As the date of her long-anticipated release from prison neared, Cheng Jie wondered whether her young sons would even remember her. She’d spent the last two years at a labor camp in China, and she hadn’t seen her sons at all during her imprisonment.
Cheng Jie — a young mother, a pastor’s wife, and a former kindergarten director — never anticipated her 2014 arrest. With a husband who was a pastor in China where religion is tightly controlled, she and her husband, Du Hongbo, had prepared for his possible arrest, but never hers. In the end, it was her role as the director of the Hualin Foreign Language Experimental Kindergarten that took her to prison for two years.
Chinese authorities charged the school and its administration of “illegal business operations,” due to the use of what the authorities called religious curriculum. The school was closed, and four people associated with it, including Cheng Jie, were arrested.
Cheng Jie, in a photo taken by the prison
At first, prison was a scary time for Cheng Jie. She had never known anyone with drug problems or who engaged in criminal behavior, but here she was, suddenly crammed in a cell with 15 criminals. Some of her cellmates were due to be put to death for committing murders. Their 15 by 15 foot cell had one toilet for the women to share. Quarrels would often break out between the women. Others would sob continually. The women were expected to work 12-hour work days and were fed very little, usually rice with boiled cabbage or radishes. Soon, however, Cheng Jie realized she had a unique opportunity to minister to the other women, and she began to love them.
“Even though I was in prison, I felt like I am happy because I have the joy from God,” she said.
Her husband was allowed to visit once a month, but the children, who were 1- and 3-years-old when she was arrested, were not allowed to come. During their visits, the husband and wife encouraged one another, but the guards refused to allow him to give Cheng a Bible.
Du Hongbo cared for their two young sons while his wife was in prison
But God provided her with a copy of His Word another way. Another prisoner had one, and she traded it to Cheng Jie for some other items. Despite the long work hours, Cheng read the Bible faithfully every night and found encouragement in God’s Word. She also taught her cellmates songs, hymns, and Bible stories.
Her faith and trustworthiness made her stand out to prison authorities. “God is great! It makes me think of Joseph in the Old Testament. After six months, they let me manage all these cells,” she told us.
She was also thankful for a good lawyer who advised her on how to address the charges against her. She pled not guilty; if she had said she was guilty, she may have gotten a longer sentence. She said she often felt anxious, but she learned to trust God for each day during her imprisonment.
Another thing that provided encouragement was all the letters she received containing hymns, Bible verses and encouraging notes from VOM readers using Prisoner Alert. As letters poured in from the United States, she thought, “Really, I can’t go through this, but because of the encouragement from all over the world, it makes my faith strong. That is why I can go through my difficulties.”
On the day of her release, with her sons
In February 2016, Cheng Jie’s sentence was complete, and she was released. It took a while for her now 3 and 5 year old sons to warm up to her, but the family is grateful to be reunited. Though it was hard on Do Hongbo to care for the boys on his own, he said God gave him good health during that time so he could take care of the children.
Today, the family faces an uncertain future. They don’t know what life will hold for them. Cheng Jie’s prison record is a black mark against the family. It will be difficult to find work and her sons may not be allowed to enter school. Though they were reluctant to leave behind their church family, Du Hongbo decided, “The church belongs to God.” They are preparing to relocate.
For now, Cheng Jie is glad to be back with her husband and her two boys. She is especially glad for all the prayers that were offered for her and her family. “Sisters and brothers, thank you for your encouragement,” she said.
Reunited, but facing an uncertain future
Your prayers and letters make a difference! Write a letter to a Christian in prison for their faith at PrisonerAlert.com.
Posted: October 7, 2016