“We, you and I, are the aroma that brings life and we must proclaim the hope that we have. It doesn’t matter the cost, ridicule, embarrassment, prison or worse—we must proclaim it.”
God is clear in Psalm 139:16b when he says, all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. Not a moment of our lives is unknown to God. Wherever God takes us, He has a purpose in it. His purpose is always the same. Joseph explained it to his brothers after his prolonged prison experience. You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives (Genesis 50:20).
Paul also explained, I want you to know, brothers and sisters that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ (Philippians 1:12-13). Paul wrote these words from prison, and Joseph’s words were spoken after release from prison, but they both saw the same purpose in their imprisonment: the saving of many lives.
I spent more than two years being incarcerated, and at first, I did not see it. I didn’t see a purpose in being arrested, falsely accused and put in a Chinese prison. After living and serving in freedom in China for many years, this was something foreign to me—something I never expected to happen, and I just knew I desperately didn’t want to be there. I was afraid. I was really scared. Oh, I knew the stories of people being set free from prison, like Peter in Acts 12, but they didn’t seem real. How could those stories apply to me?
After a while I began to see. I began to see with new eyes verses like, We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). I began to see that God’s purpose was the saving of many lives, and that sometimes it’s through the pain of suffering, persecution and imprisonment that this is accomplished. I realized that I had been called to endure prison—and it was my choice to join God in what He was already doing, or not. If we choose to join God in His great purpose in the sometimes very painful moments of our lives, we will see it.
It wasn’t merely a “just-grit-and-bear-my-teeth-and-do-it” mindset, but a partnership with God, with Him in the lead, and me asking and drawing strength from Him each and every day. More often, it was each and every moment. He was leading me through the story He’d already written.
If I ever doubted the purpose of my experience, it became abundantly clear after six months of isolation and interrogation. On February 3, 2015, they moved me to a public prison with over 900 inmates. There was no banner over the doorway, but if there was one, it would have read: “You are now entering hopelessness.” I was led into the prison compound, through the admin/reception area, down some stairs and through a tunnel and seven locked gates to cell #318, where 12 or 13 others were also held.
I was given this advice by my main interrogator before entering prison: watch and learn. So I watched the goings on, how and in what order things were done, and quickly realized there was no justice, no independent judicial system, no hope of fairness in a system that is always right. There was hope only in the One who is hope. So, I prayed, Lord I join You in what You’re doing here. I chose to live inside prison as I lived outside. I prayed and let them ask questions so that I could give an answer to everyone who asked me to give the reason for the hope that I had (1 Peter 3:15).
And they did. They didn’t come in droves, but they came a little like Nicodemus to Jesus. They came and kept coming—they asked questions quietly and left. Some believed, like Henry, who said, “I want to believe like you,” after he was convicted and sentenced to time in the big prison. Or like Jing, who asked me about Jesus just 45 minutes before he was going to be sent to the big prison—after I had already spent nine months with him in the same food group.
Another inmate, Wang, arrived in the cell after being re-arrested just 50 days after he was released from prison. It was his fifth time being arrested for drug-related offenses. He was in bad shape from four previous stints in prison, and years of drug abuse in between. He wasn’t interested in God. I’d hear the whispers—the talk they thought I couldn’t hear—about “the foreigner.” He believes in God. Why? There is no God. Wang was the same; he didn’t want to listen. I prayed.
In a country where there is a 99.9 per cent conviction rate, trials are very efficient, even speedy. Wang’s was no exception. He went to court in the morning and was back shorty after lunch. It didn’t take long for his verdict to arrive at the cell door just days later. Guilty! He was sentenced to 15 more years in prison. His wooden cot was beside mine, and that night he turned to me and said, “Can I read your book, the Bible?”
In the hopelessness of a Chinese prison and the certainty of 15 more years in prison, knowing he’d die there, now he wanted to turn to the only source of hope, and I was there to help. I was there because God had a plan – the saving of many lives. Wang was just one of the many. I saw again and again that God had placed me in that prison to share the hope that was within me (1 Peter 3:15). It was an extremely painful and frightening ordeal, but God was present, and I kept seeing Him at work.
There were many who passed through my cell, 80 or 90 over 19 months. Some just for a few hours, others for days, weeks or months, and many asked questions about this hope that is within me. To some I was an aroma that brings life and to others an aroma that brings death (2 Corinthians 2:16). I chose to see that I was there for those who wanted life and hope.
In those two years, those 775 days, I saw that God is who He says He is and does what He says He will do. He was as much about saving me and rescuing me as He was about showing the other prisoners the way to life and freedom.
We, you and I, are the aroma that brings life and we must proclaim the hope that we have. It doesn’t matter the cost, ridicule, embarrassment, prison or worse—we must proclaim it. My wife and I were falsely arrested and accused of being spies, but God’s plan was different—so much better and bigger—and eternal. He wanted hope brought into the hopelessness of a Chinese prison so that, as Paul says, by all possible means I might save some (1 Corinthians 9:22). That’s always our calling as followers of Jesus.
Maybe our way of proclaiming is praying for questions and being ready to give an answer. But it is making use of every opportunity to proclaim – because the “The Spirit of the Lord is on me …” (Luke 4:18). Jesus said it and He has empowered us, every one of His followers, to do so.
Not long after I was convicted and quickly deported, I wrote:
I was in that prison for 19 months and I saw that the only thing I had was hope. Everyone around me was hopeless. I felt more than ever, and more than ever now, that we must proclaim the hope we have. We must! There are many around us without hope. They look fine but they do not have the hope of Jesus. We must proclaim it.
Prison showed me the urgency of our mission and emboldened me to proclaim the hope that I have, but it is every believer’s responsibility to proclaim to do the same. And it really is urgent. Today, we must proclaim the hope we have wherever we are—we must. Read Jesus’s words to us again today in Luke 4:18-19. Read them as if He is speaking directly to you, because He is.
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Jesus literally sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, but He sends each of us to proclaim freedom to those who don’t know Him all around us; anyone who does not believe in the Son of God does not have life and freedom.
Julia and I have rebounded from our light and momentary troubles as Paul calls them (2 Corinthian 4:17), and are once again involved overseas and in local work, because we must. So, I encourage you—go and do likewise! Go, and give an answer to everyone … the reason for the hope that you have (1 Peter 3:15), because you have been called and empowered to do it!
Kevin Garratt and his wife, Julia, live in New Westminster, B.C., but split their time ministering in Southeast Asia and North America. They have four children and three grandchildren who live in regions ranging from Alberta to Australia. They are authors of Two Tears on the Window (https://twotearsonthewindow.com) and founders of Nation to Nation (https://www.nation-to-nation.com).
This article appeared in the January/February/March 2020 issue of testimony/Enrich, a quarterly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. © 2020 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Photos © istockphoto.com.