Chinese Pastor Zhang Rongliang, also known as Uncle Z, reports that the seven years and six months he spent in prison were a fruitful time of ministry. Zhang is still recovering from severe health problems after completing his full sentence on Aug. 31, 2011. He was immediately admitted to a hospital for 15 days where doctors monitored Zhang’s high blood pressure and diabetes.
In early December 2004 Zhang disappeared, and eventually, the Chinese government admitted they had him in custody. Zhang was sentenced to seven years and six months in prison for possessing and using a forged passport — which typically carries a six-month sentence. People and organizations around the world pressured Chinese Communist leaders to release Zhang. Thousands of individuals wrote letters and prayed while multiple organizations worked to secure his release.
“I am happy that you and others tried to arrange for my release, but in one way, I am happy that you failed,” Zhang told a VOM contact in China. “You almost made a big mistake. If you had been successful, there would be no church in that prison today.”
Chinese Christians are not allowed to visit prisons or start prison outreach ministries, so Zhang ministered to everyone he could while in prison — prisoners, prison guards and officials he could never have met outside prison. Over 5,000 men lived in prison with Zhang, and many of them were able to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.
Zhang, a founder of one of China’s largest churches with over ten million members, has endured constant persecution for his ministry in China. Zhang has been imprisoned five times and spent about a fourth of his life in prison.
In a recent interview, a VOM contact asked about Zhang’s most recent prison experience.
Uncle Z, most people I know have the same question for you — How could you endure prison for so many years?
First let me say that while I was in prison, I remembered our friendship and the times you helped our church. I could feel inside my heart that you were doing something to try to help me. Also, I believed many people and organizations and governments in the West were speaking out about my situation.
To answer your question, I want to remind you that in my life, I have become accustomed to living in prison. This is the fifth time I have been in prison. So now, you see, I have spent one fourth of my life in prison and in some ways I have needed to adapt, to become accustomed to prison.
The second answer to this question is that the entire time I was in prison, I knew that many Christian brothers and sisters were praying for me constantly. So I had strength to overcome.
Finally, I want to remind you that our church movement has for years sent out missionaries to the unreached people groups of China and more recently to the Muslim peoples of the world. The missionaries leave their homes to go to a new environment. They preach the gospel in the area where they are called to preach. You have followed the call of God to China. I am the same as you. I consider myself and I treat myself as one who is a missionary. The difference is that God called me to preach to the prisoners.
You know, no Christian can go to the prisons of China to have an outreach ministry. We cannot go to witness to the prisoners. We cannot go to disciple them in the faith. If a Christian wants to preach in the prison, there must be a reason for him to go to prison. I preached to many, many people during the more than seven years I was in prison. I preached not only to common prisoners, but also I met many government officials while I was in prison. I met many business leaders. These were highly-placed officials; they were not common criminals. I shared the gospel with them in prison, and many of them received the Lord. Then I baptized them inside the prison. The prisoners were always coming and going, but I was in for a long time. At any given time, I would have direct access with more than ten important people who I was discipling daily and who I considered to be my “cell group.” These new converts were the only way that I could forget the suffering I was going through in prison.
These were people who I could never have met outside of the prison. They were too high in society. But in prison it was easy to preach Jesus to them, and it was easy for them to receive the Lord. It was much easier for them to receive Christ than it would have been outside. After that, they were happy. They were happy that the Lord loved them enough to arrange for them to go to prison to hear about him. The day I left the prison, one part of me was sad because I did not want to leave these new brothers. They all waved to me as I left.
So you see, I am happy that you and others tried to arrange for my release. But in one way, I am happy that you failed. You almost made a big mistake! If you had been successful, there would be no church in that prison today. There were 5,000 men in prison with me. Soon all of them will hear the good news of Jesus.
Did you have a Bible while you were in prison?
No, and this was very unusual that they would do this, and very difficult for me. It is against the law for them to withhold a religious book from a prisoner. I asked for a Bible many times, but the officials always refused to give me one.
I have a personal question. Of course you know my son.I often travel and am away from my family and sometimes worry about the effect this will have on him.For much of your life, you have not been with your two sons, but both of them serve the Lord now and are working in significant ministries, actually risking their own lives.What advice do you have for a father?
First, try your best to spend time with them, as much as you can. This is important and it is your responsibility. Then during those times you must be away, you must pray for them. You must put them completely in the hands of God. Remember, he will take better care of them than you can. Finally, always remember that the Word of God promises us that the children of the righteous will become like the oak tree in the hands of the Lord.
I have spent a lot of time in prison, but the children know why their father is being kept in prison. We have taught our children that this lifestyle is our duty. When we teach, we put more focus, more emphasis on the will of God and on the position that he has given to us. God wants us to do a bigger thing for him. All who are called to ministry are different people. We are not like other people. The world does not understand us. But our lives and our calling is a precious thing in the eyes of God.
I know that many foreign pastors say that we must put the family first. I don't agree with this philosophy. God is number one. God and his will must always be first in our lives. After that, he will take care of all other things.
What would you say to pastors in the West if you had the opportunity?
First I would say thank you many times for all of the help they have given to the Chinese church for so many years and also for the prayers they prayed for me while I was in prison.
Next, I want to encourage the Western church to not forget the Chinese church. Attend to the needs that we still have. We need you. We need your love and your partnership. Please don't forget us.
Third, I want to remind the Western church that there is in China great fruit that can be seen that is a direct result of the labor that the West has labored for us. Your ministry to the Chinese church has changed this nation! Soon there will be a great opening-up in China. The friends in the West can feel that they have been successful in helping China to hear the gospel. We, the Chinese church, have been caught off guard and unprepared.
Recently, the officials in the Henan provincial government have made a statement that every village should have a church. These churches do not need to be owned by the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (the government-owned church). The government has told us that they will register and approve our land and our buildings. Now we can begin to build actual churches, but we do not know how to begin. We are completely overwhelmed. We feel very strange about this. We are completely at a loss to know how to address this thing that has never happened before. The government wants us to quickly find places to build churches. We have no plan for this. Please pray for us and help us if you can.
Article courtesy of VOM.