When I first arrived in J. I met an elderly Irishman that I felt drawn to, although he certainly did nothing to encourage me. After a year of teaching at another less hospitable college, he came to the university where I was teaching and lived across the hall from me. But he still wasn’t friendly. During a trip to Hong Kong I discovered that he was a Catholic priest-missionary. There weren’t many foreigners in J., possibly two dozen, mostly believers, so we tried to meet once a week for worship. I remember once that my neighbor offered communion to a mixed group including Protestants and several Chinese students, contrary to Catholic rules. The Chinese students were asked to refrain from taking the body and blood but then violated their promise and my neighbor was horrified. I understood his feelings of defilement although the Chinese were merely curious. After that, no Chinese visitors were welcomed into the foreigners’ fellowship. In fact, it was dangerous to meet in a mixed group because the authorities interrogated Chinese who attended mixed meetings for additional names. Thus, I made it a practice to avoid meetings where Chinese were invited to join expat Christians.
There was a Catholic Church about a block from the foreigners’ compound. The university property had once belonged to German Catholics and was confiscated and divided up during the Great Cultural Revolution. At the close of the Cultural Revolution the property was made a university but the church was assigned to the Three-Self (indigenous) Church. At Easter and Christmas our students begged their foreign teachers to take them to the services. There were guards at the gates to keep students from entering and some students had been arrested previously, so we refused and went a step further by absenting ourselves from the services. The students understood this as a nonviolent protest and were pleased. When we did go to Three-Self services we were watched closely to note those Chinese believers we talked to, and often, later, those individuals were taken to police headquarters for interrogation. This was too much for me to bear, so I stopped attending public Chinese church services.
In September of 1990 I returned to China because few Westerners wished to teach there after the Massacre, and teachers of English were desperately needed. My elderly Catholic neighbor had never left. Students admired him because he ran on the athletic track every morning before classes and was in excellent health even though he must have been in his eighties.
Late on a May night in 1991, one of the campus student organizers for the demonstrations knocked on my door and we went for a walk – the only way to prevent eavesdropping. He was a senior, but the university authorities had expelled him that day and required him to return to his village immediately that night, without graduating. He had been imprisoned for one year after the Massacre, and then allowed to join his classmates for his last year in school because it was an excellent way to keep him under surveillance. His classmates were only too happy to report his comings and goings as a way of vindicating themselves for their 1989 indiscretions. This was a common strategy to isolate political trouble-makers.
Tears silently flowed down his face onto his shirt as we walked. His life would be worth little with no degree, and he would be confined to his village the rest of his life. (Documents to travel were required at that time, even between neighboring villages.) I expressed my admiration for his courageous leadership and brilliant organization of the rotating groups of students assigned to march, educate the workers, and travel to other places with their message.
When we parted I was in such a state of anguish I knocked on my neighbor’s door. It must have been around 11pm by then and he very reluctantly admitted me. I struggled to maintain composure to relate what had just happened, and my neighbor listened with compassionate concern. He prayed with me and promised to continue to pray for this precious young man. How thankful I was for this unobtrusive, gentle man.