Blessed Are The Persecuted

By Carolyn Shields

When I was twenty-one, I was led into a dark basement, though I knew the disco ball and pink tulle curtains and other eccentric decorations were there in the dark. The hush wasn't suggested. It gripped us to the core. I don't think we could talk if we wanted to.

They opened the closet door and waved us inside and though there were six of us, we all filed in.

And there He was.

Our Holy.

The tabernacle was a safe, as if He needed further protection here. We fell to our knees to adore our the underground Church in Beijing, China. 

The Ten Year Journey

When I was a child, I actually prayed that I would be a martyr in China by the age of fifteen. Not just prayed, but I checked out textbooks on Chinese politics and history from the library, read about the Gang of Four, Bill Clinton's relationship with Jiang Zemin, and most importantly, the state of the Church. I would copy the maps of China's geography over and over, certain that I would go and bring the Gospel with me.

Like most childhood dreams (albeit, this was a weird one for any kid), it fizzled out when high school came along, only to totally explode back into the forefront of my mind when I was offered a unique spot on a pilot trip to China out of nowhere.

I remember being slammed with panic. "Holy shit," I thought, "God, what are you asking me to do?" Was this long forgotten prayer of mine finally heard?

But I prayed and the calling was clear. Isaiah 6:8 says, "Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?' And I said, 'Here am I. Send me!'" Sometimes faith requires that leap of faith before fulling trusting, right? Sometimes it doesn't make sense, but that doesn't mean it's wrong.

So, instead of studying for finals that year, I wrote SAINTS in order to fund my way on this trip. And a few months later, nestled between two other missionaries on the airplane, still probably uttering that four letter word, we headed west. 

The Forbidden City

It was a deeply life changing ten days. I ate a live scorpion and more fungus than I'll ever want to eat again, explored the Forbidden City, visited the site of Chinese martyrs, was punched in the nose while getting off a bus, but above all, we cultivated relationships with other young missionaries who felt incredibly isolated from the rest of the world. With government issued bibles, limited access to Catholic doctrine on supervised internet and screened emails, and with priests who you were never sure could be trusted or appointed by the Vatican or the government, with paranoia abounding, our friends were starving for truth. 

It isn't illegal to be Catholic in China (though being a foreign missionary is), but it becomes dangerous when you have to choose between communism and Catholicism, and naturally these two conflict one another often. When we asked our friend what would happen if she stepped over the line too much, she stumbled with finding the word and had to enter it into her translation app. The word? Death.

Light of my heart, do not let my darkness speak to me.
— St. Augustine

As we climbed the Great Wall together, my new Chinese friends constantly begged to carry my bookbag for me. I was pulled aside by countless strangers to get my picture taken with them because of my blonde hair (so much for being low key). They would feed us until we couldn't physically lift the chopsticks anymore (my hands were cramped anyway from using them so much). But these young missionaries in China had such giving hearts and courage beyond anything my faith-fed life could previously fathom.

I also learned the power of our Father's love, constantly seen through my dad's continuous concern and protection. I'll never forget walking the streets of Beijing when a Chinese person handed me her phone and went, "Uhm, this is for you." And it was a federal agent calling on behalf of my dad. He dramatically loves me and will always find a way to find me, no matter how far I wander in search of my Eternal Father.

And believe me, I've been so found.

We've got one life, women, and fear shouldn't have a place anywhere in it. We must dream big. We must take those leaps of faith. We must risk it all for His glory. We must rise when oppression settles in. Pick up your pen. Stand up in class. Reach out your hand to the neglected. Literally love the hell out of one another. Take up the cross.

There were countless things I learned in China, from the oppression our sisters and brothers face on a daily basis seeking authentic truth, to saying yes to our Lord and the unexpected consequences of opening yourself up in that way, to a Father's constant and careful watch over His sheep. But the biggest takeaway? 

If faith can endure in a place that harbors Holy in a tacky closet with the curtains drawn, it can endure anywhere. If faith can still manage to live in a place that is literally cloaked in darkness, it can boom in places where light slips in. If our persecuted faith is still worth sacrificing one's life for, then we will roar.