Free! After 20 Years in Detention
As told by Nancy Yuen
“AWAKE!” correspondent in Hong Kong writes:
Our family at the branch home of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society in Hong Kong is quite accustomed to having visitors from abroad. But Thursday, February 15, 1979, was a very special occasion. Our guest was Nancy Yuen, a faithful witness of Jehovah who had just come out of China after 20 years in detention. “I am so happy to be with you. I have found my family,” she said.
We had all known of Nancy Yuen and her record of faithfulness, but now she was with us in person and we could hear her story firsthand. Taking us back to the year 1949, she began that story. This is what she told us:
IT WAS about 30 years ago when Stanley Jones, a Watch Tower missionary, first visited our home in Shanghai, China. By then I was married and had two children. The message he brought about Jehovah God and His purpose for mankind greatly interested me.
I was baptized in 1950 and continued to study diligently to improve my knowledge and understanding. I am so happy that in those early years I took my Christian responsibilities very seriously, for had I not done so, I would never have withstood the trials that lay ahead of me.
By 1954 I had four young children and was also having an active share in proclaiming the good news of Jehovah’s kingdom. By early 1956, the Communist government was in firm control of Shanghai. We began to get warnings to stop our preaching and confine our activity to the Kingdom Hall. However, I felt that I had to carry out our God-given commission to preach, so I continued to engage in the door-to-door work.
I was repeatedly arrested and detained for questioning, the detention sometimes lasting for five hours and sometimes up to three days. In the meantime, because my husband had moved to Hong Kong in 1953, I applied for permission to join him there. The authorities said they would issue my exit permit on the condition that I stop preaching. I refused to stop and consequently never obtained the permit.
The Communist officials were exasperated by my firm determination to keep on preaching. During one of the interrogation sessions, I was told that I must be the most stubborn person in the whole of China. Finally, in the latter part of 1956, after being arrested six times for preaching, I was again detained when a householder notified the authorities that I was preaching from house to house. After that I was not released.
I had grown up in a happy family and had a young family of my own. Now I was separated from them all and was sitting handcuffed in a dark cell. I burst into tears. I felt so weak and helpless! There seemed to be no way out. Very soon, Bible thoughts came to mind about Jehovah’s being “the God of all comfort,” who gives strength to his servants. (2 Cor. 1:3, 4) It was then that I turned to him in earnest prayer.
From that time on I regularly talked to Jehovah in prayer and felt myself becoming stronger and stronger each day. Because the warders noticed that I prayed with my hands in front of me, especially at mealtimes, I had to suffer having my arms being pulled behind my back and handcuffs being placed above the elbows for three days until my arms and hands were quite swollen. Of course, this did not stop me from praying. But to this very day you can see those marks above my elbows.
I spent four years in detention, during which time I was constantly interrogated. They wanted me to betray the two missionary brothers and to say that the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society was an agent of imperialism. This I would not do. I used these opportunities to give a witness to the officials and to tell them what God’s Word had to say. One official commented that he had handled all the different religious groups, and all of them had compromised. But he admired my courage and zeal. He said: “It is a great pity that you were not converted to Communism before you were converted to Christianity, because our party needs people of real conviction like you.” In 1960 I was sentenced to 10 years in prison, the sentence to begin from my detention in 1956.
In 1961 I was moved to a labor camp out in the country, and there I had opportunities to share the “good news” with fellow prisoners. I never stopped my preaching work and, as time went on, I became bolder. On one occasion, I preached to a group of 12 persons who listened attentively. This did not go unnoticed. I was then put in the county gaol for 19 days, and they added another two years to my original sentence. Those 12 years soon passed.
RELEASE AND BACK TO PRISON
In 1968 I was released from the labor camp, although my movements were restricted. I was now able to work and receive a wage of less than $10 a month. During this time I was allowed to transfer from one labor group to another and my mother moved into the same district to be near me.
Being given the freedom to move from place to place, I started out on a trip that took me to a number of cities, including Anching, Hangchow, Nanking and Shanghai. I visited friends and relatives and shared the Kingdom truths that I knew with them and with all their acquaintances to whom they introduced me. Almost a year went by and I again applied to leave China and join my husband in Hong Kong. To get the permit, I was asked to go back to the district of Chinsang where I had worked and where my mother lived. However, before reaching Chinsang I was arrested, taken to a police station and detained for 10 days. The police interrogated two families to whom I had preached. The result was that I was sent back to Chinsang and put in detention after having been free for two years.
Again I was under constant interrogation. The police chief denounced me as stubborn and told me that I had better confess to all my “crimes” or it would go very hard with me. I told him all that I had said in the course of talking to others, doing so in such a way as to give him a good witness about God’s kingdom and His coming new order of things. I made it clear to the chief of police that all governments must make way for God’s kingdom. (Dan. 2:44) Careful note was taken of all of this.
I was then paraded through the streets with nine male prisoners. Their offenses varied from theft to murder and rape. Each of us had on a placard listing our crimes. Then in the presence of a thousand people in the large courtyard of a school, the police chief read my “crimes” over the public-address system. He read all that I had said. I was happy to see that he had, in effect, been able to give a good witness to more people in that city than I had.
Later, I learned that investigations into my preaching activity had involved more than 100 persons in nine different provinces. An official at a lower level had said that I was a most stubborn person, could not be reformed and so should be executed. But a much higher official would not agree to that and I was to be sentenced for the second time, to 20 years in prison.
For the next four years, each day was routine. I was allowed out of my cell early in the morning to wash some clothes and bathe, being put back in my cell until evening, when I was allowed out again for a short time to collect my washing. I was then locked in my cell for the night.
On November 1, 1978, word came that I would be allowed to leave China and join my husband in Hong Kong. So it was that at the end of January 1979, my husband, I and our four children were together again as a family for the first time in 26 years!
JEHOVAH SUSTAINED ME
Life in prison and in the labor camp was very austere, although I always had enough to eat and to wear. The diet was mainly rice and vegetables, with some meat about four times a year. It was a healthful diet, and I was able to keep fit and well. I kept my mind active, recalling Bible verses and truths that I had learned in my early years. I always looked for opportunities to share my hope with others and this enabled me to keep busy and happy.
In all my trials, I never felt abandoned. I prayed regularly for guidance that I might always do the right thing. I prayed for strength and courage to bear up. After praying, I always felt reassured that I had not made a mistake and that the course I was taking was the right one. I can truthfully say that prayer helped me to draw close to Jehovah, so close that at times I felt I could almost see him. Many times I remembered the assurance at Isaiah 66:2, that God looks “to the one afflicted and contrite in spirit.” This was always a source of strength and great comfort to me.
Asked if she found the constant interrogation by officials and police hard to bear, Nancy Yuen replied:
At first it took a little getting used to. But as I adjusted my thinking to the situation, it was not so bad. It is very important to get the right view of matters. Quite early in my detention I recalled these words of Jesus recorded at Luke 21:14, 15: “Settle it in your hearts not to rehearse beforehand how to make your defense, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your opposers together will not be able to resist or dispute.” So I learned never to worry about the interrogations. I looked upon them as opportunities to give a witness to the officials. I always had something to tell them about Jehovah God and his purpose for mankind, and the right scripture always seemed to come to mind for the occasion.
Looking back, how does she feel about her 20 years in detention? She says:
It was all worth while and I am grateful to my God, Jehovah, for the opportunity I had to show my love and devotion to him. As recorded at Matthew 13:45, 46, Jesus likened the Kingdom to a traveling merchant seeking fine pearls. On finding one of high value, he sold all the things he had and bought it. I had to give up everything, even my little children, to be loyal to my God. Jehovah has in no way let me down. He sustained me and cared for my family in his own wonderful way.
Asked if she had any good advice to give her fellow Christians, Nancy Yuen replied thoughtfully:
Never be apprehensive or fearful of trials that may come upon you. We should all expect trials in one way or another. They are good for us. They discipline and refine us and show what kind of Christians we really are. Trials show us how strong our faith really is and where it can be strengthened. I feel much stronger in the faith today as a result of my trials. So never be fearful. On many occasions I took great comfort from the apostle Peter’s words ‘to cast all your anxieties upon Jehovah, because he cares for you.’ (1 Pet. 5:6, 7) You could do the same.
This devoted sister’s example of endurance and loyalty is both encouraging and faith-strengthening. In their prayers to Jehovah God, for more than two decades Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world have remembered their dear brothers and sisters in China. Now we are learning firsthand how he has lovingly cared for and sustained them till now.
Nancy Yuen visited the Hong Kong branch office of the Watch Tower Society on February 15, 1979, attended her first Christian meeting in 22 years on February 16 and was again sharing with her brothers proclaiming God’s kingdom from house to house on February 17. We are moved to thank Jehovah for such modern examples of faithfulness that encourage all true Christians to remain loyal to their God, Jehovah.
[Picture of Nancy Yuen on page 4]