Don’t Count Your Bibles Before They Hatch: Based on a True Story

The following story, though details have been altered, is based largely upon a true story we have heard about the younger years of a pastor of ours while we were in China. Please note that the setting for this story is 1960’s China, and keep in mind that though not unheard of, similar situations are generally few and far between in modern China.

“And just who are you here to see? That old man again?”

“I’m here to see Uncle Xu,” ZhangBo gulped.

“Uncle Xu?” barked the guard, throwing down a royal flush. “What have you come to see him for this time?” The guard was half conversing, half finishing his hand.

“Yeah, weren’t you here just a month ago?” scolded the second guard with a semi-disappointed look on his face, obviously realizing he lost this hand.

“I…I’ve brought him some eggs,” stammered ZhangBo, lifting the wicker basket in his hand slightly.

“Let me see!” The guard held out his hand, snatched the basket, and began looking it over, unwrapping the cloth that concealed its contents.

Sure enough, about a dozen eggs could be seen just on the top layer. There was probably at least another dozen beneath, unless…

The guard moved a few of the eggs on top around as though to see if any contraband was found underneath. After a brief inspection, ZhangBo seemed to be in the clear.

“Alright, follow after me. But don’t try any funny stuff!”

Thank You, Lord! ZhangBo prayed with a smirk. “Yes, guard,” he replied, following the Chinese custom of addressing others by using their position rather than a generic “sir” or “mam”.

Stepping through the threshold, the guard led him down a corridor past a long row of vertical metal bars which were punctuated every twenty bars or so by a lock. The prison had a smell about it that would keep even the cheeriest of crickets from singing. It was the largest prison in the province and had been utilized by the Japanese during the War to keep POWs. Now it was being used by the Communist Party to hold those that were believed to have previously been in contact with foreigners.

ZhangBo always had mixed feelings about coming. While he detested the vile environment, he loved Pastor Xu and knew Pastor Xu loved his visits. Pastor always seemed encouraged. It was also a good opportunity to see his condition and report back to the church. They liked ZhangBo’s preaching – Pastor Xu had trained him himself. But, it still wasn’t the same as having Pastor Xu himself with them. He was one of the few remaining preachers who had trained directly under Brother Welton, the foreign missionary that brought the gospel to their town. Ever since Brother Welton died during the Japanese occupation, Pastor Xu had taken up the mantle as pastor of the area. He was beloved by all the church as a spiritual father figure.

“Alright, carry on with it!” the guard pushed. “Give him what you need to give him so you can be on your way!”

They had navigated the corridors and finally arrived at Pastor Xu’s cell. From the corner of his eye, ZhangBo noticed other prisoners were coming to the front of their respective cells to see what was going on. None of them had provisions given them by the prison. It was rather the responsibility of the families and friends of inmates to bring meals. They probably were curious to see if someone had brought them sustenance.

Will they rat me out this time? ZhangBo thought. Have they already?

He had made multiple trips already, all for the same purpose, and had been successful on each so far. The trick was to bore the guard into looking away if only for a second.

“Uncle Xu,” ZhangBo started. “I’ve brought you some eggs.” He was always sure to never address Pastor Xu as “Pastor” while any unbelievers were listening, especially the guards. That would tip them off to the fact that he, too, was involved in the church.

“ZhangBo, have you eaten?” asked Pastor Xu. Part nicety, part genuine concern, this is the Chinese way of asking, How are you?

“Yes, uncle.” Typical I’m fine.

Slowly removing the cloth from covering the eggs, ZhangBo began carefully removing the eggs one by one from the basket and handing them one by one through the bars of the cell and into Pastor’s hands who would then clasp it in both hands and transfer it to his bowl on the floor in the corner.

Pick up, transfer through, set down. First egg.

Pick up, transfer through, set down. Second egg.

Pick up, transfer through, set down. Third egg.

Pick up, transfer through, set down. Fourth egg.

ZhangBo and Pastor Xu were taking their time. They were slow, they were methodical, they were boring. Taking about ten seconds for each egg may not sound like a lot of time, but when you have so many, it becomes quite the process.

Pick up, transfer through, set down. Fifth egg.

Pick up, transfer through, set down. Sixth egg.

Pick up, transfer through, set down. Seventh egg.

ZhangBo began peering out of the corner of his eye to see what the guard was up to. He still seemed to be watching on intently.

Eighth egg.

Ninth egg.

Tenth egg.

Glancing over a second time, he noticed the guard was still watching, albeit a bit impatiently.

Eleventh egg.

Twelfth egg.

Thirteenth egg.

Was he still watching? ZhangBo wondered. Why doesn’t he just turn away already? I’m going to run out of eggs soon! Judging by the look on Pastor’s face, he was getting a bit nervous, too.

Fourteenth egg.

Fifteenth egg.

Sixteenth egg.

Seventeenth egg.

Eighteenth egg.

There were only half a dozen left. Lord, intervene! prayed ZhangBo.

Pick up, transfer through, set down. Nineteenth egg.

Pick up, transfer through, set down. Twentieth egg.

Pick up, transfer throu –

“Hey, I heard you just won with a royal flush!” came a voice from the other side of the guard.

ZhangBo paused, mid-transfer, and turned his head in the direction of the voice to discover it came from a third guard coming from the other direction down the corridor. The first guard turned to gloat a moment.

It’s now or never! Thought ZhangBo.

Lifting up his arm carrying the basket ever so slightly, he reached into his coat with his egg-transfering hand, grabbed the package out of his hidden pocket with lightening speed, and thrust it through the bars at Pastor Xu who promptly turned and placed it on his bed, covering it with his pillow.

“What are you down this way for anyway?” asked the third guard.

“I’m escorting this visitor to that foreigner-sympathizer’s cell,” the first guard replied, turning back toward ZhangBo and Pastor Xu, realizing he was distracted.

The rhythm, thankfully, had already continued.

Pick up, transfer through, set down. Twenty-first egg.

Pick up, transfer through, set down. Twenty-second egg.

Pick up, transfer through, set down. Twenty-third egg.

Pick up, transfer through, set down. Final egg.

“That’s all I have for you today,” said ZhangBo.

“Thank you kindly, ZhangBo,” Pastor Xu replied with a gleam in his eye.

The guard began walking down the corridor back toward the entrance. ZhangBo followed with a sense of relief. Mission accomplishedAt least this time.

Pastor Xu, waiting until the coast was clear, returned to his bed, lifted up his pillow, and unwrapped a copy of Acts and Romans. As a tear began to roll down his cheek, he placed it with the other sections of the Scriptures he had collected so far since his imprisonment two years ago. He hid them under the excess, unused propaganda flyers he had been brought for “hygiene” purposes. The guards would never expect to find such contraband there. Laying down on his bed and praying, he was in anxious anticipation of the next hour between guard patrols when he would re-familiarize himself with tales of Paul’s boldness and faithfulness while in similar straights.

Weekly Devotion Amos 8:11

“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, That I will send a famine in the land, Not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, But of hearing the words of the LORD.”

We need to Word of God. More than bread and water, we need the Bread of Life and Living Water. Unfortunately, there are millions upon millions of people in the world today that have never heard the Word of God. There is a spiritual famine.

Lord, thank You for Your Word. Thank You that it is nourishment to my soul. Use me to boldly proclaim Your Word to the hungry and thirsty of the world. Help me to advance Your gospel around the world.

Dragon Boat Festival, Qu Yuan, and a Tradition of Spirit-Appeasing

As summer approaches, another interesting Chinese festival is just around the corner. Duanwu Jie, or the Dragon Boat Festival, falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar – this year, June 18. There are many interesting explanations for the origin of this festival, all of which involve dragons, spirits, loyalty, and food – some of the most important aspects of traditional Chinese life and folklore. The two main elements of the festival are racing long, narrow boats decorated with dragons and eating sticky-rice balls wrapped in bamboo leaves.

So how did this festival come about? As the story goes, Qu Yuan was an advisor in the court of Chu during the Warring States period in ancient China. As China was caught up in this three-way civil war, Qu Yuan was exiled by the emperor for perceived disloyalty. He had proposed that his state of Chu ally with the state of Qi to fight off the state of Qin, but the emperor didn’t see Qin as a threat and assumed Qu Yuan to be a traitor sympathizing with Qi. However, not long after being exiled, Qin did in fact capture and imprison the Chu emperor, which led to the state of Chu’s surrender. Learning of the tragic news, Qu Yuan threw himself to his death in the Miluo River.

From this point, the legend has a few differing endings. One of the more popular conclusions says that after searching for Qu Yuan for some time, people became concerned that he would be eaten by a water dragon and determined that the best course of action was to throw sticky-rice dumplings, called 粽子 (zongzi), into the river so that the water dragons would eat them instead of Qu Yuan.

A second wide-spread ending to the legend says that Qu Yuan simply drowned and became a water spirit after his death. He was perceived as a ghost that needed to be appeased, and the people determined the best way to appease this spirit was to give it food. For many years after his death, Qu Yuan’s supporters would throw zongzi into the water to appease the spirit, but the sticky-rice dumplings were always eaten by a water dragon before his spirit could get to them. After years of hungry frustration, Qu Yuan’s ghost appeared to them instructing them to wrap the dumplings in bamboo leaves so the dragon wouldn’t eat them before he could get to them.

Over the centuries, this legend has evolved into the celebration known today as Dragon Boat Festival. In cities and towns throughout modern China, townspeople will build, decorate, and race dragon boats; and they will make steamed zongzi for their family and friends.

Modern Chinese people recognize the above legend as just that – legend. However because of Qu Yuan’s story and other legends like it, many are still convinced of the need to appease the spirits and satisfy the gods with incense, food, and other gifts. There are many evil spirits in Chinese folklore, and they must be fended off to ensure a peaceful life full of good fortune. If they can just burn more incense, offer more food, burn more hell money, or light more firecrackers, then maybe the gods will look favorably upon them and bless them with prosperity.

How sad it is that they have yet to hear of the love of God! How sad it is that they have yet to hear of how He commended His love, in that while they were yet sinners, Christ died for them (see Romans 5:8)! How sad it is that they don’t know that this Christ is the propitiation, the appeasement, for sin (see 1 John 2:2)! How sad it is that they burn incense at temples and offer food at the graves of ancestors to appease the spirits, when the one true God offered the ultimate appeasement for sin 2,000 years ago at Calvary!

Friends, would you please pray for the people of China? Would you pray for them today? Would you pray that the Lord would raise up more messengers to take these glad tidings to them so that they may hear, believe, call upon the name of Lord Christ, and be saved?