A Beacon of Hope in East Asia: A Pastor’s Wife’s View From Prison

By Chelsea Rollman, Dec 13, 2022

“We are accompanying her. Not guarding her,” Min* told the other inmates.

She glances at the woman she was supposed to be watching and then down at where the prison guards cut the button from her shirt sleeve during her first day in this jail in East Asia. She huffs out a breath remembering the way the guards ripped away anything she could potentially use to harm herself before shoving her into a prison cell.

But this woman managed to smuggle a plastic spoon into her room. A few days ago, she snapped off the head and turned the dull plastic into a pointed tip sharp enough to slice her wrist. She survived but now required 24/7 surveillance. The other prisoners elected Min along with a few others to monitor her since there weren’t enough patrol officers. Min felt the irritation rippling off the other inmates as they stood outside the desperate woman’s cell.

Min looked at the woman, the two inmates beside her, and the guards down the hall and surprised herself. She realized she didn’t view the other inmates as a nuisance or the guards as her enemies but as people in need of the gospel.

If Min had been arrested a few years earlier, her attitude would have been different. Her husband had started a house church and she was struggling to support him, raise their children, help the church, and keep everyone safe from the prying eyes of local authorities. The government had been cracking down on religious freedom. She, her husband, and the house church kept a low profile, but the fear of arrest—or worse—never went away. Lonely and disheartened, it wasn’t until MTW missionary Helen Johnson* and a coworker started Parakaleo in the country that Min’s outlook began to change.

Equipping Church Planters’ Spouses

Parakaleo began in the early 2000s when a U.S. church planters’ wife, Shari Thomas launched a massive research project on issues women face when their husbands plant a church. She found 11 common challenges church planters wives experience no matter the context or culture. After presenting the findings and a plan to a committee for Mission to North America in 2005, Shari and another church planter’s spouse named Tami Resch started Parakaleo to train, equip, and value women in church planting.

Knowing the house church pastors’ wives in East Asia often felt isolated due to their special role in the church, Helen and a teammate attended a U.S. Parakaleo training in 2016. A year and a half later they held the first Parakaleo meeting for pastors’ wives in East Asia.

“Church planting is hard and it is not just hard for the pastors. A lot of times, if you start a church plant the wife is very involved,” said Helen. “Even in America the wives of pastors have limited resources in getting training. That fact is even more the case here.”

For three years, Helen and her teammate hosted Parakaleo meetings for pastors’ wives in different presbyteries throughout the country. They reminded the women of the gospel and gave them tools to help them integrate God’s grace into their everyday lives.

“We started talking about a support system when we first started doing Parakaleo. The women didn’t even know what ‘support system’ meant. They didn’t realize they should have a support system,” said Helen.

For many women, including Min, the people they met at the Parakaleo meetings became their support system. The Parakaleo community became even more vital for Min when the police arrested her husband in 2021. She now had to function as a single parent and take on more responsibilities at the church. But she had a group of women who understood her, listened to her, and encouraged her. And though she didn’t know this yet, God was using these women to prepare her for a bigger challenge.

Hope for the Hopeless

Despite a global pandemic, an incarcerated head pastor, and hostile local authorities, Min’s church continued to gather. They rented hotel space for their Sunday morning worship service, successfully avoiding the attention of hotel staff. Then in April 2022, a hotel resident tested positive for COVID-19. Hotel staff wrote down all the names of the people in their hotel, including all the house church members’ names, and turned the list into the local authorities.

The police did not immediately arrest Min, but she knew they would not wait long. She tried to prepare her 7-year-old daughter, not exactly knowing who would take care of the young girl during her 15 days in prison. In August 2022, Min’s son came back from college. It proved to be God’s providential timing. The day after he arrived home, the police came for Min.

Despair touched everything in the prison—the gray walls, the downcast inmates, the bland food, and callous guards. But Min wasn’t depressed.

God had been building her up with His grace and had now placed her in the thick of a spiritual battle. She saw everything through Jesus’ eyes. She thought about the guards and their families and couldn’t imagine what their home life was like after watching the inmates all day. They treated the prisoners harshly but she knew they feared what their superiors would do if any of the inmates harmed themselves.

She saw self-loathing in the eyes of the other inmates and was filled with compassion. She knew her time in the jail was a mission from the Lord. He called her to be a beacon of gospel hope to those crushed by despair.

Whenever other prisoners asked her why she had been arrested, she explained she was a Christian and talked about the gospel. She willingly served them by doing most of the dirty work—mopping floors, cleaning the toilets—but boldly stated she would not stand for it if they blasphemed her God and her religion. During her turns to patrol the halls, she prayed for everyone—her church, her husband, the other inmates, and the guards. And when the prisoners elected her to watch over the woman who attempted suicide, she welcomed another opportunity to share her Savior’s love.

Proclaiming Christ Boldly

Min told Helen her time in jail flew by. She returned to her children and told them all the ways God worked through her and for her in the prison. The police also released her husband in November 2022. Even though the police closely monitor the family’s every move, they continue to courageously live for Jesus.

Min’s experience as a pastor’s wife and a Christian in her country is becoming more and more common. COVID-19 pandemic granted the government greater opportunity to increase regulation in the lives of its citizens. They outlawed any interference with the education system for children under 18 and prohibited any religious organizations from meeting unless they register with the state. The police are increasingly arresting pastors and church leaders around the country. Many Christians in East Asia live marginalized, anxious lives.

But they are not alone. God has provided pastors and their wives a network of churches and outside Christian organizations to strengthen their faith and perseverance in the face of persecution. Despite the government’s prying eyes, house churches like Min’s continue to meet. MTW missionary Helen Johnson and her teammate still host Parakaleo meetings to minister to women like Min who continually live with the threat of jail hanging over their heads. Helen and the ministry leaders have even started a Parakaleo cohort specifically for pastor’s wives whose husbands are currently in jail. Helen, Min, and their friends boldly proclaim Christ wherever God leads them—their homes, their neighborhoods, or prison.

Please pray for our brothers and sisters in East Asia who are experiencing increasing level of persecution. Pray God would provide continued courage for house church pastors and encouragement for their families. Pray God would strengthen the church and continue to pour out his goodness and grace.

*Names changed for security purposes.

Chelsea Rollman

Chelsea Rollman is a marketing specialist and staff writer at MTW. She formerly served as the girls’ discipleship coordinator at Village Seven in Colorado Springs, and as a marketing assistant at The White Horse Inn. Chelsea graduated from Covenant College in 2016 with her B.A. in English. She and her husband, Hudson, live in Jacksonville, Florida, and attend Christ Church Presbyterian where Hudson serves as the youth director.

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