“To understand how I got to where I am now, we need to go back to 2017,” Pastor Jin says. “As winter set in at the end of 2017, our church was going well. We were enjoying a season of relative freedom from government interference, save the occasional ‘catch-up’ at the local police station to assure the police we wouldn’t give them any trouble. It was snowing outside, but that didn’t stop the brothers and sisters from our regular outreach, chatting with people on buses, trains and near shopping malls.
“Things were good, but I wasn’t satisfied,” he continues. “Deep down I knew we had grown comfortable, even complacent, compared to the old days at least. The church was growing slowly, but the longing to meet together to worship, read the Word and pray had been quietly edged out by the attraction of work, money and entertainment. The old passion just wasn’t there anymore. It was as if we’d been lulled into a false sense of security.”
Everything changed in 2017 when Pastor Jin was arrested—and realized his country had changed. “We should have seen it coming,” he says. “Some of the old-style rhetoric about ‘religious superstition,’ ‘fanaticism’ and ‘foreign infiltration masquerading as religion’ crept back into government announcements, newspapers and TV commentaries. More disturbing, though, was when the government announced the need to ‘sinicize [make ‘more Chinese’] the five major religions and actively guide them to adapt to Socialist society.’ There was something about the tone and urgency of the language that suggested a new campaign was coming.”
This was nothing new, of course. Pastor Timothy, for instance, lived through Mao’s decade-long Cultural Revolution, and he remembers the intimidation, imprisonment and even execution of Christians. While the present purge is not like it was in the 1960s and ’70s, he believes lessons learned back then resonate now too—especially the power of prayer.
“Over the last 12 months, we have experienced constant harassment by the police,” he says. “They regularly interrupt our meetings to disrupt our fellowship and destroy our underground churches. They must get very frustrated, though, because we just love them back!”
Pastor Jin, too, has learned through this new program of targeted persecution of Christians by the Chinese government. While he was detained for questioning, he was forced to sit by himself for days at a time. “Solitary confinement was dreadful,” he remembers. “Being alone with your thoughts can be exhausting. … I prayed a lot and sang worship songs, but as the days dragged on, doubts crept in. I began to go over and over the same questions: If I am called of God, am I really willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of the gospel? For the Lord Jesus?
“It was like God knew how long I needed in detention to make up my mind. By the last day of confinement, I had made peace with myself and with God. It was settled. I knew without a doubt that no matter what happened, I would serve the Lord. I was certain, beyond doubt, that I was called to be a pastor of God’s people in this region, and nothing would ever change that.
“I slept well that night. And I was released the next day.”