My covert visit with the underground church, some years ago


By: D.L. Sandusky —

Screenshot underground church in “The Cross, Jesus in China” 2004

A Chinese American physician visited our church in the U.S to explain his medical missions work with the underground church in China. We planned to meet in an airport in China a few months later. Instead of looking like the accomplished doctor I knew in the US, he approached me in the airport terminal wearing the poor clothes of a farm worker with a well-worn hat.

We took a taxi directly to the Central Train Station to meet a middle-aged Chinese man, who the physician explained was one of the leaders of the underground church. By early morning we arrived in a city in central China, then traveled three and a half hours by van into the remote countryside for a secret four-day meeting.

Since I am of European origin with light skin, I was instructed to bring dark clothing, including a parka type coat and dark gloves.

Screenshot police raid in “The Cross, Jesus in China” 2004

When we exited the train station, we were met by two men and a woman, in their late 20s or early 30’s. Wherever we walked in the city the three fanned out following 100 feet behind, to determine if we were being followed.

We checked into a hotel room to rest, shower, and had time for a Bible study with the young ministers.

I was impressed with their knowledge of God’s Word. Later I learned that one was the headmaster of an underground seminary and the other two had been in full time ministry for over 10 years. All had served time in prison and work camps for preaching the Gospel, outside of state-controlled churches.

Screenshot underground church in “The Cross, Jesus in China” 2004

At midday we went out for lunch. When I asked what we were having for lunch, the answer was “dog.” My physician friend saw the pained expression on my face and asked them to order some chicken for me. He explained, “In America the dog is part of the family, and you don’t eat family!”

After nightfall, we traveled for three and a half hours into the remote countryside.

We entered a small village traveling muddy winding streets to what looked like a one-story rectangular fortress with no exterior windows, with a double door for vehicles and animals to enter on one side. The door opened and I was told to run quickly into the compound.

Screenshot underground church in “The Cross, Jesus in China” 2004

I was taken to the only private bedroom in the compound after midnight. To get to my room I had to walk through another larger room, which had about 30 male ministers sleeping side by side on the floor. Other men were sleeping outside in animal stalls facing the courtyard. The women were sleeping together on the floor of the main meeting room next door.

It was the dead of winter and there was no heat in the compound. The doors were usually open to the inner courtyard and much of the time snow or freezing rain was falling. Under no circumstances could I leave the compound. We were on the edge of the village and some neighbors were Christians or friends, but there were others that were not trusted.

We spent four days locked away together in this compound to pray, worship the Lord, and study His Word. Each morning we rose at 6 am. It was very cold and at times snow was falling on us while we were preparing for the day.

Screenshot underground church in “The Cross, Jesus in China” 2004

At 6:30 a.m. we met in the main hall and began singing Chinese Christian Hymns. I could understand only some of the words, but the songs were anointed by the Holy Spirit and were extremely touching, especially knowing I was with a group of fugitives for the Gospel’s sake, who could be arrested and jailed at any time if the authorities discovered us.

It seemed I had returned to the days of the early church.

It was obvious that everyone was Spirit-filled. They raised their hands in worship, shouted and danced during the song service. After this early morning worship, we had breakfast. The young ministers took their food and sat in the courtyard, dining with the farm animals.

It was very cold at night with no heat, but the thick down comforters on my bed were very warm after 15 minutes. I slept with a baseball cap on to keep my head warm, but at times when I woke up in the night my nose seemed frozen.

Screenshot underground church in “The Cross, Jesus in China” 2004

The young ministers were uneducated farmers, but they knew their Bibles well. At one point, I asked them to read II Timothy 3:16-17. They all quoted it in unison in Chinese without opening their Bibles.

When I was not teaching, I was asked to meet with some of the leaders of the group and young ministers to listen to accounts of their ministries, the problems they faced, and to offer counsel and to pray with them. I heard stories of families in China, who had lost everything to follow Christ, stories of extended jail terms, torture, and hardship. I heard eyewitness accounts of healings and other miracles, even the raising of the dead. I wondered who should be counseling who in these sessions.

At any time during the four days, the police could rush in and arrest us all. I might be beaten a little and put in jail for a few days, but because I was a westerner and a US citizen, I would just be deported and never be granted a visa to enter the country again. The rest of these devoted Christians could face years more of imprisonment, torture, and deprivation because of their stand for Christ.

I was the most unworthy Christian in the compound.

Although these ministers testify about having spent years in jail for Christ’s sake and their willingness to go back to jail if it is God’s plan, it was obvious in their humanity none of them wanted to get caught and sent back to prison. On the last day, I sensed tension in the air. They were talking among themselves and making a few phone calls and then the word was given that we must leave the compound immediately.

My physician friend told me that we would be taking a taxi back to the city. All I could think about at this point was the warm back seat of a car. The only time I had been warm in four days was when I stood between piles of coal next to the kitchen stove.

I went to the courtyard to say goodbye to the ministers and leaders as they were leaving. I was standing next to a three- wheel motorcycle with a small pick-up type of bed with what looked like a covered wagon top on it. To my surprise one of the young men brought my bag out and threw it in the back of the three-wheel motorcycle.

Since it was daylight, I had to ride in the back of the three-wheel motorcycle.

I was told to draw down the parka hood tight, put on my black gloves and jump in the bed of the motorcycle and face backward since the cover of the motorcycle was open to the front. Then one of the Leaders got into the bed with me and held a curtain across the back so no one could see me.

After a tearful goodbye to many brothers and sisters that I would never meet this side of eternity, we took off out the gate I had been forbidden to exit for four days into the blowing snow.

Exiting the village, we drove onto a two-lane black top road in falling snow. After a few miles, the driver pulled to the side of the road and shut off the motor.

After 15 minutes a van full of people pulled up. My physician friend ran up to the back of the motorcycle and said, “Pull the parka down over your face, jump out and run alongside me to the van.” There were at least 20 people in the minivan designed to hold 12. I was sitting on top of the rear wheel well, which became the source of much pain over the next three- and one-half hours.

My prayers for warmth were answered far more than I wanted as the body heat of 20 people in heavy coats and long underwear plus the van heater produced a sauna effect. I could only sit with my head bowed, saying nothing, and praying silently for deliverance from the heat, the pain of the wheel well, and the growing sense of claustrophobia.

When we finally entered the city, the doctor whispered, “The young man in front of you will take your bag and get out at the next stop light. Follow him about 50 paces behind.”

I followed the man for several blocks through the crowed downtown streets until we walked up into the brightly lit train station. As I moved into the light, my doctor friend appeared beside me and said, “We are safe,” because it was not unusual to see a foreigner in this train station.

During the meetings in the compound the retired founder of the group visited one day, and I had the honor of talking to him in the kitchen while we were warming ourselves around the stove. He explained that all ministers in the underground church face danger daily. Danger from being captured by the authorities and placed in prison or work camps, danger from criminals attacking them as they travel.

This old soldier of the Cross stated his greatest fear for the church in China in the future is the prospect of increasing freedom and prosperity.