Zhang Jiakun kneeling beside her bed in the 'tiny dark room' she was imprisoned in for 22 years.
Born in Shandong Province in 1913, Zhang Jiakun was raised in a devout Christian family. As a teenager she committed to studying the Bible at school, and later felt led to work with a student ministry in Yantai.
In 1948, just before the advent of the People's Republic of China, Zhang moved to Shanghai and worked for the Publications Department of the Chinese Christian Evangelism Fellowship. She was a prolific writer and editor of Christian books and articles, and is best-remembered for her devotional, Living Water, which is still popular among Chinese Christians today. During the dark years, when all religious books were banned and those caught with them risked execution or imprisonment, many Christians hand-copied Zhang's devotional and passed it around to help encourage their fellow believers.
In 1956 the government shut down the ministry where Zhang worked and arrested all the staff. She was later charged with being a counter-revolutionary and was sentenced to prison in 1960. For much of her time she was incarcerated in a tiny damp room measuring 65 square feet (six square meters). She covered the moldy cement walls with newspapers and stored all her worldly possessions on a single bamboo shelf.
During those dark years, Zhang Jiakun clung tightly to Jesus Christ and gained an intimate relationship with her Savior. Finally in 1972, after 12 years of incarceration, Zhang wrote down some of her feelings. Her words reveal a lowly and broken vessel who, despite all her dreams for life having been snatched away, had instead found a great reward in Jesus Christ. In part, Zhang wrote,
"In the past I was a very sentimental person, but I have lost my tenderness now. I have forsaken the world and the world has forsaken me. Because God is my greatest treasure, I always call on Him who gives me strength to be exalted in my body, whether in life or in death.... I have promised Him that I will offer all I have without reservation....
He gave me a very small test, and I flunked. Even though I often fail, I have also been promoted to the next grade. When I reach the finish line, I will be like the others.... It doesn't matter if one walks slowly, what matters is to not give up halfway through....
I do not deserve to get a prize. If I were to get the last seat in heaven, I would still be content. If there is also a prize for me, it should go to my brothers and sisters. They provide me with the necessities of life, and they lift me up in prayer; if a prize is to be given, it should go to them. I am a maidservant purchased by precious blood; that I love Him is a matter of course. I have nothing to boast about. When all my work is done, I will say, 'I am an unworthy servant. I have only done my duty.'
On my journey, I have many shortcomings and often fall short. If He had not used His precious blood to ransom me, how could I have paid the ransom on my own? The ransom for a life is costly, and no payment is ever enough. He delivered me from death. I have eternal life, and He has raised me from the dead and seated me with Him in the heavenly realms. When He appears, I will appear with Him in glory. I shall be free from the bondage of this body then, and I shall see Him face to face—Christ whom I love, the great and glorious King. I shall bow down at His feet and worship Him....
So, do not bless me. In this world, I do not want people's blessings. I would rather suffer with Him because I know that suffering helps me succeed! ... I am already without parents, and have no children. I have been stripped of everything. I am by myself and I am old....
I have gone through a bit of suffering, so I think others should sympathize with me for my loneliness. Not only does no one sympathize with me but instead they bully me. My heart is a little bitter. Then I think, 'How foolish am I! I am of no use to anyone so why do I want people's sympathy? ... I still desire to live for Him."1
Zhang Jiakun's passport photo taken before she left China for the first time.
Finally in 1982—after 22 years—Zhang Jiakun was released from prison. Five years later with the help of friends she migrated to California, where she lived a peaceful but busy life until her death in 1993. It pleased God to use His maidservant again, and He allowed her to bring much glory to His Name in the sunset of her life. During the seven years she spent in America, Zhang had seven more books published in Chinese, strengthening the faith of thousands of believers.
1. Zhang Jiakun, "I Flunked" (Love China Ministries International: unpublished translation of Zhang's article written from prison in 1972).
© This article is an extract from Paul Hattaway's book 'Shandong: The Revival Province'. You can order this or any of The China Chronicles books and e-books from our online bookstore.