Voice of the Martyrs Korea is reporting that Pastor John Cao has been released from prison in Kunming in Yunnan province on March 3rd after finishing his seven-year sentence for allegedly organizing illegal border crossings into China from neighboring Myanmar. Voice of the Martyrs had conducted a global letter writing campaign on behalf of Pastor Cao, working to ensure that he received a constant stream of encouraging letters from other believers for the duration of his imprisonment while making sure prison officials were aware that people around the world were closely monitoring the pastor’s situation.

According to Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, four police escorted Pastor Cao back to his home in Changsha City, Hunan Province, where he lives with his 88-year-old mother.  

His two sons were looking forward to visiting from America,” says Representative Foley. “A visit with his wife, who is a US citizen living in the US, looks like it will have to wait until the required documents can be successfully filed.” Representative Foley says Pastor Cao likely faces a prohibition on travel for at least five months and has to report to the local police station weekly.  

“Pastor Cao told associates that he was ‘full of joyupon his release despite having been separated from his family for seven years,” says Representative Foley. “He said, ‘I am now more willing to be broken with my life.’”  

Representative Foley says Pastor Cao, who is 65 years old, has told friends he has no plans to retire, despite observers reporting that he now suffers from a variety of chronic health conditions due to his imprisonment. 

According to Representative Foley, Pastor Cao depended on Bible reading and prayer for spiritual strength during his imprisonment, though he did not receive an actual Bible until he had been in prison for six months. 

Until then, Pastor Cao looked for scripture verses and hymn lyrics in the books in the prison library, and he copied the ones he found onto a toothpaste box,” says Representative Foley. “Pastor Cao’s lawyer said that when Pastor Cao was finally granted access to a Bible in September 2018, he cried when he touched it. 

Representative Foley noted that the permission for Pastor Cao was later withdrawn, and he then had to depend on the Bible verses sent to him in letters from his mother. “If she put too many Bible verses in the letter, authorities would simply not deliver it to him,” says Representative Foley. 

Representative Foley says that Pastor Cao practiced daily morning prayer in prison despite the lack of a clock and a prohibition on speaking aloud. “He told associates that he woke up on his own at 5AM every day and turned sideways to cover his praying activities,” says Representative Foley. 

According to Representative Foley, Pastor Cao was kept under close watch by prison guards throughout his seven-year sentence. “In the daytime he was not allowed to talk to anyone, and they even watched him while he slept,” she says. But he told friends he wasn’t lonely. He said, ‘I have never been alone. The Holy Spirit gives me strength. I know that God is with me and my brothers and sisters are with me.’” 

Before imprisonment


Pastor John Cao upon his release from prison

Pastor Cao became a Christian in his 20s. In 1988, he married an American woman, Jamie Powell, and entered Alliance Theological Seminary. Ordained after graduation, he became a permanent resident of the US in 1990 but chose not to apply for citizenship. “He strongly believed China was his calling,” says Representative Foley. He eventually turned his attention to Myanmar beginning in 2014, where he built 16 schools and launched anti-poverty programs in the Wa State region bordering China.  

After three years of crossing the border between China and Myanmar without incident, Pastor Cao was arrested on March 5, 2017, and eventually charged with organizing illegal border crossings and sentenced to seven years in prison in March 2018.  

Representative Foley cautions that prayers are often needed more after a prisoner is released than during the imprisonment. Former prisoners of faith often tell us that while they are in prison, the Lord feels very close to them, and then when they are released they feel overwhelmed by all the challenges of returning to normal life–especially when authorities are watching closely,” she says. “Pastor Cao will need time to recover his health and to make arrangements to meet with his wife. The family will need to rebuild their relationships day-to-day and discover a new ‘normal’ routine. We should pray that the family will experience the Lord’s comfort and strong, safe presence, and that they will know how to serve him in the coming days. 

Representative Foley also says that writing letters to Christians imprisoned for their faith is a ministry often neglected by Christians. “Most Christians don’t realize that it is often possible to write letters to Christians like Pastor Cao, to encourage them while they are in prison,” says Representative Foley. “Christians assume that the letters would be blocked or would create further troubles for Christian prisoners, or they worry that they themselves will be tracked somehow for writing a letter. But our website maintains a list of prisoners in places where mail can be received, and where a simple letter of Christian encouragement will not create trouble for the prisoner or the letter writer. Former prisoners frequently tell us how much letters from Christians around the world meant to them during their imprisonment.”  

The ministry’s website currently lists the information and addresses for 10 Christians currently imprisoned for their faith, in countries including China, North Korea, and Eritrea. The list is accessible at 

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