Cover Story

Remember those who are in prison

"Remember those who are in prison" Continued...

Issue: "2012 Daniels of the Year," Dec. 15, 2012

Liu continued to write articles for international media criticizing the Chinese government and human-rights abuses. In May 2010, he spoke with Radio Free Asia about a government raid on a house church in Sichuan province: Authorities had detained eight church members, including a 3-year-old child.

A month later, authorities detained Liu. By February 2011, Chinese officials convicted Liu of subverting state power, and they levied a crushing sentence: Another 10 years in prison.

Bridgette Chen remembers the day police took her father. The 15-year-old high-school student recounted Liu’s capture during an interview near San Francisco this summer. 

Chen came to the United States in September 2011 after a local pastor and his family offered to provide a home and education. It was difficult to leave her mother, but Chen says her parents wanted her to escape the pressures and harassment her family had endured for most of her life. 

The harassment culminated when Chen was 13 years old. Police summoned her from her school classroom and interrogated her about her father. What did he do in his free time? What did he write on the computer? What did they talk about?

After a bevy of questions, police fingerprinted the girl and sent her back to class. By the time she returned home, they had sent her father to prison. She hasn’t seen Liu, 44, since.

Chen is sorry for her father’s plight, but admits she doesn’t know him well: The pair spent 20 months together after his release from prison in 2008. But she fights tears when she speaks about her mother. “I realized they really loved each other. And now they have to wait another 10 years,” she says. “I feel really sorry for them … I want them to be together. Not just for me, but for them.”

For now, Chen is adjusting quickly to life in America. She speaks good English with a touch of American slang, and posts pictures on Facebook. She relishes school after overcoming a difficult first semester that included low grades as she learned English. “It took me two or three times as long to do my homework at first,” she says. “But this year, whoa, every subject was A’s or B’s.”

When I ask about the best part of the past year, she doesn’t hesitate: “I became a Christian.”

Indeed, that morning Chen played the flute in a worship service at a local Chinese-speaking church. The pastor, John Zhang, is head of the U.S. family hosting Chen. After learning about the gospel, Chen embraced her father’s faith, and found relief: “I was raised to be independent, but after I became a Christian, I realized it’s all dependent on God.” On Nov. 18, Pastor Zhang baptized Chen.

Chen hopes her mother will be able to join her, but Chinese authorities haven’t approved her mother’s visa. In the meantime, pastor Zhang says his family is committed to caring for Chen. After participating in the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, the pastor sees it as part of his own legacy.

Zhang converted to Christianity 10 years after his harrowing experience at Tiananmen, and became a house-church pastor. After years of harassment by local authorities, he came to the United States to study theology. He tries to help dissidents and their families: “This is God’s calling for me. To bring a Chinese child—especially the second generation after Tiananmen Square—to America.” (Chen says she never knew the details about the Tiananmen massacre until she came to the United States.)

Zhang hopes a good education and Christian discipleship will prepare children like Chen to return to China someday: “I will see when these students graduate from college how God will call them back to China to help their country.” He believes the growing house-church movement will help spur changes in the country: “This is what I hope. That just like in East Berlin the wall will come down.”

Until then, Chen is thankful for opportunities to bring attention to her father’s case, and she brims with hope: “I don’t know what will happen in the future, but I know God has the plan. I have confidence for my future life.”

Nearly 400 miles south, Li Jing wonders about her future. The wife of imprisoned Christian dissident Guo Quan, 44, sits at the kitchen table in a friend’s house outside Los Angeles scrolling through pictures on a laptop of her husband in China.

Li arrived here in January with their 12-year-old son, five years after her husband began speaking out for greater freedoms in China. 

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