Knowing that his church could be attacked at any time. Knowing the cost, Prasad Bandi continues to serve as its pastor.
Then, during evening services on 22 February 2015, someone on a motorcycle threw a Molotov cocktail at the church. Within minutes, flames had consumed the walls and roof, which were constructed of palm leaves and sheets of plastic. About 60 believers, many of whom had formerly worshipped Hindu deities, were suddenly without a church home. Chairs, Bibles, musical instruments and even Prasad’s motorcycle — essential to his work in and around six area villages — were destroyed.
Prasad, who shares the Gospel in a country where there is a growing movement to make all Indians Hindu, knows the cost of doing God’s work. He also knows that God will make all things new.
Prasad faithfully continues the challenging work of sharing the Gospel on the front line.
If Wang Hongwu had appeared sad and beleaguered, it would have been completely understandable.
Her husband, Pastor Yang Hua, had been arrested only four weeks earlier, and she was now being trailed by Chinese government authorities.
However, when we met her and her 5-year-old son in the back room of a restaurant in China, we were greeted with graciousness rather than sadness.
She politely provided a concise update of her husband’s situation, saying she didn’t know where Yang Hua was but that she was sending money to the police station so they would provide food for him. Their lawyer had not been able to visit him.
When asked whether she was worried about her husband, Wang Hongwu was quick to respond. “I’m worried about the impact on the church,” she said. “I’m worried about people falling away.”
A growing threat
The church Wang Hongwu was referring to is the Living Stone Church, or Huoshi Church, in Guiyang. Pastors Yang Hua and Su Tianfu founded the church in 2009, and it came under increasing government scrutiny and pressure as it grew in size and influence.
Before it was shut down by the Chinese government, Living Stone was the largest house church in the area.
Yang Hua, a third-generation pastor, is no stranger to persecution. His father spent time in jail in the late 1960s during the Cultural Revolution because of his Christian faith, and Yang Hua himself was briefly detained once before.
Yang Hua is known for looking after not only his own congregation but also other house churches in the region that experience government persecution. Lawyers in his congregation also assisted other house churches.
After being detained for 10 days in mid-December 2015, Yang Hua was formally placed under criminal detention on 21 December, charged with illegally possessing state secrets.
Later, police searched his home and confiscated his computer, a tablet device, USB drives and other items.
When Wang Hongwu drove to the detention centre, expecting her husband’s release, she instead saw him being taken away.
“Today, I went to pick up Pastor Yang, but I failed,” she posted on a social media site. “I saw four people pushing Yang Hua into a van without a license plate. Pastor Yang had on a black hood, and his mouth might have been sealed. I called out to him, but he didn’t respond. Those four people did not allow me to approach him. They pushed Pastor Yang into the car and sped away. I asked the detention centre, and they only said that the department managing him took him away. They could not tell me which department. I can only hand everything to the Lord!”
Wang Hongwu and Yang Hua had long discussed the possibility of imprisonment and agreed that, if it occurred, God would use it for the good of His kingdom. With that in mind, Wang Hongwu said she is not afraid.
“As a Christian, I know that such things will happen,” she said. “Jesus said, ‘The light has come to the world, but the world does not understand it.’ When we saw all of these government policemen, they were violent, I could see the darkness in their hearts.
She has no ill feelings toward the policemen or Chinese government officials.
“We bless our government,” she said. “We ask God to give them wisdom to do the right thing. We love those in our government.”
Wang Hongwu said their two sons, ages 5 and 14, understand what happened and talk about it openly. She said their oldest son prays for his father and has peace about his imprisonment. While she also prays for her husband, Wang Hongwu has other concerns. “I pray for my husband, but I pray for our church the most and ask God to lead us in His will, in His way,” she said.
Du Hongbo always thought he would be the one sent to prison. Instead, he has been a single dad to his two young boys for the past two years while his wife has been in prison.
In 2014, Du Hongbo was a full-time Christian worker, and his wife, Cheng Jie, was serving as director of the Hualin Foreign Language Experimental Kindergarten in Liuzhou, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. The couple had two young children, aged three and one.
In February that year, while Du Hongbo was helping a house church in another part of China, about 20 police officers showed up at the couple’s home and arrested Cheng Jie. Du Hongbo immediately rushed back home. “I had no idea what was happening,” he said.
A government cover-up
Cheng Jie was detained for several months before the government officially charged her with illegal business practices related to her work at the kindergarten. In June 2014, three others were arrested in connection with the case, and in August authorities accused the kindergarten of violating China’s “Law of Education” by “forcing citizens to believe in a religion.” Authorities also claimed the four arrested had been profiting from the sale of school books.
The charges focused on the school’s curriculum, which taught character and values to the young students but was not overtly Christian. The educational materials make no mention of God or Jesus, merely using stories and games to teach children about honesty and trustworthiness.
However, the Hualin Kindergarten had been founded by the Liangren Church, so authorities saw the school as an extension of the church’s activities. The kindergarten was forced to close, and there are no plans to reopen the school.
God is in control
“Before God called me to serve Him, we knew such things could happen in this world,” Du Hongbo said. “When I made a decision to serve the Lord full time … I was thinking they would put me in jail. It was beyond my imagination that they would put my wife in jail.”
Cheng Jie remained in prison a full year before her case finally went to court, and her absence has been deeply felt by her husband and children.
Speaking to a VOM worker last year, Du Hongbo said, “My heart is depressed every time I see my two kids. I don’t know how to take care of kids. When they ask me, I don’t know how to answer. The kids need their mum.”
Du Hongbo hit a low point in February 2015, during Cheng Jie’s trial. When one of the defendants’ lawyers argued that the judge was biased, the judge threw him out of the courtroom.
And later, when the lawyers protested that they had been denied access to trial documents, they were all thrown out. “I was angry,” Du Hongbo recalled, “but now I am past it. I believe that God is in control. The situation is teaching me to come back to the Lord, to depend on Him, to look upon Him, not the lawyer or something else. For the last year, I used human effort. I was looking for friends to see how things were going with her and how to help her. I didn’t really get any result, so God was teaching me to come back to Him, to look upon Him. Of course, I wish for my wife to come back home so our family can be reunited, but all I can do now is just pray to God and wait for His time.”
Preaching the Gospel in prison
Du Hongbo had been eagerly anticipating his wife’s release from prison in February, and Cheng Jie has now been reunited with her family. “I’m really happy,” he said, adding that Cheng Jie was worried that her kids wouldn’t recognise her.
During the past year, he was able to visit her about once a month for 30 minutes, though he never took the boys. They talked over a microphone, but he couldn’t see her and the guards were always listening.
He said she had been forced to get up at 5am and work until 10 pm. Other Chinese prisoners have confirmed the long work hours, denial of treatment for medical problems and limited, poor quality food.
Cheng Jie told her husband that she had shared her faith with other prisoners. Specifically, she led four prisoners who were under a death sentence to faith in Christ. One is due to be executed soon, and Cheng Jie said she hopes to visit that new believer soon, if possible.
Du Hongbo expects the family to have to relocate. VOM will continue to support them, as we did throughout Cheng Jie’s imprisonment. Cheng Jie will have difficulty getting a job now, and she will always be monitored by local law enforcement.
The couple’s commitment to the Lord, however, will not change. They plan to remain in ministry. “My calling from God is to serve Him full time,” Du Hongbo said. “That means I won’t look for a job. When we move, we will still preach the Gospel.”