35. A Life on the Brink
By Wang Fang, China
In 2008, I was responsible for transporting church literature. This is a very commonplace sort of duty in a country with freedom of religion, but in China, it’s really dangerous. According to Communist Party law, anyone caught for transporting religious literature can be sentenced to seven years or more. For this reason, the other brothers and sisters and I were all extremely cautious in the course of our duty. But on the 26th of August, as I was walking along the road, I was suddenly surrounded by several police cars and the police pushed me into one of them. I was really nervous. I thought of a sister who had been arrested for the same thing, and she was given 10 years. Would I get 10 years, too? If I really did spend that long in prison, would I even make it out alive? My heart clenched up at that thought, and I rushed to call out to God: “Oh God! I don’t know how the police are going to torture me. Please watch over me, and give me faith and strength.” I thought of these words from God after praying: “You should not be afraid of this and that; no matter how many difficulties and dangers you might face, you are capable of remaining steady before Me, unobstructed by any hindrance, so that My will may be carried out unimpeded. This is your duty…. Now is the time that I shall test you: Will you offer your loyalty to Me? Can you loyally follow Me to the end of the road? Be not afraid; with My support, who could ever block this road?” (The Word, Vol. 1. The Appearance and Work of God. Utterances of Christ in the Beginning, Chapter 10). This bolstered my faith and courage. God is the Ruler of all things and the entire universe is in His hands. So aren’t the police in His hands, too? Without God allowing it, not a single hair on my head can be touched. God uses oppression and hardship to perfect my faith, so I had to pray and lean on God, and stand witness for Him. Even if I did get 10 years, I was determined to never sell out my brothers and sisters, to never betray God.
The police took me to a two-story building outside of the city. A tall, heavy-set middle-aged officer holding a cold bottle of water rushed right toward me with a frightening look on his face, knocking on a table while shouting, “What’s your name? What do you do in the church? Who have you been in contact with? Who’s your church leader?” When I didn’t say anything, he lifted up the bottle and smashed it over my head, leaving my head buzzing. He continued questioning me, using all sorts of foul-mouthed language. I just kept my head down and prayed without giving him a single answer. Then he smashed the bottle against my forehead—for a moment my vision went blurry and I felt like my skull was about to split open. It hurt so much it brought tears. Then he bellowed fiercely, “You’ll be tortured if you don’t talk, and if you don’t talk after that, don’t even think about coming out alive!” I was pretty afraid. I was thinking that if he kept hitting me like that, then even if it didn’t split my skull open, I was sure to end up with a concussion. I wondered if I’d be beaten to death. I quickly called out to God asking for His protection, and I set my resolve that no matter how he beat me, I could never betray God, never be a Judas. Just then his cellphone rang, and after taking the call he walked off. Another officer put a canvas sack over my head, tied it snugly with a cord, and then dragged me into an empty room. I felt hot and humid under the sack. I’m not sure how much time passed before they took me up to the second floor. A division chief with the Provincial Public Security Department surnamed Gong gritted his teeth and threatened me: “We could give you 10 years just for believing in Almighty God. Tell us everything you know right now, or else no one can save you!” He also said he was going to get my employer to suspend my wages. Since I still wasn’t talking, he told someone else to go search for any previous arrest records for me. That was really nerve-racking, because I’d been arrested in 2003 for spreading the gospel, and was detained for five months. If they found my record, I’d definitely get a harsher sentence. They ended up not finding anything—I knew that was God’s protection. I silently gave Him thanks. The police took me to a detention house sometime past midnight, where a corrections officer got a few prisoners to strip me naked, had me extend my arms out straight, then do three squats. They also tossed all my outer clothing outside of the cell, and when I saw they were even about to toss all my undergarments out, I rushed to yank them back and I put them back on. Squatting there undressed, looking at the four security cameras right there on the wall, I felt incredibly humiliated. The next morning after all the prisoners got up, all I could do was grab a bedcover to wrap around my body. Then a prisoner there tossed me some clothing and whispered, “Put it on, quick.” Another one lent me a pair of pants. I knew God had set this up—I was so grateful. Later that morning, a corrections officer threw my clothing back into the cell, but when I looked at it, I saw the zippers and buttons on my pants and other clothing had been cut off, so I had to hold my pants up with one hand and hold the front closed with the other, and walk along bent partway over. Seeing me that way, the other prisoners made fun of me and ordered me to do things, and some of them intentionally pulled my pants down and said all sorts of mocking things. Prayer was the only way I got through that day.
Midday on the third day, the police showed up to bring me back in for questioning. They brought me into a dimly lit, empty room, where I saw an iron torture device hanging on the wall, and there were dark bloodstains all around it. It was sinister and terrifying. They handcuffed me with my hands behind my back, then a Captain Yang with the National Security Brigade and a few criminal police officers surrounded me, eyeing me intensely like hungry wolves. Captain Yang had a few photos of other sisters for me to identify and he asked me where the church’s money was kept. He also threatened me savagely, “Spit it out! If you don’t talk, we’ll beat you to death!” I thought that even if they did, I still wouldn’t be a Judas. Another chubby cop said, “You’d better talk today! If you don’t, I can tell you, this fist of mine prefers meat. I studied four years of boxing at the police academy and I specially trained for a technique called ‘swinging the sledgehammer.’ It’s punching a special point on your shoulder, and with a single punch, your bones and all your innards will be crushed. Under my fist, there isn’t a single person who doesn’t confess.” He was getting more and more smug as he spoke. Then Captain Yang took an official, red-letterhead document out of his bag, waved it in front of my face and said, “This is a confidential document issued by the Central Committee specifically about The Church of Almighty God. Once we get you people we can put you on death’s door, no one cares if you die! After we beat you to death, we just dump your bodies in the mountains and no one ever knows about it. We’ve got all sorts of torture instruments to deal with believers like you. There’s a kind of wire whip that you can dip in freezing cold water, and every time you whip someone a strip of flesh comes off. That person ends up with the bones showing.” Hearing all these horrifying things made my heart clench with fear, and what ran through my mind was that if they used those torture devices on me, that was likely to kill me. And if they threw my body in the mountains I’d just be eaten by wild dogs. What a tragedy that would be! Terrified, I quickly called out to God, “God, I’m so scared the police will torture me with these instruments. My faith isn’t strong enough—please protect me and give me faith and courage so that no matter what they do to me, even if I have to give my life for it, I can stand witness.” Seeing I still wasn’t talking, Captain Yang swung his arms toward my head and smacked me a dozen or so times, left and right. I couldn’t even stay standing. I squeezed my eyes shut and tears streamed down my face. The one standing on my left who said he would “swing the sledgehammer” at me came down on a point on my shoulder with all his strength. For a moment, it felt like all my bones had snapped, and he went on hitting me as he counted. The officer on my right kicked me in the right kneecap and I fell down to the floor. They shouted at me to stand up. With my hands cuffed behind my back, I got back up with difficulty, in spite of the pain. They kicked me right back down again. The “sledgehammer” officer went on hitting me on the shoulder over and over, all the while demanding to know, “Who have you been in contact with? Where’s the church’s money? Tell me now, or it’ll be the end of you!” Furious, I asked them, “What law do I break, that you’re beating me this way? Doesn’t the constitution say we have freedom of belief?” The captain said savagely, “Enough out of you! If you don’t want to die here, open your mouth! Where’s the church’s money? What we want is money. We’ll beat you to death this very day if you don’t tell us!” While saying this he was hitting me in the head over and over, each punch harder than the last. I was kicked, punched to the floor by them over and over, and time after time ordered to stand back up. I don’t know how long they beat me. All I could feel was my head and ears buzzing, and I couldn’t open my eyes, and they felt like they were going to burst out of my head. My face was so swollen it had turned numb and blood was leaking from the corners of my mouth. My heart felt like it was going to fall out of my chest, and my shoulder bones felt like they’d been pulverized. I fell motionless on the floor and my whole body hurt, as if it had totally fallen to pieces. I was calling out to God for His protection nonstop, and I held just one thought in my head: Even if I die, I won’t be a Judas!
Seeing I wasn’t saying a word, the captain tried some persuasion: “We’re asking you these questions, but in fact, we already know the answers. We’re just verifying. You were already sold out by someone else, so is taking the fall for someone else really worth it? At your age, why go through all this suffering? Is there really any need? It’s just some religion, right? Tell us what you know and we’ll let you go right away. That would spare you so much misery.” Then they said some blasphemous things. Hearing their filthy words and seeing the savage looks on their faces was infuriating for me. In order to arrest more brothers and sisters and to seize the church’s money, they switched tactics to entice me. They were really sinister and vile! Whether or not anyone else had sold me out, I would still stand my ground, and absolutely not betray God or other brothers and sisters. After that, the captain used my daughter to threaten me. Looking at me with a phony smile, he said, “Isn’t your daughter in Beijing? We could arrest her and torture her right in front of you. If you don’t talk, we’ll throw the two of you into a men’s prison and let those guys ravage you to death. I could do that with a snap of my finger, and I do what I say.” I knew that the Communist Party is capable of anything at all, and I wasn’t afraid of being beaten to death, but I couldn’t bear the thought of having my daughter and I thrown into a prison for men. I’d rather be beaten to death than be degraded that way. This was a really frightening thought for me, so I quickly called out to God, “God, please watch over my heart, and no matter how they torture or humiliate me, I can’t be a Judas.” After my prayer, I thought of Daniel being thrown into the lions’ den. The lions didn’t eat Daniel because God didn’t allow them to hurt him. I needed to have faith in God. Those evil police were also in God’s hands, so they couldn’t do anything to me if God didn’t allow it. Since I still wasn’t talking, one of them yelled at me, wild with rage, “We’ll beat you to death this very day if you don’t talk!” Saying this, he backed up a couple steps, made a fist, lunged straight at me with a fierce light in his eyes, and smashed his fist right into my chest. I went headfirst down onto the ground and lost my breath for quite a while. All my insides and bones felt like they’d been shattered, and my heart felt like it had been ripped out with pliers. I didn’t dare breathe too hard because of the pain. My head was on the floor and I was sweating all over. I wanted to cry out but I couldn’t manage it—it felt like something was jamming my throat. I wanted to cry, but the tears wouldn’t come. At that moment, I really felt like death would be better than that. I weakened, feeling like I’d already reached my physical limit, and thought to myself that if they kept beating me like that, it would be better to just die and have it over with. Then they’d stop interrogating and torturing me, and I’d be freed. I considered telling them something trivial, but then I knew that if I gave them an inch, they would want a mile, and would start interrogating me even more fiercely. No: No matter what, I couldn’t sell out the brothers and sisters and have them suffer that kind of torture. I silently called out for God’s protection. Just then something from God’s words came very clearly into my mind: “Toward those who showed Me not the slightest loyalty during times of tribulation, I shall be merciful no more, for My mercy only extends so far. I have no liking, furthermore, for anyone who has once betrayed Me, much less do I like to associate with those who sell out the interests of their friends. This is My disposition, regardless of who the person may be” (The Word, Vol. 1. The Appearance and Work of God. Prepare Sufficient Good Deeds for Your Destination). God’s words reminded me just at the right time that His righteous disposition will tolerate no human offense. God detests, He hates those who betray Him, and that sort of person will suffer eternal punishment, body and soul. Through all my years of faith, I’d enjoyed so much of God’s love and the sustenance of His words, and now that it was time for me to stand witness for God, wouldn’t it be unconscionable of me to betray Him so I could greedily cling to life? I wouldn’t be worthy of being human! So I swore that even if it meant my death, I wouldn’t become a Judas. I wouldn’t betray God, but would absolutely give testimony!
Just then that awful captain kicked me while shouting, “Get up! Don’t you play dead, dammit!” But I didn’t have the strength to haul myself up. A couple of officers hoisted me up. I was in a daze, my mind was blank and my head buzzing; my chest hurt so much I was afraid to breathe, and I was seeing double everywhere. They were still hammering me with questions. A wave of anger rose up in me and I mustered up all my strength to say, “Then I’ll die! Just beat me to death, then!” They were stunned into silence, every single one of them just staring blankly at me. I knew that surge of strength and courage was given to me by God, and I thanked Him in my heart. They’d originally been planning to interrogate me using torture in shifts, but sometime after 5 p.m. they got a call from the Provincial Public Security Department telling them to go report on the results of their questioning, so they halted their interrogation. Leaning against the wall, I sat paralyzed on the ground, crying out of gratitude toward God. It was God safeguarding me that had allowed me to come through, otherwise with my physical state, I would have died long before. Afterward, the rest of the officers left except the “sledgehammer” one. He looked at me and said, “Auntie, I’ve never hit a woman before. You’re the first one, and none of those big, strong men could handle 30 of my punches. Do you know how many times I’ve hit you? It’s already been over 30 times. I never could have imagined a lady of your age would be able to handle that, and you haven’t said a single word of what we want to know. I’ve been with the criminal police for a decade, and I’ve never interrogated a case like you.” I had to give thanks to God when I heard that. Not being beaten to death was entirely God’s protection.
After 7 p.m. that evening, they took me back to the detention house and warned me, “When you go back there you absolutely can’t tell anyone we’ve hit you. If you do, next time we question you it’ll be even worse.” While speaking, they picked up a towel and wiped the dust off my pants, straightened my clothing and hair, and then used a wet towel to wipe my face clean. After taking me back to the cell, they lied to the guards, saying I wasn’t feeling well because I had a heart condition flaring up. I was so angry. They were really despicable and knew no shame! Back in the cell I lay on my bunk, unable to move. My scalp was so tender I didn’t dare to touch it and I couldn’t hear out of my left ear at all. My mouth was too swollen to open and my cheeks were black and blue. I was bruised all over my body, all over my legs, and there were very clear purple fist marks on my chest. My left shoulder was dislocated, so I had to support it with my right hand. An exam done later on found that multiple bones in my chest had been broken and I also had misaligned vertebrae. I was afraid to lie flat and especially to sit up; a deep breath made my heart and chest cavity feel like they were being stabbed with shards of glass. Breathing out very slowly would mitigate the pain a little bit. When the prison doctor saw me in that state, he told the prisoners on night watch to check my nose once every two hours, to see if I was still breathing. When the corrections officers came to work every morning, they’d ask first thing if I’d died or not. I didn’t eat or drink for two straight days and everyone else in the cell thought there was no way I’d survive. I overheard a couple of the night watch prisoners commenting really quietly. One of them said, “They’re not getting her treatment or even notifying her family. I think she’s just waiting here to die.” The other said, “The corrections officer said that murderers, arsonists, and prostitutes can all buy their release, it’s just the believers in Almighty God that can’t get out. She just has a few days left to live.” It was so awful to hear them saying things like that. “Am I really going to die in here this way? I still haven’t seen God’s day of glory. If I died in this place, the brothers and sisters wouldn’t know, and neither would my daughter.” The thought of my daughter overwhelmed me with sadness, and I couldn’t hold back the tears. There on death’s door, I didn’t have any family, any brothers or sisters by my side. It was more painful the more I thought about it, and all I could do was call out to God. Then I heard those two prisoners say, “What if she really does die in here?” To which the other responded, “Take whichever bedcover is the dirtiest and rattiest, roll her up in it, then throw her into a pit and bury her.” Hearing this really weakened my spirit. I was already physically unable to take it anymore, and with the extreme emotional misery and despair on top of that, I was feeling even more cardiac pain—I felt like death would be better than that. I didn’t know what to say to God, so I just called on God urgently, “God, save me! Please help me! Give me faith and courage so I can overcome this. Oh God, I don’t know what’s going to happen after this, but I know my life and death are in Your hands.” Just then, a quote from God’s words floated up into my mind: “During these last days you must bear testimony to God. No matter how great your suffering, you should walk until the very end, and even at your last breath, still you must be faithful to God and at the mercy of God; only this is truly loving God, and only this is the strong and resounding testimony” (The Word, Vol. 1. The Appearance and Work of God. Only by Experiencing Painful Trials Can You Know the Loveliness of God). I was really encouraged, and felt like God Himself was by my side, comforting me and urging me on. I also thought of all those saints through the ages who were martyred for the sake of spreading God’s gospel, and even today, so many brothers and sisters have given up their lives to spread God’s kingdom gospel. Their deaths have meaning and value, and they’re commemorated by God. I was arrested for believing in God and doing my duty. Even if I were persecuted to death, it would be for the sake of righteousness and would be a thing of glory. Regardless of whether I lived or died that day, I would stand witness for God, and even if I did die, my life wouldn’t have been in vain. This thought left me feeling very calm, and not so desolate or helpless anymore. I said another prayer: “God, the specter of death is looming before me. If it does come, I’m ready to submit to Your arrangements. If I live through this, I’ll still do the duty of a created being to satisfy You. I’ll hand myself over entirely to You and be devoted until the end.” I gained a sense of peace after that prayer. I was no longer constrained by thoughts of death and my physical pain subsided, too. I got through one day that way, then a second day, and then a third…. I still wasn’t dead! I knew in my bones that this was entirely God’s grace and protection.
The people from the National Security Brigade came to get me for more questioning three days later. I heard the corrections officer hollering my name before the cell door had even opened. My condition was at its worst just then, and as soon as the other prisoners heard that, they all started clamoring, standing up and shouting at once, saying things like, “She’s in this state and you’re going to question her more? You are absolute savages. Taking her in for questioning when she’s been beaten into this state?” There were 60-odd people in there, and more than half of them were speaking out for me, infuriated. The entire cell was thrown into chaos. At this sight, the police decided not to question me. I was moved to the point of tears, so grateful for God’s protection. Later even the head prisoner said, “I’ve been here for two years and I’ve never seen anything like that.” I knew that God was working behind the scenes to watch over me, arranging for people, events, and things to help me and allow me to dodge that blow. I gave thanks to God!
For a while, I was so racked with full-body pain that I couldn’t sleep at night, so I’d ponder God’s words. Once I thought of a hymn about Peter praying to God when he was at his weakest point: “O God! Regardless of the time or place, You know that I always remember You. No matter the time or place, You know that I want to love You, but my stature is too small, I am too weak and powerless, my love is too limited, and my sincerity toward You is too meager. Compared to Your love, I am simply unfit to live. I wish only that my life is not in vain, and that I can not only repay Your love, but, moreover, that I can devote all I have to You. If I can satisfy You, then as a creature, I shall have peace of mind, and will ask for nothing more. Although I am weak and powerless now, I will not forget Your exhortations, and I will not forget Your love” (Follow the Lamb and Sing New Songs, Peter’s Love of God). That hymn was incredibly touching for me. Throughout that experience of being mercilessly tortured, whenever I prayed and leaned on God when I felt fragile and in pain, He enlightened and guided me with His words and opened up a way out for me. God had stayed by my side, watching over and protecting me. Experiencing that kind of environment showed me God’s almightiness and rule, and then my faith in God grew. I also truly saw the great red dragon’s demonic essence of opposing God and destroying people—I rejected and forsook it from the heart, and turned my heart toward God. God saved me from Satan’s forces in such practical ways. Full of gratitude for God, I said a prayer that whether I lived or died, I was ready to give my whole life to Him and accept whatever He arranged. Even if it meant my death, I would follow God until the very end! From that moment forward, I could feel within my heart that I could do without anything—what I couldn’t do is be apart from God. As I thought over God’s words, I could feel my heart growing closer to Him. Under God’s care and protection, the swelling went down around my injuries very quickly, my heart didn’t hurt as much when I breathed, and after a week I was able to walk by propping myself up against the wall. Everyone in the prison was amazed, saying, “Look at that, she must believe in the true God!” I knew that was all thanks to God’s great power, and that He had brought me back from the brink of death and given me a second life. I gave heartfelt thanks for God’s salvation for me!
After four months locked up in the detention house, the Communist Party sentenced me to a year of reeducation through labor for disrupting social order. When I was discharged, the police warned me, “If you get arrested for more religious activities, you’ll get a heavy sentence.” But I wasn’t held back by them. I prayed to God in my heart, “No matter how much oppression or hardship I face after this, I will follow You forever!”