PRAYER REQUEST: Kevin, 54, and Julia, 53, Garratt are Canadians Christians ministering in China. Originally from Mississauga, Ontario, they have been in China since 1984, when they went there to teach English.
The Garratts live in Dandong, on the border with North Korea. They moved to Dandong in 2008, after working in a number of Chinese cities and a brief time back in Canada.
They serve as Pentecostal pastors and hold weekly church services each Sunday in their home. They also started a popular coffee shop in the city, located near the Friendship Bridge, a major crossing over the Yula River that marks the border of China and North Korea.
On Monday, August 4, 2014, they were going out for supper with another couple whose daughter was going to Canada to study. The Garratts have four children, three are in Canada, and Peter who lives in Dandong.
The Garratts had invited Peter to join them, but he had a previous commitment. The last thing he heard from his parents was a text his dad sent telling Peter about the tremendous meal he was missing.
Hours later, Peter would find out through a news report that Chinese authorities had arrested his parents while they were out for supper. According to the Xinhua news agency, the Garratts were being investigated “for suspected theft of state secrets about China’s military and national defence research.”
Soon after, Peter was called in by Chinese authorities for an interview. After questioning about his parent’s “other” activities, Peter was told his parents were under “residential surveillance” meaning they are probably jailed in a government hotel.
Anyone who knows the Garratts are dumbfounded by the accusation. No one is sure why the Chinese have trumped up these charges.
But there are a couple of theories.
Garratt’s religious activity
Reports are circulating of China’s crackdown on churches. The government has destroyed church buildings and ripped crosses off others.
Since the Garratts are foreigners, Chinese officials would have been aware of their religious activities. China forbids proselytizing of its people. Though the Garratts were very open about their faith, they never used their coffee shop as an evangelistic tool. They only shared their faith if asked. Prior to this, they have never been detained.
However, a Bible on a shelf in the store was missing after their arrest.
The Garratts moved to Dandong province because of their desire to minister to North Koreans.
The Globe and Mail reports that Kevin was in Canada in the fall of 2013. While there, he preached at Terra Nova church in Surrey, BC. Speaking of their move to Dandong, he said: “We’re trying to reach North Korea with God, with Jesus, and practical assistance.”
In the message, Kevin also told of a Christian “training and prayer center” outside of Dandong that ministered specifically to North Koreans and prepared them for ministry in their country — one of the most closed countries to the Gospel in the world.
The Garratts also worked with a Canadian organization called “North Star” that provides aid (food, clothing etc) to people in North Korea. Aside from helping distribute the aid, the Garratts also raised money for the organization from Canadian churches.
Because of this recent crackdown, some wonder if the Garratts were caught up in China’s renewed persecution of Christians.
However, a second reason now seems most likely. It may be a simple act of retaliation because Canada recently accused the Chinese government of cyber espionage.
The Garratt’s religious activities may have put a target on their back, making them prime candidates for the retaliatory move.
The week before the Garratt’s arrest, the Canadian government publicly stated the Chinese government hacked into the computers of the National Research Council (NRC), a Canadian government agency. The NRC works with a number of key businesses in the aeronautical industry.
Canadian officials said the hacking was undertaken by “a highly sophisticated Chinese state-sponsored actor.” Putting the blame clearly on the Chinese government was a very rare move for Canada. The Canadian government even issued an official protest to the Beijing government.
Because the Garratts were similarly accused of espionage activities almost immediately after, many suspect it is more than coincidental. Recent statements in the Chinese media seems to have connected the two cases.
The Canadian government embassy officials in China are actively involved in the case.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time the Chinese government has jailed foreigners under similar false accusations. Some have ended up imprisoned for years as the Chinese government played its games.
As God leads, please pray for the Garratt’s release.
- Family fearful as China accuses Canadians of espionage: The Globe and Mail
- Canadian couple who run China coffee shop on North Korean border taken to unknown location on suspiciaon of stealing military and intelligence information: Daily Mail
- In rare move, Canada accuses Chinese of trying to hack government network: Yahoo
- Canadians’ detention fuels China’s spay spat with Ottawa: Globe and Mail