RANTOUL — John Stone can barely speak a word of English, but he delivers a powerful message.
He has built a new life for himself in the United States after spending three years in Chinese prison for printing Bibles and not registering his church with the government. His family was questioned and his brother was tortured as authorities sought information about Stone and his network of missionaries.
Now he lives in Dallas and spent Sunday morning at First Baptist Church in Rantoul telling the congregation of his persecution and repeating one of the few English phrases he knows: "Praise the Lord."
"The price of faith is sometimes pretty expensive for people," said Pastor Ken Crawford. "We don't realize our freedom."
The story starts in 2007 in Beijing, where Stone and his wife, Sarah, pastored a house church and operated a printing business.
The Chinese government approves one company to print Bibles — Stone's was not it — and tries to control the number of Bibles in circulation.
"They came to get me just like you would come to get bin Laden," Stone said through interpreter Ray Sharpe.
His printing equipment and computers were confiscated. His family was questioned. His brother was beaten so badly that his kidney failed and he needed surgery to survive.
Stone had already managed to print 1.8 million Bibles by that time.
He was released within a few weeks, but imprisoned again not long after. This time he would spend three years in a cell with China's most serious criminals.
While in prison, Stone said he asked his wife to bring in warm clothes for the other prisoners, who were underclothed during the winter.
A prison guard caught on, and Stone said he convinced the man that the prisoners needed more clothing. That guard began bringing in his own clothes to give to the prisoners, and eventually gave Stone a Bible.
With that Bible, Stone said he began leading daily teachings with the other prisoners in his cell, which became a peaceful oasis in a chaotic prison.
"You don't need to go to prison to do this," Stone said through Sharpe. "But you need to take your responsibility seriously."
Toward the beginning of Stone's prison term, then-President George W. Bush asked Chinese authorities to reduce his term during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Stone was released in 2011, and his family moved to Texas last year.
First Baptist Church member Bob Fulling has known Stone since 2004, and arranged for him to visit Rantoul on Sunday. Stone has helped organize missionary trips with Fulling, who says his story includes great faith and a reminder to Americans.
"We as Americans take our freedoms for granted way too much," Fulling said Sunday.
After hearing Stone's story, Crawford presented Stone, his wife and his two daughters with small American flags.
"We are blessed more than we can imagine," Crawford told the congregation. "And we are spoiled more than we can imagine."