outdoor worship, do you have any personal thoughts?
Sister L: I don’t feel worn out because I haven’t gone to the platform that often, therefore I wasn’t fired from my job, or barred from going out my door, or followed wherever I go. None of these things happened to me. But numbness, in a sense, there is numbness. It’s been a year, after all, and the church is still like this and the worship service is still like this. All we need to do is just keep walking forward, we’re almost used to this. But I often feel sort of depressed and very lonely, and really want to get together with everyone (it doesn’t matter where) and wish for the soon arrival of the day when the whole congregation can sing hymns aloud and worship God openly. For this reason, in my daily devotions, I always pray for our church building, asking God to bring us into our new meeting place soon.
But the way things look now, God just wants us to wait where we are, trusting Him, that the day will come when He will open the door of our new church building for us. There’s a Bible verse about faith that I find very precious, “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.” (Romans 4:20-21) I am prepared. Whether it’ll take another year or longer, I’m willing to obey and wait on God. May He show us mercy, preserve us, and give us a heart of obedience and unity in Him. May God add to our strength.
Q: Anything you want to say to the seven pastors and elders who are under house arrest?
Sister L: I’ve read that passage of Scripture that says that we are all one body. When the least of the members of the body suffers, all suffer together with it. If the least of the members is honored, all rejoice together with it. It’s the word of God. I think it’s so well-said. In this year of outdoor worship, I often think of our church leaders under house arrest, especially now, as the one-year anniversary is drawing close, I feel more strongly their suffering. They have lost their liberty for so long. They are people called to preach God’s word, yet they have been cut off from people and can’t be in front of their congregation. How hard must it be for them?
When I think about this, I feel miserable. The road of the cross isn’t really an easy road to walk. Right now, what they are doing is paying a price for the Lord. Actually, we followers of Christ and followers of the church, aren’t we also suffering together with them and waiting for the day of triumph to come? We’re with them in their sufferings. Though we’re physically free, spiritually we are with them. How much they suffer is how much we suffer. How much they rejoice in God’s grace is how much we rejoice. We’re one body. It’s in these times that I can profoundly experience the meaning of this verse. So I pray for them in the Lord, asking God to give them enough strength. And I especially want to say, “You’re not alone. We’re all together walking on this hard road of cross.”
Q: We just briefly reviewed your personal experiences and thoughts about Shouwang’s outdoor worship. Do you have some final comments you would like to make to wrap up this interview?
Sister L: This group of us, some of us were envied by those of this world before we came to Christ, and some were despised by those of this world, but whatever the circumstances before we came to Christ, we know that before the beginning of human history and before the creation of the world, God had already written our names in the book of life. His beloved son sacrificed his noble and perfect life for our sin. So we truly ought not take God’s grace lightly. He paid a heavy price as our ransom. We ought not cling to this world. Rather, we should reflect often on whether our action are pleasing to God. May God bless every brother and sister.
Transcript completed on April 16, 2012