Chinese Pastor John Cao's first-hand testimony upon his release after serving seven years in prison for his faith

By China Aid Association |

Pastor John Cao from Hunan, who was imprisoned for seven years in Yunnan, China, was released on March 4, 2024. He was escorted from Kunming, Yunnan province, to Changsha, Hunan province, by four police officers.

The world outside the prison walls changes rapidly, and perhaps Pastor Cao needs to adapt to a new life. His wife awaits to be reunited in the United States, and he will need to apply for travel documents. Local police have disclosed that they will supervise and educate him for five years.

Below is Pastor Cao’s first testimony after his release, transcribed and edited by China Aid Association based on an audio recording sourced from the internet. To ensure clarity of the original intent, subheadings, and paragraphs have been added for clarity. Christian Daily International is republishing the testimony with permission, so its global audience would benefit from this first-hand account of Pastor Cao’s experience in China.


Pastor John Cao China
Pastor John Cao after his release from prison in 2024. | China Aid Association

I have been separated from you all for seven years, but these seven years have been filled with joy, filled with God’s grace, and everyday God’s special presence has been with me. Truly, even though I walked through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for we know that the Lord Jesus is with us, and brothers and sisters are with me too!

Part 1: Prayers that transcend the prison walls

I wake up every morning at 5:00 a.m., automatically waking up; there are no clocks inside the prison, but I always wake up at 5 o’clock; sometimes even earlier at 4:00 a.m.. They [the surveillance personnel] don’t allow me to pray, so I pray by turning sideways, because I can still pray while lying on my side.

Every day, there are three people with me during the day – around me, and they don’t allow me to talk to anyone. At night, one person is standing beside me, watching me sleep, afraid that I might get up at night to pray, or do something else? So, there is always someone with me 24 hours a day. It’s not allowed if someone greets me when I go out, they will be punished, but of course, they don’t punish me, they punish the three people who are in charge of me and say that they’re not doing a good job monitoring me.

In this very lonely and isolated situation, I have never lost my joy, nor have I ever felt very lonely. I know that behind me, the Holy Spirit provides me with strength, and I have brothers and sisters from all over the country and the world with me.

My mother comes to see me every month, and my sister sends me letters every month, and every letter mentions that everyone is praying for me. Half a month ago, I took out all the letters my mother sent me. There were 90 letters written to me in Kunming Prison, but I only received 31 letters. What happened to some of the letters? They were intercepted and not given to me. But why weren’t they given to me? Because the letters mentioned that so and so were praying for me, they were not given to me.

On May 7, 2023, my mother came to see me for the first time after the pandemic. She couldn’t visit me during the pandemic. She said, “Pastor Yuan is praying for you.” The monitoring center was listening in, and as soon as they heard that, they cut off my call. The visit was interrupted. My mother took a train from Changsha and traveled for twenty hours and could only see me for three minutes. Why? Because she mentioned that Pastor Yuan is praying for you, and these people are very afraid of the word “prayer.” I don’t know why.

My mother started to cry there because we hadn’t seen each other for so long. We used to video chat, but now we can meet face to face, of course, separated by a window.

Since some people are so afraid of prayer, it shows that prayer is effective. Otherwise, why would they be so afraid? Although we only said a few words, two words are enough, that is, prayer for each other, communication in the Lord, and together we testify for the kingdom of God. 

The greatest joy of God’s children in this world, the only hope, the meaning of our lives, our greatest hope is not in this world. Every morning when I wake up, all I can do is pray. The first thing I did when I entered prison was say to them, would you please give me a Bible? They laughed contemptuously, “How could you make such a request, as if it’s unthinkable, You have no rights in our prison.” I said, “Okay then.”

So I rely on my mother’s letters. She writes a few sentences of the Bible to me each time, but if she writes too much, they won’t give me the letter. If it’s just two or three sentences, it’s okay. In the end, I received ninety letters, but I was not allowed to take them with me when I was released. I said, “Are these not my things? The letters are from my mother, and the envelopes were bought with my mother’s money. The things are for me, and when I want to take them with me, I’m not allowed to? These are my most precious things.” But I still couldn’t take them with me.

During the seven years in prison, every day was filled with joy. I woke up at five o’clock to pray and sing hymns, and God would also speak to me. I greatly admire Sister Xiaomin; she wrote many hymns of praise. I don’t have her gift, I just write a few lines of poetry. During the day, I record them and send them to my mother, but she often doesn’t receive them.

In 2023, I wrote a three-page letter to my mother every week, there were at least 52 letters. My mother probably received about 30 letters, so some were not received. But that’s okay; we had a few letters sent out, and are very grateful to the Lord for that.

I know that brothers and sisters are praying for me, and the Holy Spirit gives me strength; for seven years, everyone has been praying for me continuously; this is the motivation that allows me to pass through the valley of death joyfully and triumphantly.

Part 2: Never bow down to authority

Now, I’ve just returned. According to the sentence, I was released on March 4. Normally, the release would have to wait until 9:00 or 10:00 a.m. on March 4, when they go to work. But I had to return to Changsha from Kunming. I didn’t have an ID card, and I couldn’t take a plane and couldn’t take a train. The prison was quite thoughtful, although they didn’t return my letters to me, they were still quite humane with this. At midnight on the 4th, just ten minutes past zero, they processed my release and let me go. I didn’t even know how to get back to Changsha. They specially prepared a car, with four police officers taking turns driving continuously, and they drove me from Kunming to Changsha in one go. They took me to a subordinate agency of the Changsha Judicial Bureau, probably the Changsha Police Station, for a handover procedure.

I actually arrived in Changsha at 2:30 a.m. However, they were long-winded, and began to educate me again, “For five years, (they) will educate me regularly, educating me not to commit crimes again.”

I said, “Officer, thank you. But we need to clarify our position. I have not committed any crimes, so there is no need for you to educate me. We are good friends. If you want to come visit, anytime is fine, you are welcome to come as a guest. There is no need for education, I have not committed any crimes. My lawyer, my God (righteousness), will litigate for me.”

Although this lawsuit is meaningless, do they hold the power? We do not place our hope in secular power, but we still need to clarify our position because we have not committed any crimes, right?

I said, “You are welcome to come. You can come anytime as we are good friends. If you invite me, I can come too, but we have not committed any crimes between us.”

Wa State in Myanmar is very very poor. Brothers and sisters from all over the country have helped them. We teach Chinese and spread Chinese culture there. The drugs on that border, 100 percent of them come from over there, and when we were in Wa, we all advised them not to bring the drugs over here; the three men who were supervising me in the prison, they were all drug lords, they were all drug lords who were serving life sentences. What I do, what all Christians do, is to love the country, to love the people, to tell the Burmese not to bring drugs into our country.

We helped them establish drug rehabilitation centers and helped them build schools, all for free. And the people around me, especially in the detention center, eighty percent of them are involved in drugs, and the sentences for drug offenses are very heavy, all of them are life sentences. We are actually helping these people, so what crime are we committing? We have not committed any crimes, no matter from which angle you look at it. I told the officer this.

The officer said, “I only believe the judge. If the judge determines that you are guilty, then you are guilty.”

I said, “You can also think like that, I’m not saying you’re wrong. But, whether a person has committed a crime is actually determined by people from four aspects.”

First, the judge, does he think you are guilty? Will he sentence you?

Second, the defendant himself. Does he think he has committed a crime? In this Kunming prison, there is a man living next to me who was accused of murder. He said, “I didn’t kill anyone. There is a lot of evidence to prove that I didn’t kill anyone,” but the judge still sentenced him to life imprisonment. This man has been in prison for 26 years, and he has never admitted guilt. The prison told him, “As long as you admit guilt, we will release you,” but he didn’t admit guilt. This man’s name is He Xiuguang. In the end, he was released because the investigation found that he was innocent. He spent 26 years in prison, compared to my 7 years, so I say He Xiuguang is my role model . The defendant [Pastor Cao] and my lawyer do not think I have committed a crime.

Third, the public, that is, whether the jury believes I am guilty or not. In many countries, there is a jury, but we do not have a jury in our country, but the trial is open to the public, everyone can come and watch, which means it is a fair and open trial, this is what the law requires, fair, just, and open. I said, “In this world, probably only ten people think I am guilty, that is you few judges and police officers (laughs), the vast majority think I am innocent, this is a big jury.”

Fourth, it is the heavens, as the Chinese say, “Whatever people do, the heavens are watching.” Chinese people believe that the final judgment is from the “heavens,” the “heavens” that Chinese people refer to is not the weather. The “heavens” Chinese are referring to is the father, which refers to our Heavenly Father, ultimately the Heavenly Father is the one who determines whether a person is guilty or not.

There are four aspects to determine guilt or innocence, now only you few judges think I am guilty, I do not think I am guilty, my lawyer believes one hundred percent that I am innocent, and all the evidence proves “you [Pastor Cao] are innocent.” You know, my lawyer is from Fuzhou, he came all the way from Xiamen, Fujian, and when we were in court, he was not allowed to say a word, why did you even notify him to come? At least you could have saved us some money, why did you call him to come? Because there was a camera next to him? Did the defense lawyer come just for show? Not allowing the lawyer to speak a word, not allowing me to speak a word.

The lawyer said, “You are one hundred percent innocent.” All the evidence and witnesses say there is no guilt, isn’t that the case? But the police, the entire jury, the big jury, everyone, not just Christians, but also many non-Christians have written letters for me to prove my innocence. Our God also thinks I am innocent, as Christians, we must live up to God, and we must live up to the people. Amongst our brothers, we should also have a clear conscience towards each other, and we should be of one mind.

Part 3: More willing to be broken and molded

At that time, although there was a high wall trying to block the power of God, the power of God pierced through the high wall, and every day I felt the presence of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit with me, and I felt the presence of my brothers and sisters. Each and every single one of you here, we love God, we love our neighbors, and our Lord loves us. Everything I did could be put out in the open, instead, those who misunderstand us do things that are hard to bring out and say publicly.

Of course, I do not complain about these people. We look at history, starting with the Lord Jesus, if he was not misunderstood and attacked by this world, then the cross would be meaningless. The meaning of the cross is that when God loved the world, He gave His one and only begotten Son, and then, let us experience how much God loves us, His love is long, wide, deep, and high. At this time, we endure hardships, and we also feel joy, for God has made us feel that it is a wonderful thing to rejoice with the Lord when He comes.

Before, I didn’t understand why Wang Mingdao was released, just signed something and he could come out. He really walked out, but later he ran back, which was a bit foolish. According to today’s standards, this is foolish. I said when I was in prison, I had a wonderful communion with the saints. Now I realize why Wang Mingdao was willing to go back to prison and suffer. This is called the benefit of those who love God, and the first person to benefit is ourselves, I wouldn’t have known it if I hadn’t gone through these sufferings.

Now I am more willing to have my life broken. Before, I wondered how can we become a perfect and flawless person as the Bible says? After seven years of suffering, because God is with me, so becoming a flawless person is something we can achieve, not something we cannot achieve because it is not something we can do on our own, it is the strength that God gives us to help us.

Epilogue: i want life to continue, prayer to never cease

Thanks be to the Lord, I have written some poems, but they are not good enough to be revealed yet, many brothers and sisters have encouraged me, and I also know it is to help me receive God better inside (prison). I plan to spend some time organizing them.

And as much as possible, in appropriate circumstances, if you, my brothers and sisters, are willing to accept me, I am happy to share; at that time, in the end, times, what is most important.

I have been out of touch with society for these seven years, I don’t know a lot of things. The police officer told me, “This thing is for this purpose, that thing is for that purpose,” I don’t know any of it.

Brothers and sisters, no matter how the material world changes, no matter how prosperous it becomes, human nature does not change, and God’s grace does not change. I am willing to visit everyone, if there is a need on your end, now I have made up my mind to always be ready to share my hope with anyone, and I am also happy to visit you all in the future, to continue to receive everyone’s prayers and encouragement.

Today, this is our small conclusion, but we will continue. My lawyer told me in prison, “You are not alone in prison, so our prayers must continue.” There are other brothers and sisters who need our prayers. We cannot stop.

We must continue to move forward. Some people ask, “What will you do after you are released?” I am 65 years old this year and could retire, but as a servant of God, there is no retirement. We must continue to testify for the Lord until we meet Him face to face. For me, there is no talk of retirement. I want life to continue, and prayer to never cease. I have many, many things to say here, but I think everyone is tired, so let’s slowly count the blessings in the future.

Pastor Cao's prayer for China

Gracious Lord, we thank You. Oh, Lord, with your presence, no one is separated from your love, whether in distress, poverty, tribulation, or sword. Lord, You are always with us. We thank You. We have never met, but it is Your Spirit that brings us together as if we have known each other for years, because we are one family. In this joyful moment, let us not forget other brothers and sisters, those in prison, witnessing for you. Let us pray for those imprisoned as we put ourselves in their shoes. Here, we set out again. Today’s journey is not the end, but the beginning. Lord, in you, we have a wonderful time, and in the future, we will encourage each other and communicate face to face. Lord, we once again entrust our beautiful country to God and bless our compatriots. Let us use the best way possible to lead them to know the Lord. This is the best blessing. May glory and the kingdom belong to the Lord Jesus Christ. Hallelujah, Amen.

Originally published by China Aid Association. Republished with permission.