A Family in Exile

A Family in Exile

Wang Yi's family
After being accused of membership in a “religious cult, Ran, Ruiting, Dejun and Qiang (left to right) left China fearing that the government would take away Ruiting’s adopted brother.

In the several years that her family worshiped with Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, China, Ruiting got used to seeing her pastor arrested by government authorities. One of her earliest memories of Pastor Wang Yi is his arrest on June 3, 2012. That time, authorities held the influential pastor for two days to make sure he remained quiet on June 4, the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

But when police arrested Pastor Wang Yi on Dec. 9, 2018, Ruiting and other members of the congregation were shocked. This time, it was more than just an attempt to intimidate or temporarily silence the pastor. Authorities also arrested his wife, Jiang Rong, several church leaders and more than 150 church members.

Under Surveillance

Ruiting’s father, Qiang, came to faith in Christ after reading several articles written by Pastor Wang Yi. And after Ruiting and the rest of the family came to faith, they decided to move to Chengdu; Ruiting’s parents wanted to raise their young sons, Jianen and Jiawen, as biblical disciples within the Early Rain church family. 


In 2017, Ruiting enrolled in Early Rain’s seminary, where her studies included working as Pastor Wang Yi’s administrative assistant. “He was also my teacher at seminary,” she said. “He was a very good teacher. He has a gift. His preaching really encouraged me to be a servant of God.”


On Dec. 9, 2018, Ruiting, her husband, Ran, and others from the church spent the afternoon rehearsing their upcoming Christmas play and shopping for coats. “Everything was normal that day until I got back home, maybe around 6 or 7 p.m.,” Ruiting recalled. “We read that a brother was arrested.”


“Nobody gave up their faith. I saw church members who were braver, and they kept worshiping every week. Even without [Pastor Wang Yi] we are always worshiping God.”


Through a group message on WeChat, a popular Chinese messaging app, church members were informed that the church secretary had been arrested and that authorities had confiscated his laptop, which included church members’ personal information.


A short time later, they learned that Pastor Wang Yi and his wife had also been detained, and news of other arrests continued to show up in their messaging app. “Many people disappeared at that time,” Ruiting said. “We would be messaging someone on our phones and then they would just stop responding. They just disappeared.”


Ruiting soon learned that nearly everyone she worked with at the seminary had been arrested, and she feared that she might be next. Realizing she couldn’t return to her parents’ house, where she and Ran lived, Ruiting decided to stay with a friend that night. Early the next morning, about 20 police officers and government officials visited her parents’ house looking for her.


The officers attempted to force Qiang and Dejun, Ruiting’s mother, to sign a document stating that they would leave their church. When the couple refused to sign, authorities took Qiang in for questioning. Ruiting later learned that authorities had threatened to harm her father and 10-year-old brother, Jianen, if she didn’t come in for questioning, so she decided to turn herself in after praying with a group of other believers.


A week after the raid, Ruiting met with five plainclothes police officers at a local cafe. After they ridiculed and questioned her for two hours, they asked Ruiting to sign a document stating that she would cut all ties with Early Rain. Like her parents, she refused to sign it.


Police closely monitored Ruiting and her family for the next month. Two officers followed each family member when they left the house, and they were not allowed to have visitors from the church. One officer even made Ruiting add him to her WeChat contacts so he could track her location.         

Members of the banned Early Rain Church worshipping in public.

Starting Over

Some members feared that the church would struggle as a result of the raid, but instead the church grew stronger. “Nobody gave up their faith,” Ruiting said. “I saw church members who were braver, and they kept worshiping every week. Even without [Pastor Wang Yi] we are always worshiping God.”


Ruiting and her family were determined to endure whatever persecution came their way, but a new tactic by the authorities soon forced them to create a plan for leaving China. In 2019, Communist authorities arrested a Christian couple, Wenju and Jianan, and took custody of their four adopted children under the pretense of saving the children from a “religious cult.” 


Sometime later, Ruiting learned through a neighbor that a police officer had also referred to her family as members of a religious cult. And sensing that authorities might use the same tactic to take her adopted brother, Jiawen, from her parents, Ruiting realized the family had to leave the country. 


Ruiting and her family were able to get medical visas to Taiwan because of Jiawen’s history of cancer; he had a tumor on his right arm as a baby. The family traveled to Taiwan in July 2019, where they remained for two years, and on June 29, 2021, they immigrated to the United States. 

new school
Jiawen is flourishing in his new school.

The Blessing of Persecution

Reflecting on their lives as Christians in China, Ruiting and her family said they are grateful for the persecution they endured. “I think persecution is quite a blessing from God,” Ran said. “It changed our life. God has us here to share what is happening in China, to share the evil side of Xi Jinping. I think it is a blessing to the Chinese church. I think the gospel in China will flourish more.”


And Qiang said facing persecution has helped him mature in faith. “Before persecution, I sometimes felt a little lazy about my faith,” he said. “The persecution made me feel that the future kingdom will come. Persecution made me feel like I’m flourishing in my faith.” 


Ruiting requested prayer for Pastor Wang Yi and his family, for her own family and for members of Early Rain Church who continue to follow Christ under the government’s watchful eye. “I think God wants me here to share the story with you,” she said, “to share my experience with the English-speaking world.”