When Leo was arrested for distributing Bibles in China, VOM workers were concerned that he might spend the next ten years in prison. By God’s grace, prosecutors reduced the charges against him. After his release, Leo shared his experiences with VOM.
The printing company called me on Friday afternoon to tell me that police had seized factory records and knew that I had commissioned the printing of several thousand unofficial Bibles [unregistered with the government].
The printer, who had been working on the Bible-printing job for about a month, planned to finish the job the next day, but police shut down all printing operations after the raid.
At that point, I knew I was in big trouble. When police asked me to come in for questioning the next day, I expected to be arrested. After hours of interrogation, the police took me to a detention centre. When I reached the cell, I was shocked to see 50 to 60 people crammed into a space of about 150 square metres. Two men moved a little to make room for me, but I was unable to lie on my back; I could only lie on my side. I felt very calm before entering the detention centre, but now I was really flustered. How could I spend my time here, and how could I get along with so many people?
I didn’t sleep my first night, but I gradually adapted to life in the detention centre, despite panic and fear. There were all kinds of people in the cell, including drug traffickers, swindlers, thieves, smugglers and rapists. The days were very structured: eat, exercise, do activity, sit, watch TV, shower and sleep, all at specific times.
On the fourth day of detention, my lawyer came to visit; he was the first visitor I received after being detained. I felt relieved because at least I knew my family was aware of where I was. Warning me that I should prepare for the worst, the lawyer told me it might be a month before I was officially arrested. Then came the waiting.
I watched as many other prisoners were arraigned in court, but I was never called. Authorities refused the bail offered from my wife, and on the 34th day of detention, my arrest warrant was finally issued. Now I was prepared for the long term.
The food was hard to swallow – one steamed bun for breakfast, and rice with boiled vegetables for lunch and dinner. If you wanted better food, you could buy some pickles or chilli sauce with your own money. We slept on a board on the cement floor. In winter, we had quilts so dirty you couldn’t tell what colour they were. They smelt so foul and mouldy that sometimes I had to plug my nose just to sleep.
With so many people in one cell, conflict was inevitable. Some people were injured or even killed, but – praise the Lord! – no one bothered me. I was very anxious during my first month in jail, worrying about my uncertain future. However, after everyone was asleep, I could have my own quiet time to pray to God. Sometimes I prayed,
“Oh, Lord, all that I have done was for You. Why have You allowed me to face persecution? Is it because my faith is small that you test me? Or is it because You are preparing me for a new mission? ”
Little by little, my heart calmed. Then the coronavirus pandemic began. The detention centre stopped all connections from the outside, including letter writing, gifts of clothes and money from loved ones, and lawyers’ visits.
During the lockdown, I received my indictment, with charges that carried a penalty of up to three years in prison. Since court hearings were suspended during the coronavirus outbreak, my case didn’t come before the court for eight months. When the trial finally resumed, government lawyers, miraculously, downgraded the charges against me. In the end, I was sentenced to a year in prison.
That year in the detention centre was a period of physical, mental and spiritual training for me. As I experienced my first hearing, second hearing and then my release, I always had peace. I knew that God, whom I depended on, would save me. Now, when I recall those things, I think of it as life training. God will not let this training be in vain. God will show me His will for the future, and this experience will be my source of faith and my motivation to move forward.
Leo does not know what is next for him. Authorities will probably monitor him closely for months, and he may never be able to return to Bible distribution. Still, he knows that his faith was increased as he experienced God’s care for him in a Chinese prison.