‘I Knew I Would Pay a Price for My Faith’: China Releases Missionary After Seven Years

John Sanqiang Cao shares how hand-copied Bible verses, prayers, and a mother’s love buoyed him during his imprisonment.

When pastor John Sanqiang Cao, 64, crossed the border back into China from Myanmar’s Wa State on March 5, 2017, Chinese officials were waiting to arrest him. For years, he had traveled across the porous border from Yunnan Province to the impoverished Wa State, where he founded more than 20 schools, established drug rehabilitation centers, and provided medicine, books, school supplies, and Bibles to locals. Wa State is part of the notorious “Golden Triangle,” one of the world’s largest producers of methamphetamine.

Yet the courts in Yunnan sentenced Cao to seven years in prison for allegedly “organizing illegal border crossings,” a crime usually applied to human traffickers.

His case garnered widespread attention as Cao’s wife and two sons are US citizens, and Cao has permanent residency in the US. While he could have applied for US citizenship, Cao decided to keep his Chinese passport so that he could return to China for ministry work. He split his time between pastoring a Chinese church in North Carolina and training Chinese house church leaders and mobilizing them to do missions.

Various international religious freedom groups and US lawmakers have long advocated for his release. In 2019, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that Cao was targeted due to his Christian faith.

Chinese authorities released Cao on March 5 after he finished serving his sentence. Four police officers escorted him to his hometown of Changsha, where he is now subjected to supervision and “thought reform” by the local government for five years.

CT spoke with Cao about his time in prison, the Bible verses that sustained him, his views on persecution, how it feels to be released to …

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