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02/07/2022 Washington, D.C.—As many Olympians from around the world cross the Chinese border with ease, for one Christian, an innocent border crossing took away his freedom.  

Chinese pastor John Sanqiang Cao, an icon amongst the Chinese house church movement and missionary, is currently serving a seven-year sentence following an unjust conviction for his ministry in China and Myanmar. 

Pastor Cao came to the U.S. as a young adult, where he attended seminary, started a family, and pastored a community of Chinese Americans. Though he had built a new life in the U.S., Pastor Cao was called to serve those in need back in China. 

Pastor Cao’s passion for the kingdom led him to set up schools that could share the gospel in southern China; in 2013, he grew his mission to Myanmar. Pastor Cao began conducting aid work in Myanmar’s Wa State, an eastern province with heavy influence from their eastern neighbor, China. Though Wa State is run by a heavily atheistic and single-party socialist government, it has a growing Christian community. 

Pastor Cao set up several schools for the needy in Wa State, which quickly began to flourish. Though in March 2017, Pastor Cao was stopped by Yunnan authorities for what the authorities would call an illegal border crossing, even though this was a regular occurrence for Pastor Cao and his colleague Jing Ruxia. Like Pastor Cao, many others regularly traveled this route, taking a ferry over a narrow river, often without a visa or documentation. The only difference between Pastor Cao’s crossing was that he was a Christian undergoing Christian missionary work. 

Pastor Cao was later charged with the crime of “organization of illegal border crossings,” a charge typically leveled against smugglers and traffickers. He was sentenced to seven years in prison. The severity of his punishment for such an innocent offense speaks volumes to the Chinese government’s harassment of Christians. Since his arrest, we have seen similar charges against other Chinese Christians for similar frivolous crimes – the only similarity. They are all against Christians.

“Human traffickers cross borders and break laws.
Day and night, they smuggle Wa people to take money from their misery.
As they abuse power, arbitrariness emerges.
Yet authorities involve righteous people with no sense of shame” 

“The Smuggling,” Living Lyrics, Poems from Prison by Pastor John Cao 

Despite the unfairness of Cao’s charges, he continues to keep his spirit and rely on his faith in God while imprisoned. Texas-based aid organization, ChinaAid, has received reports from Pastor Cao’s lawyer that though he suffers from some ailments in prison, he still is in good spirits; however, the ongoing pandemic has been used to deny Pastor Cao a visit from his 84-year-old mother, and the desire to have a Bible.  

He reflects on the word through poetry and through verses written in his heart. Neither the overcrowded cells, the denial of visitors, nor the refusal to access the Bible, has broken his call to serve the kingdom. Like Apostle Paul, Pastor Cao’s fortitude in the face of adversity may offer the word of God access to unknowing places and his testimony a light for all those who hear it.  

“…no matter what empty promises Satan makes to the world,
in the end, persecuted, Godly people achieve the victory whether in or outside prison.”  

Except from “In Prison,” Living Lyrics, Poems from Prison by Pastor John Cao 

So as thousands of athletes have crossed and continue to cross Chinese borders for the winter games, let us pray for those like Pastor Cao, who are persecuted for the luggage they bring; for Pastor Cao, it is a call to grow the Kingdom of God around China which cannot be checked. 

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! – 2 Timothy 2:8-9 

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This story is part of ICC’s series Shackled to the Podium, a series where we remember those who have suffered or are currently suffering persecution by the Chinese Communist Party on account of their faith. This series will populate daily for the duration of the 2022 Beijing Olympics. Click here to read more about the project. 

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Since 1995, ICC has served the global persecuted church through a three-pronged approach of advocacy, awareness, and assistance. ICC exists to bandage the wounds of persecuted Christians and to build the church in the toughest parts of the world.