EDITOR’S NOTE: China’s government has for 16 weeks been coming down hard on Beijing’s 1,000-member Shouwang Church — banishing some members from the Chinese capital, pressuring employers and landlords to shun members. The following, provided by the China Aid Association, is an account of how a close friend of Pastor Jin Tianming attempted to visit him.
By Yuan Xin
Special to Beliefnet
The cab stopped at the gate of the residential compound Shuguang Garden. When I saw the window of Pastor Tianming’s house, tears couldn’t help flowing from my eyes. When I last came here with my mother who was seriously sick and with a few big pieces of luggage, Tianming had been waiting downstairs for a long time with a smiling face. Today, it’s hard to recall all these past episodes of our life. Tianming has been placed under house arrest for over 10 weeks now and I didn’t know how his health was and how his mood was. Thinking of this, sadness overwhelmed me and tears ran down my face.
After I made a right turn, walked on a cement sidewalk and entered the elevator room on the first floor, I pressed 9 button for the 9th floor, someone immediately began to examine us with an investigative look. I avoided that suspicious eye-contact and stared at the door of the elevator. Finally, the elevator came to the 9th floor.
As soon as I came out of the elevator, I was stunned as I was already facing a desk with an appointment book with visitors’ names and their IDs.
Obviously, this place has been turned into a formal mini-office and I found this both funny and annoying. A policewoman stood at the side of desk and was ready for the confrontation. When she saw my eyesight turned right in search of Tianming’s door, she seemed to know that we were visitors instead of tenants on the 9th floor. So the questioning started this way:
What’s your name? Got an ID with you?
I made an effort to smile a little and hesitated whether she required us to show her the identifications. “I am a friend of Tianming’s family and I come from outside the town. I’d like to visit them in passing. I’ve been here before.”
Before is before and now is now. No one can pass here without signing in.
This was followed by a banging sound and a registration book was thrown before me. I took a deep breath and exhaled it with some efforts.
I prayed silently: “My Lord. Since I’ve come here from so far away, I should cooperate with them till I can see him and have a good chat.”
I took out the purse but my hand didn’t seem to do what I wanted it to do. It trembled incessantly as if I were a criminal. I knew the person under the house arrest is Tianming, not myself.
A sister who went with me was quick in handing out her ID and after a few nice words, she managed to sooth down the policewoman’s temper. The sister’s leisurely manner and composure were contagious and I suddenly felt we were in the same body of Christ.
At long last, we passed the “security check” and were allowed to turn right. In the narrow corridor were two foldable beds but we could manage to go through.
At his door was another foldable bed which occupied the corridor. It turned out to be true that Tianming is receiving the highest standard of the house arrest as both the police and DSPS agents not only have the office desks, they also have foldable beds.
It is said only security guards and doorkeepers are hired for regular members of the church and they have only camp chairs and recliners.
As soon as I pressed the door bell, the door opened. Obviously, Tianming had long been waiting for the visits of brothers and sisters.
For a person who is used to have a busy schedule of visits and meetings and running around the city every day and coming back at midnight, being suddenly confined in a small space and unable to go out is such a constraint and blow to an energetic warrior who likes sunshine and joyfulness. One threshold separates me from Tianming, one in freedom and the other in constraints.
Before I could speak anything, I saw his gaunt face and tears came down my cheek.
I could no longer endure so many days of mistreatment. Tianming was wearing a short-sleeved white shirt that he wore many years ago except that his body is now slightly swollen and plump and the collar of the shirt is slightly too tight. However, behind the lens of his eyeglasses are still two big glowing and bright eyes that are full of loving care.
I gave Tianming the gift I prepared for his mother. Everything was expressed in the absence of words. When he saw me in torrents of tears, Tianming consoled me instead: “God will certainly help my mom. We will continue our prayers and will never give up!”
For Tianming who has always been confident of himself, seeing so many brothers and sisters of Shouwang Church being persecuted when they are detained, interrogated, released each week and seeing so many people forced to move or fired from jobs, it is more miserable and harder to endure than if he experienced these himself.
Now, the shepherds are separated from the flocks of sheep.
The sheep are being beaten but the shepherds cannot stand out to fend off the blows. It is hard to describe in words how heart-wrenching it is to see all this happening around him. Still, he has to endure all the misunderstandings.
If it were not for the Great Shepherd, it would be hard to imagine how he can possibly make it till today. Is it because God thinks the tests are still not enough that he let Tianming’s mother suffer from the terminal disease for which she can’t find a doctor for the cure.
When Tianming wants to visit his mother, he has to apply for the approval. Mother being in the critical condition is doubtlessly another disaster to Tianming and it is testing this tough guy to see if he can get over these difficulties. There is a gaunt look on his face and we know he has not had a good sleep for many days as he has been waiting for the approval. Despite all these, he still doesn’t forget to send his greetings to the people he knows and read out all their names with perfectly accurate names of the places with such profound feelings and aspirations.
Such a person who aspires for freedom and for flying high is now confined in this high-rise apartment unit of only 56 square meters. He longs for reuniting with his loved ones and walking shoulder to shoulder with his congregation. He wants to devote his life to the church and to the Chinese people he loves so much.
Tianming even sympathizes very much with the police officers and the DSPS agents who work in the corridors. He said: “At night, there are many mosquitoes in the corridors and the bad smell is choking.
It would be so good if he could chat with these people or spread the Gospel to them as his brothers and sisters do to the security guards at their doors. Or it would be so good if he could sing some hymns for them.” Unfortunately, he is a senior pastor and is not allowed to step over the threshold and there is no way he can express his loving care to the guards.
The two minutes of visit was so brief and the woman police officer stood by me in all professional manners, so much so that it was hard for us to speak our minds freely. I felt a little relieved that Enping is now allowed to go to the supermarket in their residential compound to buy something they can take back to Northeast China and I seemed to see a gleam of hope in this.
By that time, Yage and Yagge had not finished the day at the school and I felt it a pity that I could not see them this time. On thinking of the joyful laughter in this small room, I am afraid we can never get them back.
A dark shadow has always been plaguing over the residence of Tianming’s family and the future is hard to tell as it is fraught with grim possibilities.
I believe the day will come soon when we can see each other in Christ!