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.”