The table in his one-room house is still imprinted on my mind after many years. There was a low wattage bare light bulb hanging above the table. On the table’s surface was a well used metal plate, a large spoon, and a knife. Covering most of the table above these utensils was a huge family Bible; opened, well used, with all the margins filled with hand written notes in Chinese characters. There was a small closet which held one change of clothes, a pair of sandals, and a box of papers filled with his rambling thoughts.
He had been imprisoned for 31 years.
What went into prison was a healthy man with a wife and children. In prison, because he refused to deny his faith in Jesus Christ, his persecutors forced his wife to divorce him and sent his children far away to be adopted by communist-friendly families. They never charged him with any crime but locked him away in prison for three decades…just because they could.
They had used him up. He was just a shell of a man.
There is an inclination in the West to dress up persecution; make it palatable, as we remember the faith that sustains our brothers and sisters in persecution more than imagining the blood and the tears and the separation and the psychological abuse. Frankly speaking, persecution is very hard and we should never treat it lightly. Thirty-one years later, having never charged him with any crime, they released him without explanation. Having nowhere to go, almost everyone he knew were dead, he was now living in a one-room apartment just three blocks from the prison. He had sent for me to visit him at one o’clock in the morning allowing him to tell his story; recalling his persecution and his faith. I discovered that his week was well ordered. Every day he went to the prison and demanded that they apologize for imprisoning him without cause, reminding them that they had cost him his wife and children. Every day the prison officials laughingly refused to apologize.
He would fast four days of each week spending most of those days praying and reading his well marked Bible. It became evident to me that he was more comfortable talking to God than to his fellow human beings. He would share long narratives of his life with me and then, seemingly, forget that I was even in the room. After 30 or 40 minutes he would look at me and say, “Oh are you still here?” and then continue his life story.
He taught me so much about suffering and about communicating with God as one’s best friend. As I watched and listened to him I had a mystical awareness that what I was seeing in the middle of the night, inside a one-room apartment, were the remnants of a man. He had suffered so much, had been dependent upon only God for so long, that he was a shadow of a man on the Earth, becoming more solid each moment in heaven.
Don’t let anyone ever deceive you; persecution is hard. Yet God does often use persecution to begin a process of making us more like citizens of heaven than sufferers on Earth.