Posts Tagged ‘2 Corinthians

06
Aug
09

3 years is nothing

What goes through a Christian prisoner’s mind on his day of sentencing? In a letter written from his prison cell, Shi Weihan allows us a rare opportunity to re-live with him the events of June 10, 2009. Shi, 40, a Christian bookstore owner in Beijing, was originally arrested by the Public Security Bureau (PSB) Nov. 28, 2007 along with one of his employees Tian Hongxia. He and his family have gone the through the ups and downs of the Chinese legal system since then.

The prison guards didn’t give me any prior notice of the trial. That day, I was summoned so swiftly after breakfast that I didn’t even have time to change but left in my yellow prisoner’s garb.

As I got into the court van, I saw 15 other prisoners packed inside – six aside on benches with no room to move and three crouching in the middle – all with hands cuffed behind their backs. I could see two other vans which were also packed with 15 prisoners each. A jeep carrying policemen from the courthouse escorted the convoy at the back. We weren’t allowed to talk in the van, but we could hear the policemen’s conversation: except for my case which would be tried in the “Collegiate Hall,” all the other prisoners’ cases would be tried in the “Simple Hall.”

I was praying all the way, entrusting my whole self to God. These words sounded in my ears again: “You are part of My plan. Every step you take brings you closer to victory. You are My child; My grace is sufficient for you.”
My eyes welled up with tears and I tried my utmost to hold them back. I prayed, “Whatever Your will, Lord, please give me strength!”

The van drivers were speeding like cows on a rampage. Suddenly, two vans braked to a halt. The momentum was so strong that my handcuffs cut into my skin. At that moment, I felt like we were being treated worse than pigs.
I’d been cut off from the outside world during the last two months, but I was in no mood to peek out at the scenery on the streets. I kept praying in my heart that I would not throw up.

Very soon, we arrived at the entrance to the basement of the courthouse and some policemen came to take us inside in a single file. In the basement, they handcuffed my hands in the front and locked me in a small glassed cubicle while the other prisoners were divided into groups of seven or eight persons and locked in three or four other cubicles. I sat down on a bench to rest, waiting for the nauseous feeling to pass.

The policemen in the courthouse gathered outside our cubicles for their instructions. The air felt thick with tension. I tried to calm my breathing so that I could eavesdrop on their conversation through the glass partition. The policeman in charge gave them each a small electric baton and said, “If any prisoner
is unwilling to accept the judgment when it’s passed, don’t strike them in the courtroom. Do it after you bring them back to the basement. Is this understood?” They replied in unison, “Understood.”

After they were dismissed, several of them tested their batons. The crackling sound of electric sparks reached my ears. It was a frightening sound. A thought struck me: “If I am the only one being sentenced, why are there so many policemen?” It felt like an ill portent.

The court policewoman had called my name three times. She sounded so serious that I wondered if it was a good sign. How long a sentence would I receive? An acquittal? One and a half, three, five, eight, 10 years? Anything seemed possible. But I told myself that I am a servant of God with a clear conscience – never have I failed my country, its society, people and church!

I heard my name called the fourth time. I responded that I was in the first cubicle and two policemen opened the glass screen and brought me out. At the first floor, I was made to squat facing a wall with my head bowed. A tall and stout policeman came to snap an unflattering photo of my profile – barefoot, in prisoner’s garb and head bowed towards the wall.

The judge came in, surrounded by several uniformed and plain-clothed policemen. They talked and handed the court secretary a document, then instructed her to bring me into the courtroom. After a policeman violently pushed me back down on the floor before releasing my handcuffs, I finally walked into the courtroom followed by Tian and five others from the printing factory. I prayed, “Please give me strength.”

Two policemen grabbed me by the shoulders and escorted me to the first defendant’s chair. I quickly scanned the faces of the people seated on the other side and saw Dad, Mum, Zhang Jing… I missed them so much.
After a few minutes, the judge entered the room. He asked a couple of brief questions and then made us stand up to receive our sentences. But I couldn’t hear what he was saying. My emotions ran wild because I was so happy to see my family again. I tried to calm myself and hold back the tears that filled my eyes.

When the judge called my name, I very quickly came back from turmoil to reality. “Prison term of three years, fine of 150,000 Yuan ($22,000),” he pronounced. I took it most calmly. I had expected a term of 12 years at least for the 2.57 million Bibles that were discovered and the tens of millions that had been distributed before that. Three years was acceptable – they would pass in a blink. If the government had wanted to be lenient, they would have done something much earlier. This case was thorny for them as well.

After each one of us heard our sentences, we were handcuffed again to leave the courtroom. I turned around to face my family, raised and waved my hands, and smiled at them. Though no words passed between us, my eyes communicated God’s blessing to them. We would be strong in God!

The policeman tugged at my hands to rush me to leave. As I lowered my hands and turned away, I heard my wife yell, “Shi, I love you!” This time I could no longer stop the tears from running down my face. I
walked out of the room with my head lowered and without turning back because I didn’t want my wife and parents to see their husband and son crying.

We were taken back to our cubicles at the basement. No one resisted, so the policemen had no opportunity to use their electric batons.

Alone once more in my cubicle, I had no reason to hold back my tears, so I cried my heart out until there were no more tears. As I calmed down, I fell to my knees facing the wall and offered up my thanks to my Father. I heard the same voice ring over and over again in my ears: “My child, My grace is sufficient for you.”

I enjoyed the beautiful scenery and watched the passers-by on the streets as we rode back to the prison. I could sincerely say in my heart, ‘Lord, You are so great!’ The rest of the day passed with joy.

It is only around a year before I will be reunited with my family. Three years in prison in exchange for millions of souls – that’s totally worthwhile! A portion of Scripture that has been my source of strength came back to me:
“’We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.’ (2 Corinthians 4:8-12, NIV)

“Three years in prison in exchange for millions of souls – that’s totally worthwhile!” That statement had such an impact on me. I’m barely willing to endure three minutes of social discomfort or embarrasement to share the gospel…much less three years of imprisonment! Lord grand me the courage you gave Shi…courage to share your word, will and love at whatever cost. Then grant me the joy to celebrate having to pay that cost.

Pray for Shi and his family…that his last year of imprisonment will be full of opportunities to further the kingdom of God, that they will have strength to endure the seperation and that they really will be reunited at the end of the sentence.

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