Interview with Rev Chen Yiping, Gulangyu, Xiamen, Sep 2017
XIAMEN, China – The year was 1958. China was undergoing an extreme industralisation drive called the Great Leap Forward.
The place — a boat sailing towards Gulangyu, an island off the coast of Xiamen in Fujian Province. The event — just after a bitter public renunciation session outside Xinjie Church, the first Protestant Church to be built in China.
Having been arrested for speaking his mind about the government during the Hundred Flowers Campaign* and labelled as a rightist at the Anti-Rightist Campaign* that followed, Rev Chen Yiping, then only 26 and fresh from Yanjing Theological Seminary in Beijing, had only one thing on his mind as he looked at the sea – jump and end it all. But he was held back.
Unbeknownst to him, it was to be the start of his 20 years of corrective labour and God was to meet him in a series of deep encounters and lessons through the Bible.
“Under the immense pressure of the renunciation sessions, I had wanted to end my life several times but God preserved me. And He did so through his Word,” reminisced Rev Chen candidly, who is still energetic and sprightly at 89 years old.
He shares with us here the Bible verses that have pulled him back from the edge of utter despair and hopelessness, and the lessons he learnt from his sufferings.
At the renunciation session, we were led in a street procession wearing labels that reads “Monsters and Demons”, holding a broken pail and gavel in hand, declaring “I am a slave of the imperialists! Down with all monsters and demons!”
Oh, it was the most humiliating and shameful act you could imagine. The whole island of people from Gulangyu came to watch. I felt so crushed within. But in the midst of it, God reminded me of Matthew 5:10-11, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
As these words came to my mind, I felt a surge of inspiration and energy. I began to declare “Down with Chen Yiping! Down with Chen Yiping!”. And I told God, “Oh Lord, I know that you want to crush me through the procession, because I know that if I don’t die, Christ cannot be the Lord of my life.”
And the more I declared that, the better I felt. The sense of shame and humiliation left me, I was liberated! The Bible is indeed an ever-present help to me, a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path! I realised that you must use God’s Word in your situation to make it your own, and it will come alive for you.
On Submission and Obedience
During those years, as part of the corrective labour, I was sent to different parts of the country to do all sorts of hard manual labour. We constructed roads, railways, dykes and water storage tanks. We worked our fingers to the bones; it was all exhausting and punishing work.
A huge setback came when I was in the middle of building the railway at Longyan (southwest of Fujian) and received news of my former girlfriend’s wedding. I almost went berserk; I run up with all my might to a hill top and shouted, “God, you’re so unfair to me! I’ve given up being a dentist, offered myself to be a preacher. Yet You kept me here and didn’t let me preach. That I can still swallow but why did you take away my only love, my only comfort, why did you even take her away from me? If you don’t want to give her to me, then don’t let me know her in the first place and fall in love with her.”
I couldn’t take the setback. I just lose it. Physical and mental suffering was one thing, emotional pain and loss is another. Oh, later, I understood that God wanted me to learn submission and obedience.
I thank God that I had a Bible with me during those years and I came to the book of Job. I used to avoid Job, but during the 20 years of forced labour, I came to understand, appreciate and like Job. He was a totally blameless and upright person but he was tested. He received news of great loss – one upon the heels of another – of his animals and 10 children.
There isn’t even time to cry. Yet he prayed – “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Not only did he not complain, he even praised and thank God! He didn’t sin with his lips. I was very moved. I asked God to forgive me. I’ve only lost one love compared to Job, yet I’ve complained so much. And at the end, Job said “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You; Therefore I retract, And I repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6).
I won’t understand this verse if I had not gone through these sufferings. Time and time again in the 20 years, I encountered God in the Bible, several times at the edge of death, and in extreme situations. Through the shadow of the valley of death, God’s Word was with me. Later, I began to read Job repeatedly; it was a tremendous help to me. I received comfort, help, faith and strength every day from the Bible. It is very precious to me, like a close and loyal friend amid trials and sufferings. Without the Bible, I would have either gone insane or committed suicide.
On Prayer and Giving Thanks in Everything
My grandfather left a faith legacy for me. It is encapsulated in the verses from Phil. 4:6-7, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
He believed that we should commit everything to the Lord in prayers and thanksgiving. Resisting the tradition of match making which was the norm in the olden times, he prayed for a life partner. He loved my grandma even though she was barren for the first five years of their marriage. And she eventually bore him seven sons! He offered all seven to God for full-time ministry. He said that we are to give thanks in everything because God’s timing and plan is perfect.
If I hadn’t had those 20 years of suffering in forced labour, I won’t be able to preach. Now I’m being asked by many to share. Without those life experiences, I’ll have nothing to preach. I will not understand the Bible the way I do now. You have to experience the truths of the Bible and then when you preach it, there will be life and power.
So, I give thanks for the years in corrective labour. From it I learnt the theology of suffering; I learnt many lessons. As it says in 1 Thess. 5:18, “. . . in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
* The Hundred Flowers Campaign was a 1956 government program that encouraged the Chinese, especially intellectuals, to voice out their opinions and suggestions.
P.S. Rev Chen Yiping was rehabilitated by the Chinese government in 1979. From 1979 to 2007, he served in San Yi (Trinity) Church in Gulangyu. Despite his retirement, he is still actively preaching in churches and training pastors and preachers across China. He has two grown up children and two grandchildren.
Story: Cynthia Oh
Edited: Angela Teo
Photo: UBS CP
2019 © United Bible Societies China Partnership