"Every time I want to keep my silence, I think of our life in China." These are the words of Grace Gao, the daughter of Gao Zhisheng, a Chinese human rights lawyer who boldly defended house church leaders and Falun Gong practitioners. For his work, he and his entire family were targeted by the Chinese government. After years of suffering, Grace is speaking out -- for her family, and for all families and individuals enduring abuse for their advocacy.
In 2006, Gao Zhisheng was convicted of subversion and was sentenced to three years in prison. He was again imprisoned in December of 2011 for supposedly violating the conditions of his suspended three-year sentence. He was released from prison in 2014 but kept under house arrest until August of 2017. Since then, his exact whereabouts have been unknown, and no updates have been made available from the government. It's been four years since he has been in touch with his family, and since Grace has been able to see or hear from him.
This week, Grace shared her story at Family Research Council's event at the International Religious Freedom Summit entitled, "Sanctioned by China: Advocates Speak Out." This event highlighted the cost that speaking out can have both for those within China and outside of China. The Chinese government goes to great lengths to suppress the voices of those who dare to speak out about its violations of human rights and religious freedom. Grace knows this well.
Because of her father's human rights work, Chinese authorities were sent to closely monitor the entire family. Grace said, "They had a little notebooks. They took eight-hour shifts, three shifts a day." And they documented everything. "What time did I take a shower? How long did I take a shower?" Grace now lives in the United States with her mom and brother, but she still cries every time she thinks about living under those conditions.
Yet, Grace knows her family wasn't the only one, and many more families in China still suffer under the rule of the Chinese Communist Party. "I think of more families suffering the same thing. I can't be silenced," she said.
Confronting the grave reality of her father's imprisonment -- which represents countless others in China who face abuse and persecution from the Chinese government -- isn't easy. Yet, Grace remains positive. She knows the difference that even one person can make. She said, "I think of myself as a firefly. I live in this very dark place. And then when there is no light, I believe I can light up a light in myself because I am a firefly."
Indeed, light shines brightest in the darkness. And that is Grace's challenge to the rest of us. As she closed out her interview, she encouraged the audience to do what they can: "I wish everybody always has hope in their mind and to pray as much as you can and to pray for as many people as you can. Because for a lot of people who are in jail, I think the only thing that keeps them alive -- it's that someone outside is caring about them, is still praying for them. It's important. We can't forget those people, even though we don't know those people. They need our faith."
People around the world -- even those we don't know -- are depending on our faith, on our prayer, and on our perseverance. Our simple acts have a great deal of power to comfort those who are hurting. May we remember that always.