By Mark Ellis
He was once a presiding judge in an affluent city on China’s east coast. But he was beaten and tortured for his faith for 11 years due to his involvement in the underground church.
“That’s the story of brother Li JF, a dedicated Catholic brother in the underground church,” says Bob Fu, founder and president of ChinaAid Association. “He was imprisoned not because of corruption or criminal activities but because he provided free legal advice to the weak and vulnerable,” says Fu.
“Li could easily have gained a fortune if he chose to continue his comfortable legal career; he could have avoided arrest, beatings, and torture by staying silent in the face of injustice. But he chose a different way because his ears heard the Voice behind him: ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” (Isaiah 30:21.)
In a letter to Fu after his release in April, Li wrote, “I lost everything but gained my faith in God!” In the letter he described how his health was destroyed during his incarceration, his wife divorced him following government threats, and his daughter disappeared.
Li’s younger brother fled to Thailand in 2010 because of government threats, after two years in jail. While Li was imprisoned, government authorities sold his house.
“Brother Li still claims he gained from his imprisonment because he did not lose his faith in God,” Fu says.
In the labor camp, Li worked 14 hours a day and spent three hours each day in “re-education” classes, which amounted to brainwashing sessions.
His elderly parents, barely able to meet their own expenses, sent him $25 each month. From his meager income Li smuggled money out of the labor camp to purchase Bibles, which he used to lead Bible studies for dozens of prisoners.
In his classes he often challenged his disciples with a probing question, “upon whom can you fix your real hope?”
Not only did Li’s faith sustain his life, he even defended fellow prisoners despite the risk of additional punishment. Li used his knowledge of Chinese and international law to defend the prisoners’ right to own Bibles.
Last November, after their Bibles were confiscated by camp officials, Li and several other Christian leaders went to the senior officer of the camp and demanded to know why their Bibles were confiscated.
When the senior officer attempted to make excuses, Li used his knowledge of Chinese laws and regulations to challenge him. Unable to win the argument with this courageous prisoner, the senior officer finally sent them away. That same evening, God softened the man’s heart, and their Bibles were returned.
One encouraging feature in Li’s letter is his perspective about gain and loss. “My heavenly father chose to let me follow Him by carrying my cross. With difficulty, I chose a road on which I would become poorer in material wealth and on which commutation of sentence would be more difficult. So I continued to spread the seeds of the Gospel. . . . I’m all the more the chosen person of the Lord and such a glory cannot be replaced with any material gains.”
ChinaAid wired $1000 to help meet Li’s urgent needs since his release, and will continue to work for his eventual freedom to leave China.