GILBERT, Ariz. (BP)–Students at a middle school in Arizona have been praying for two years for the release of Shi Weihan, a Chinese Christian who has been imprisoned for distributing literature about Jesus.
Jerome Redding, a seventh- and eighth-grade Bible teacher at Gilbert Christian Middle School in Gilbert, Ariz., received an e-mail a couple of years ago informing him of Shi’s plight as a persecuted believer in China.
Redding led his students to begin interceding for Brother Shi, as they call him, and they have continued to do so, especially as the day of his scheduled release draws near.
Shi, a Chinese bookstore owner, was arrested in November 2007 after his Holy Spirit Trading Co. printed Bibles and other Christian materials that were not approved by the Chinese government. Shi did not necessarily need permission from the government, though, because he was giving away the materials rather than selling them.
In January 2008, Shi was released due to insufficient evidence on illegal business practices but was arrested again two months later and held with virtually no communication with his family or attorney. Also for most of his time in jail, Shi, 39, was held without charges, contrary to Chinese law.
Shi was sentenced in June 2009 to three years in prison and a fine of nearly $22,000, presumably for “illegal business practices.” The time he had already spent in jail would count toward his sentence. At that time, supporters surmised that he would be released in November 2010, three years after his original arrest.
With the arrival of November and no word of his release, ChinaAid told Baptist Press Shi now is expected to be set free in February. The founder of the first Christian private school in Beijing told ChinaAid that Shi’s wife, Zhang Jing, reported Shi is “doing fine and will be released in the coming February.”
An anonymous source told Baptist Press the discrepancy between a November release date and a February date stems from the period of time Shi was set free between his first and second arrests. Shi must remain in prison to account for the time he was temporarily released, the source said.
Redding, the Arizona teacher, told Baptist Press, “I began to really lift up the persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ after reading ‘The Heavenly Man’ by Brother Yun,” an autobiography of an exiled Christian house church leader. “I also read in Acts how the church prayed for Peter while in prison and how Paul said to remember those who are in chains.”
Redding is reading through the Book of Psalms, and the morning of Nov. 18 he came across Psalm 146:7, which says, “He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free.”
“It was such a blessing from the Lord who always has just the right word for us each day,” Redding said of the verse.
About 90 middle school students this year and about 160 middle and high school students last year at the Christian school have prayed for Shi, Redding said.
“We have a little prayer request board in our room, and his name is there. Today we even had a discussion where some of the students were saying, ‘God doesn’t want us to be in hard places or sorrowful,’ and I said, ‘Well, hard places, like Bro. Shi has been in prison for three years? The Lord allows things like this to happen for reasons that we don’t understand.’
“So even as we’re praying for him we’ve been able to use his situation as a teaching tool in these kids’ lives,” Redding said.
Every two or three weeks, the students videotape different testimonies, the teacher said, and plans are in the works for a young man to read Shi’s last words before he went to prison.
“We’re going to remind the students that we need to be faithful in praying for Bro. Shi,” Redding said.
Students throughout past months have been asking the Lord to keep reminding the Chinese government of their word to release Shi, Redding said, and to continue using Shi while he is in prison.
“I would love to see him released, but God’s will be done. We know that. I would love to know how his family is doing at this moment, any words like that. We’re really praying and asking the Lord for His will to be done,” Redding said.
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.