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