CHINA: Pastor John Cao’s prison testimony

Pastor John Cao after his releasePastor John Cao (64) was released from prison in Kunming in Yunnan province on 4 March after completing his seven-year sentence. China Aid has published his first testimony following his release – the full text can be read here.

A resident of North Carolina, Pastor John made many trips to his native China to establish schools and work among the poor before expanding his humanitarian work into Myanmar. He was detained on 5 March 2017 while returning to China from Myanmar and a year later he was sentenced to seven years in prison for “organising illegal border crossings” between China and Myanmar.

Pastor John’s wife Jamie is waiting for him in the US, but he will have to apply for travel documents to be allowed to leave China and local police have told him that they plan to supervise and “educate” him for five years.

Pastor John’s testimony

Pastor John begins his testimony, transcribed by China Aid from an audio recording, by describing his experience of God’s presence with him throughout his prison experience: “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!

I wake up every morning at 5.00 am… They 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.”

Pastor John has discovered that letters sent to him during his imprisonment which mentioned people praying for him were withheld. Similarly, when his mother visited him for the first time after the Covid pandemic (on 7 May 2023) and told him, “Pastor Yuan is praying for you,” the monitoring centre listening in to their conversation cut off the call (they were separated by a window). The pastor explained in his testimony, “The visit was interrupted. My mother took a train from Changsha and travelled 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’… Since some people are so afraid of prayer, it shows that prayer is effective. Otherwise, why would they be so afraid?… Every morning when I wake up, all I can do is pray.


Describing the day of his release, John said: “I had to return to Changsha from Kunming, but 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.”

There, however, police told him that they would begin a programme of “education”. He said they told him that for five years they would educate him 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.’”

Ministry in Myanmar

In his testimony, Pastor John also spoke of his work in Myanmar. He explained: “Wa State in Myanmar is very, very poor. Brothers and sisters from all over the country have helped them… The drugs on that border, one hundred 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 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 centres and helped them build schools, all for free. And the people around me, especially in the detention centre, eighty percent of them are involved in drugs, and the sentences for drug offences 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.”

Pastor John’s prayer for China

John’s testimony ends with a 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.

Read Pastor John’s Prisoner Profile.

(China Aid)

Photo credit: China Aid