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Part IV: The Aftermath

Despite my exhaustion, sleep was not easy to come by, not only because the sun was already shining, but also because I knew the phone might ring, or there could be a knock on the door, at any moment…

Well, the phone did eventually ring, but thankfully not that morning.

While We Were Waiting

I spent the first day or two packing up my most “essential” personal belongings, knowing that I could be deported at any time. It’s a strange feeling trying to choose which items, out of a houseful of stuff, are truly essential, and get them all to fit into two suitcases and a backpack. Talk about having to prioritize!

My wife and I had also spent lots of time getting hundreds of pounds of literature safely stashed away in places where it would most likely survive a police search (which we expected at any time). My back still hurts from some of the crazy places we had to lug those 70-100 lb bags!

My family tried to keep up its normal routine, including homeschool co-op, soccer, prayer meeting, and international church, among other things. The main difference is that I hardly ever went with them, not knowing if I would be watched or followed, and not wanting to put any of our friends at risk.

Goofing off after homeschool co-op. I chose this image for security reasons, with all faces partially covered or obscured.

The Phone Finally Rings

It must have been nearly a week after my arrest and interrogation, and the team’s escape, but the phone finally rang. I remember being very nervous as I answered, hoping and praying that they weren’t going to simply say: 

“We’ll be there in a few minutes!”

Instead, the officer-in-charge, who was the director of the Entry-Exit Administration for the city, simply asked me to come back to police headquarters in order to do some “follow-up paperwork”. Gulp.

I obliged, of course, and said I would come after the normal Chinese lunch hour. I quickly decided to take a taxi instead of driving, since the police still had my license, and I was worried they could somehow still discover my car.

In hindsight, however, I can see how my own nerves and fear caused me to worry irrationally about this and number of other “what ifs”: 

What if I am being watched by cameras every moment I step outside?

What if they are waiting for me to drive and lead them to our coworkers?

What if the police have the neighborhood security guards spying on us?

What if our neighbors are keeping track of all our comings and goings?

Chinese “spy glasses”, capable of seeing people’s identities as they walk by.

You might consider these to be very legitimate questions, but there was absolutely no evidence that the police were doing any of these things, with the possible exception of the last one. Our neighbors did start acting a bit weird, peeking out their door at us all the time. However that might have just been their own curiosity, wondering what kind of criminals they had living next door?!

Unexpected Surprise at Police Headquarters

So when my taxi pulled up at the station a little before 3pm, I got out and nervously called the officer back. I was told to wait by the main entrance, and someone would be down to escort me in. As I stood waiting at the gate, I noticed there was a Chinese guy next to me who looked vaguely familiar. (Insert joke here about all Asians looking the same). In fact, the more I stared at him, the more I was sure I’d run into him somewhere before. Honestly, I was getting nervous that maybe he was my “handler”, someone the police had hired to trail me around all week.

Real satellite pic of police headquarters. The main gate is near the road that is visible on the far right.

When the officer finally appeared, I was surprised to see him greet both me and the other dude. Only as the three of us began climbing the steps towards the main building did I realize who he was: the agent who had rented me the van two weeks before! 

I had almost completely forgotten about the impounded van, counting the hundreds of dollars in deposit as loss. The poor guy from Shenzhou Zuche (Chinese Hertz) was obviously a bit nervous, and probably unsure about how things had gotten to this point. Surprisingly, the police had been paying attention all along and were helping to facilitate the van’s safe return.

Somewhere in between the police signing the van back over to the Chinese Hertz guy, the officer-in-charge also handed me back my phone and my Chinese driver’s license! I tried not to act too surprised, but I was thrilled to know I would at least have the option to drive legally in China once again.

A Pleasant Discovery

After handing over my things, they told me I was free to go back with the rental guy to return the van. As we left together, I wondered how I would explain the whole situation to him, but he never asked. 

“I can’t believe I’m actually gonna get my deposit back!” I thought to myself during the drive to the rental office. As we made our way across town, I started looking around for any items that I (or my team) may have left behind. Amazingly, under my seat I found an undisturbed brown jacket, with nearly a hundred Chinese tracts still neatly tucked inside! 

Not the exact location, but looks surprisingly similar. Notice the small “Hertz” on the sign.

Arriving at our destination, I carefully placed the jacket and tracts into my backpack, while the agent processed the return. A few minutes later, with both my deposit and the recovered “goodies” in hand, I said goodbye and hopped on a bus for home. It was nice to know that the police hadn’t bothered to look through the van. Maybe they’d never get around to searching our apartment either.

Fingerprints and Mugshots

    Just a month before my arrest, China began recording the fingerprints of all foreigners arriving at each of its dozens of border checkpoints, making it harder than ever for someone to sneak in through an obscure border without being flagged.

With my driver’s license now in hand, I began to use the car a little bit, cautiously running a few errands and taking the kids on some outings. However, when I was called back to police headquarters a few days later, I knew I’d better not take the car, even if I “played it safe” and parked far away. No need to risk toting my keys back inside that building again! The bus would work just fine.

I even decided to make it obvious to the police exactly how I was getting to the station. I purposefully left a few minutes late, and then called the officer from a noisy public bus explaining where I was and that traffic was bad (it was always bad in that area). It was a simple way to reinforce the idea that I was “stuck” using public transportation to get around town.

This visit to police headquarters was all business. A lot of things needed to be done. I was fingerprinted on a special machine. This took quite some time, as my nerves (and the warm air) made my fingers sweat, and they had to redo multiple prints to get it to work properly. 

“It would be nice if this thing really wouldn’t work,” I thought, to no avail. 

They unfortunately made sure that each one was properly recorded.

      My fingerprints were taken on a machine very much like this one.

After this, we walked to a different building a few blocks away that serves as the city’s visa application office. My family had applied for numerous visas there before, and I had accompanied other friends as well. The purpose of this visit was not visa-related, however, but to have my “portrait” taken. I’m not sure exactly what this picture was for, but my best guess is that it was my official “mugshot”; the picture that will go in my file, and probably into the nation’s integrated computer systems. 

I will admit, however, that this picture did not seem to be the kind that would be used to put me into China’s infamous facial recognition database. It mostly felt like getting a passport picture. Only time will tell, I guess.

Hundreds of millions of AI cameras in China are tracking people’s every public move.

Who Books Their Own Deportation Flight?

At some point in the proceedings it became clear that I would indeed soon have to leave China (ie, I would be deported). They hadn’t mentioned a specific date yet, so I decided to make a bid to help set the date myself. 

I had already been planning since the year before to fly to Malaysia on May 26 (about two weeks away), which was supposed to be the beginning of a 10 day ministry trip through south Asia (Malaysia, Myanmar, Macau).

So I told them that I already had a flight booked to depart China early in the morning on May 26:

“Malaysia is where I really need to go right now, not America.” I continued, mentioning that I had many confirmed plans already in south Asia.

The initial response wasn’t promising:

“We’ll tell you when and where you’ll depart China. You don’t have the right to make that decision.”

“Uh, ok”, I mumbled back sheepishly. 

I figured that was a dead end, and began worrying instead how I was going to get from the States back to Malaysia so quickly. 

Your Itinerary, Please?

It must have been the very next morning when the phone rang again. Mr. Officer-in-Charge was back on the line:

“Hey, can you tell me more about that flight you’ve got booked to Malaysia?”

“Yeah, uh, I booked it last year, 2017. I’m supposed to fly from Xi’an to Kuala Lumpur on the evening of May 25. Well, actually, early morning of the 26th. The ticket was less than $100 bucks!”

“Oh, really? So cheap?” He sounded genuinely curious.

“Yeah, I fly a lot in Asia and get really good deals booking way in advance.”

“Ok, can you send me a copy of your ticket?” he asked.

“Yeah, sure thing. I will send it to you as soon as I can.”

As I sent him my itinerary, I thought about how amazing it would be not to waste time and money flying back and forth across the world for no reason.

From that point on the police never mentioned any other travel plan. It was finally clear how long I had until my official “D Day” (Deportation Day).

May 25, 2018, would be my last full day in China for the foreseeable future. 

This was a blessing as well as a curse. Of course being forced out of China is a curse of sorts. Who wants to be forbidden to live in the country you consider home? However, being allowed to stay around for a total of 25 days (I was originally arrested on April 30) was a huge answer to prayer! 

By God’s grace, I was given ample time to prepare for my departure… emotionally, practically, ministerially, and relationally. We even had free time as a family to enjoy a few things around town that we’d never done before.

This river, named after a certain color, most often appears muddy. But in a speedboat you stay on top of the water!

Breaking Quarantine

With my packing mostly done and my deportation date set, you might think all I had left to do was say bye to everyone and enjoy lots of yummy food for the last time in a long time. However, there was still at least one more very important (and risky) thing I had to do…

I had to find a way to safely transport a carload of Bibles and tracts to a safehouse in a neighboring prefecture, all while being “locked down” in our home city. The police had told me in no uncertain terms not to leave town, and were still holding my passport ransom. But I had no choice. 

Besides getting these materials to safety, I knew I needed one final trip adventure as a way of saying goodbye to the territory that I had traversed countless times over the previous 15 years. 

My only concern was when to do it. If I went for it too soon, and got caught, they’d probably deport me earlier than scheduled. However, the longer I waited, the greater the chance something else might come up or the materials could be discovered. 

I finally decided to do it on my final weekend before deportation; specifically, Saturday night (all night). The chances of the police checking up on me in the wee hours of a Sunday morning were extremely slim… I hoped!

So I prayed and planned, waiting anxiously for the sun to set on Saturday evening, when it would be time to break “quarantine” and attempt one last all-night Gospel Expedition

The safehouse I needed to visit was located beyond this lake, over the mountains, towards the setting sun.