Falls Church, VA – Some leaders of China's pro-democracy, student movement gathered Thursday on the eve of the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre to pray not only for freedom in their homeland but for their countrymen to know Jesus Christ.
In contrast to the idyllic setting of The Falls Church where they gathered, they spoke about the thousands of heartbroken mothers whose children were killed in the June 4, 1989 protest, and about China's gruesome enforcement of the one-child policy.
Yet despite the solemn subject matters, there was a strong sense of hope that China can change. All three of the key speakers, who were leaders in the Tiananmen Square protest, have come to accept Jesus Christ as their savior. Instead of placing their hope in politics to change their homeland, they now believe that God's love is the key to bring freedom to China.
"Some people believe it (Tiananmen Square protest) is a pro-democracy movement, some people call it a political revolution," said Chai Ling, who was ranked No. 4 on the most wanted student leaders list by the Chinese government after the 1989 protest, to The Christian Post. "What I learned today is that it is completely a spiritual awakening."
Ling, who was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, said the movement drew people out from isolation and fostered love, trust and unity in the younger generation. Even thieves in Beijing, she noted, had announced at the time that they would stop stealing.
But many of the Chinese students' spirits were broken after the tanks came and killed the defenseless protesters, she said.
"We are hungry for a new faith, a new light, a new truth and many of them (students) have come to light and truth and become Christian," said the former commander of the student movement.
Ling became a Christian last November and is now active in opposing China's one-child policy.
The image that most people have of the 1989 protest is that of the iconic photo of an unidentified man standing defiantly in front of four advancing tanks. The Chinese government brought troops and tanks from the People's Liberation Army into Beijing to squash the civil uprising. Students hiding in buses were pulled out by soldiers and beaten with heavy sticks and tanks crushed cars and people under their treads.
Despite large numbers of witness reports, China has asserted that there were no deaths in Tiananmen Square. The government has tried to destroy evidence of the massacre, where an estimated 3,000 students were killed, and today still blocks internet searches by its citizens of the Tiananmen Square protest.
Xiong Yan, who was one of the 21 most wanted student leaders, was hunted down and imprisoned for 19 months after the June 4 demonstration. After his release he made his way to the United States as a political refugee.
In 1992, he committed his life to Jesus Christ and is now a chaplain in the U.S. Army. He served as a chaplain in Iraq from 2004 to 2005.
"I know when we go to Iraq it is operation freedom for Iraq. It is liberating that people from a dictatorship," said Yan to The Christian Post. "This is really similar to China right now. People in China are still enslaved to the communist government. I understand that the people need freedom in Iraq."
He said his worldview and values changed after he became a Christian. He came to understand that the truth does not come from man but from God.
Similarly to Yan who connected his recent mission to his Tiananmen Square experience, Ling compared her one-child policy activism to the 1989 event.
"It dawned on me that … there is a Tiananmen happening every single day. This time the victims are the children and the mothers."
According to Ling, who founded the organization All Girls Allowed, 500 women commit suicide every day in China because of the trauma they experience from forced abortions. And every day in China, there are more than 35,000 forced abortions.
Ling said she first learned how brutal the one-child policy was when she attended a congressional hearing last fall and heard a personal story from one woman. The woman, who was seven-months pregnant, did not have a birth permit and was hiding to keep the baby.
Authorities, she said, dragged her father out and beat him trying to force her to come out. Eventually she was hauled out, thrown into a truck and brought to a facility where hundreds of women were also dropped off to receive the forced abortion.
When it was her turn, doctors injected a shot to the baby's brain to poison it. The baby stopped moving but did not come out. Before she knew it she was opened up and her baby was cut up and taken out piece by piece.
"My heart broke and was struck with grief," said Ling as she recalled hearing the testimony. "I didn't know what was hitting me. I know something so profound had happened. Her voice and the helpless cries reminded me so much of the cries of Tiananmen on the night of June 3 and 4 when the tanks and troops were moving forward."
Ling said hearing the woman's story of her forced abortion was a key event that led her to Christ. She realized that only God could stop such a "huge evil."
The "Prayers for China" event on Thursday was organized by China Aid and All Girls Allowed.