Huang Yizi always knew he would go to jail for his faith. It was only a question of when. That's just life when you're not only a Christian leader on the mainland, but also an outspoken one.
A popular pastor in Wenzhou, Zhejiang, Huang has frequently expressed his opposition to the provincial government's churches-and-crosses demolition campaign since April. He was formally detained by police on August 3 for "gathering to assault a state organ".
Police suspected Huang of organising a massive protest outside the government building of Pingyang county on July 24, three days after local authorities removed a cross on Jiuentang Church. The result was a bloody confrontation that injured at least 60 people. Huang could be jailed for up to 20 years, even though the demonstrators said they made their own decision to take part in the protest.
The outspoken pastor also founded a private seminary and a self-funded regiment of evangelists in 2000 in Wenzhou, which is known as "China's Jerusalem" to many Christians.
Although mainland law forbids evangelising, Huang has been sending out his seminarians and the Shenzhou Evangelising Regiment as volunteers to do dramatic, musical and dance performances for farmers in various provinces, including Zhejiang, Guangdong, Fujian , Jiangxi and Yunnan. In a country where the only legal churches are those that comply with the "patriotic" mould, the members of the regiment have become popular ambassadors for Jesus Christ. Huang has been urging church leaders to re-erect the crosses that were removed, clearly establishing a reputation as a thorn in the authorities' side.
Before his detention, he told the South China Morning Post he was ready to sacrifice his life for his faith, if necessary.
Q. Why are you voicing your opposition so openly to the authorities' crackdown on churches and crosses?
A. I was born in a poor farming family. I have witnessed so many miracles from God since I was very young. For example, I saw poor villagers who were sick recover after praying to God. Many of them turned to God after their Taoist and Buddhist prayers failed to help them.
All those miracles made me love my church and God much more than my family. My heart was broken when I saw the authorities tearing down churches, especially the newly built Sanjiang mega-church in neighbouring Yongjia county in late April, and hundreds of crosses, which are the symbols of our faith.
I have decided to sacrifice for my beliefs. I am serious. I have been prepared for the worst since I posted many messages opposing the authorities' campaign to remove churches and crosses. I know I will be put in jail one day. The authorities detained me twice in April, but they released me under public pressure. That just meant the time was not yet right.
Q. Does your family support your ministry?
A. I have two children. My girl is 13, and my boy is only four. My wife supports my ministry - she has been a preacher since she graduated from a seminary. She became a full-time housewife after our son was born.
I am a fourth-generation Christian. My father was a church elder. My mother is also a devout Christian. I am the youngest of five sons. They've always hoped that at least one of their boys would dedicate his life to God. I guess I'm the lucky one God selected.
Q. How did you become a pastor?
A. I didn't receive a good education because I was born into a poor family, but thanks to God, I was born with musical talent. Many church-goers seem to like my voice and songs that I compose. God also has given me the skills to be a public speaker. I started teaching the psalms and preaching when I was only 17.
Thanks to the sponsorship of my church, I received a master's degree in religion and philosophy from Renmin University. I began teaching at a seminary when I was 24. Three years later, I was ordained as a minister.
I am so proud to be a child of God. He gives me so much. When I began posting spiritual testimonials through the WeChat platform four years ago, I gained at least 4,000 followers. They all say they're my fans. Their encouragement has made me fearless.
Q. Many preachers in Wenzhou are also full-time entrepreneurs. Do you also run any businesses?
A. No, I am now a full-time minister. But I didn't have any income when I was a 17-year-old preacher. I felt the need to make some money for my family when I was 19, so I went to Hunan to look for business opportunities.
Because I was born to a preacher, each time I arrived in a city, the first thing I did was establish a church, and then promote some products made in Wenzhou. I tried to sell printed material such as pocketbooks.
It's funny that every time I met my clients, I instinctively led them to believe in Jesus. I set up many churches in Hunan, so I was successful in one sense, but I always forgot to sell them my products. Only after I left did I realise the products were still in my bag.
Finally, I gave up the idea of being a businessman and decided to be a pastor.
Q. Besides opposing the removal of the churches and crosses, what else do you feel moved to do for the churches in Wenzhou?
A. Churches in Wenzhou are very rich, but the monthly income of local pastors and other church servants is just 3,500 (HK$4,400) to 4,000 yuan, while other workers make more than 4,500 yuan a month.
I am trying my best to change … outdated thinking among congregations because it will also harm the cultivation of the next generation of pastors and church workers.