7:30 P.M., lovely, cramped motorcycle ride back to a small town in China. Me and a couple locals packed onto a bike. The sun was lowering along with the temperature and humidity. It had been a rather hot day in a mountainous region. My heart was overwhelmed with thankfulness for this new life I’ve found in China. In that moment I knew that I had arrived. Arrived at place beholding the path leading me to the man I have always wanted to be. The freedom and openness of the bike with rushing cool warm wind intensified this current feeling.

45 minutes out we hit a random check point. As soon as the militarized police force saw my foreign face they took attention to us. They harshly asked the driver of the bike something in mandarin and looked at me and said, “passport!” My heart dropped. I left it in another vehicle. I had a picture of it on my phone. So I pulled it out and showed him. I told him I don’t have my passport on me. He pulled the key out of the bike and I knew this was going to take a minute or two…

The man that was in charge was not happy with me or the driver. Let’s call him Jim for the sake of the story. And we’ll call my local driver Bob.

Jim immediately started to hit Bob in the face. I froze like a small child. Suddenly I’m in a situation with a violent officer, no one speaks my language, I’m unaware of my rights and I’m without my passport in China on the border of Vietnam.

Jim demanded the driver to empty his bag onto the table that had eight military helmets lined up on the edge. I could tell Bob was reluctant. But he had no choice. He poured out the contents of his bag and my passport along with his and one bible spilled out. I wasn’t sure why Bob didn’t hand Jim my passport. I wasn’t even sure how he had got it.

Jim snapped when he saw my passport. He started to violently hit Bob in the face until he pushed him to the ground and stared to kick him. I like a stone, stood there as Jim was beating my friend. The sound of his hand hitting his face echoed in my head after. He quickly placed handcuffs on him and sat him against the wall. They took me and had me stand against a wall with my hands on my head as they searched me.

They sat Bob and me down in a squatted position against a wall. His hands were cuffed and mine were on my head as they instructed me.

The interrogation started. A few times he would ask Bob a question and then smack him after. Jim started to focus on me. I knew he couldn’t touch me because of my citizenship but I was still afraid. He was angry with me and took it on Bob.

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First question, in broken tongue came, “why are you here?” My heart sank. I replied “for adventures and photos.” I felt stupid. He looked at me with this “yeah right expression” Next question, “do you come to China often?” I mentioned “two, twice” and held up two fingers. He then asked, “are you here for mission?” I told him “mission? I don’t understand.” Jim was getting frustrated with me. He went back to questioning Bob. Came back with one word. He said “Christian?” Like, I’ve got you now. I said “yes” my driver, Bob looked scared when the “yes” came out of my mouth. He started to use a translator app on his phone. He typed in a message and let me read the translation. Each time I said “the sentence doesn’t make sense, I don’t understand?” He typed in clearly “What church do you belong to?” Oddly enough my first thought was of the improper grammar of the sentence that I was reading on his phone. I responded with “I don’t attend here, I don’t understand.” He muttered something in mandarin at my response.

At one point in the night Jim picked up the driver’s bible and began to thumb through it. I was sure he was going to start ripping out pages or begin to hit Bob with it. I guess I’ve seen too many movies. He started to ask him what certain verse were saying. As Bob was reading back to him what he asked I was praying underneath my breath that the words he hears will penetrate his heart and a curiosity for the bible will begin that very night.

It was so strange… Three months prior I was in America chilling at Starbucks or wherever with all the rights in the world. Now I’m being questioned with my hands on my head by young hot heads with guns.

After about an hour and a half, maybe two I’m not sure. I was contacted by others from my group. They had been detained as well at different road stops. They let me know that everything will be fine. And we will be released soon.

The thuggish police force contacted my embassy. They were very suspicious of my activity and purpose. Telling them that I do not have my passport and then having them find it on my driver didn’t help the situation at all.

They loaded the bike into the back of a police truck. And ushered me to get inside with Bob and the other local. Four police officers and us squeezed into the four door silver truck. I picked up the bullet proof vest on the seat beside me and put it on my lap to make room. 27 kilometers we rode, surrounded by officers, cramped with a Kevlar camouflage vest in my arms with the cheesiest music on the radio. It was straight out of some movie.

I was under the impression that they were taking me back to the hotel. Bob and I plus the other local ended up at the police station. One of the officers left to get help with the bike. Five or six heavily armed officers came out. I reached for the front wheel and the officer beside me grabbed the engine cage. His rifle dug into my left rib cage as we lowered the bike. That sobered me once again. It reminded me that I wasn’t in the clear yet.

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Thirty minutes in they didn’t ask me much. They ushered me to leave. Bob and other locals that they detained because they were with other foreigners from my group at separate stops were not allowed to leave. Along with those detained was, one small child, a newborn and a young woman that could not walk due to complications with her legs. Huge threat, right?!

This morning I opened my bible to an old bookmark that was sleeping in the pages of Saint Peter. It read: Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trail when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

I don’t want at all to depict a story where I’m being so bold and brave. Simply put, I wasn’t. I was fearful and struggled to find and feel my God in the situation. I thought selfishly a lot that night.

See, I think it would be easy to say, “God, bro, why did you not protect my friend? Why did you let him get hit repeatedly when I prayed to you to make it stop?” The moral that I learned here is that God’s protection is beyond my understanding. That even at worst if we die for his sake, he never failed in protecting us. Seriously, think about that. He created everything. He created the word and the meaning of “protection” it’s safe to say that he may have a better understanding of it than me and Merriam-Webster. It’s my understanding that needs change, not how he handles the perfecting of the saints, his children.



Blog by Within Reach Global staff M.P.

*Photo was privately taken during the detention at the police station.

See this blog at withinreachglobal.org

David Joannes
Founder/President at Within Reach Global
David Joannes is the co-founder and president of Within Reach Global, Inc, which serves the advance of the Gospel in some of Southeast Asia’s most difficult places. He is the author of The Space Between Memories: Recollections from a 21st Century Missionary. David has a love for language, culture, and creative writing, and for the last 20 years, he has witnessed God’s Kingdom established in forgotten parts of the globe. David lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand, with his wife, Lorna, and their daughter, Cara.
  • Stacey Minor

    You are all amazing and Jesus is so good! Thanking God for His protection and believing that He will work all things together for those who love Him for His Glory! Praying for you all!!

    • Thanks so much for your words and your prayers, Stacey!

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