PHOTO: FRED LUM / THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Julia and Kevin Garratt, the Canadian Christian couple who survived a harrowing 775-day detainment in China, have released a book detailing their experience. In light of the current diplomatic tensions between Canada and China, the couple says they once again see the hand of providence working through their ordeal.
"We launched [the book] Two Tears on the Window quietly on Nov. 24," says Kevin Garratt. "It was a private dedication launch, but God’s timing was perfect."
Seven days after the book’s quiet release Canada arrested Chinese businesswoman Meng Wanzhou at the request of the U.S. government. Wanzhou faces charges related to violating sanctions against Iran through Huawei, a massive technology company with strong links to the Chinese government.
In the weeks that followed, Chinese officials detained two more Canadians citing national security – actions widely accepted as being retaliation for Wanzhou’s arrest. Many observers note the whole situation closely mirrors the circumstances of the Garratts’ detention.
In June 2014 Canada detained Chinese businessman Su Bin on charges of spying, again at the request of the U.S. While Canada processed Su Bin’s extradition to the U.S., China retaliated by detaining the Garratts on Aug. 4, 2014. (Su Bin pleaded guilty in March 2016. Kevin Garratt was released Sept. 16, 2016.)
"Considering the timing of the events that happened in December and the Canadians taken, we felt it was good that we were able to write something to help people relate to what those people might be experiencing," Julia says. "It helps people understand that perseverant prayer and quiet action is very important in these kinds of political cases."
Throughout their own detention the Garratts were unaware of the bigger story at play. They first went to China as English teachers in 1984. Over the next three decades they spearheaded projects like partnering with a government orphanage and founding a kindergarten to benefit the communities they worked in. In the years before their detention, the Garratts did aid work in North Korea and ran a Western-style coffee shop in Dandong on the Chinese side of the North Korean border.
Julia uses the term global workers to describe her family’s work.
"We avoid using language that would be considered disrespectful and misconstrued by the host nation. So we have chosen to use the words global workers to describe our active involvement in community development and social enterprise," she says. "Obviously our purpose is to make a difference in the community and to present Christ by being who we are."
One evening they met a couple for dinner, a meeting arranged by a mutual acquaintance. The couple’s daughter wanted to study in Canada and they had questions the Garratts might be able to answer. "It was kind of an odd dinner," Kevin recalls. "Their daughter didn’t come because she had a toothache. We left after an hour."
The couple rode the elevator back to the ground floor. It was a quiet evening, the building lobby empty except for a clerk when they arrived. But this was Aug. 4, 2014, and they had been set up.
The elevator doors opened. For a moment Julia thought the dozens of smartly dressed people filling the lobby were a wedding party. The fleeting thought disappeared as the crowd rushed them.
"It wasn’t an arrest, it was an abduction," Kevin states emphatically. "They just rushed us and grabbed us. We were taken back to a Ministry of State Security station. Early the next morning we were taken to a remote location where we were interrogated [separately] virtually every day for up to six hours a day."
It demonstrates God’s incredible love to all people that He would allow us to be in this situation so He could reveal Himself to people who may not have a chance [to know Him].
After six months Julia was placed under house arrest with stringent conditions. Kevin spent another 19 months in prison. "They talked to us as if we used our coffee shop to collect information as spies, but we didn’t do anything of the sort," Kevin says. "They never gave us a reason. It was sitting in a room with three interrogators, questioning us every day about every aspect and detail of our lives."
In various interviews Julia has bluntly described it as two years of hell. Despite the false allegations and the trauma they were put through, the couple says they hold no bitterness against their captors.
"We never thought about it," says Julia.
"It’s the [Chinese] system that did this to us, not the people. They were just doing their jobs. We didn’t really like their jobs," Kevin says before trailing off at the memory.
"We still love the people. Even some of our interrogators did small things to show kindness, but in the limited framework they had."
Julia sums up their view of their captors this way. "It demonstrates God’s incredible love to all people that He would allow us to be in this situation so He could reveal Himself to people who may not have a chance [to know Him]."
Above all, the couple says they saw God working throughout their situation and that is what they wanted to highlight in their book.
"We heard so many questions and misconstrued responses about what it might have been like," says Julia. "We decided to walk people through the isolation [of] six months [and then] imprisonment, and experience some of the joy of the release.
God only ever writes hope stories. He takes anything messed up and has already written it into a hope story.
"The goal was to give people an insight into the type of things global workers can go through and how God is absolutely 100 per cent with you. It was also to continue to express all the appreciation we have for the Chinese people we have worked with over the years."
Both Garratts say the experience deepened their faith. Kevin had opportunities to share his faith with his cell mates. Other times God would prompt him to read over his notes about what he wanted to convey when he next spoke with Canadian officials. Sometimes he would be called to the unannounced consular visits only minutes later.
Julia says throughout the experience she clearly saw that God is who He says He is. "He showed me that in the absolute worst situation He comes through for you all the time. That doesn’t take away the pain and the suffering, but He’s the God of the Bible. He answered all the prayers people sent – not necessarily with the answer they expected, but with daily answers of His presence, power and truth."
While the fate of the current Canadian detainees is closely tied with the case of Meng Wanzhou, the Garratts say they are hopeful. They encourage people to pray for the detainees, that they would know they are not forgotten and would not give up.
"I’m hopeful because I don’t think anyone wins if someone dies. It is a very difficult endurance test, but it is not a torture situation," Julia says.
Meanwhile the Garratts are still working through the shock of being uprooted from the past 30 years of their lives.
"God only ever writes hope stories," states Julia. "He takes anything messed up and has already written it into a hope story. He is saying, ‘Are you going to join me in this? I will give you the peace, the grace for your story. Come and join me in it.’ That is an offer for everyone. We are certainly taking Him up on it in the next stage of our lives."
While they need to be sensitive about what they say, the family has already begun working again in challenging areas of Southeast Asia.
"We’ve been able to go back overseas and we plan to pursue global work. We are looking forward, with hope, to the future that God has already designed."
Craig Macartney is a freelance writer in Ottawa and editor of www.SpurOttawa.com.