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The Value of Suffering 1

The Value of Suffering

Joyful Accounts from
the Valley of the Shadow of Death

My Family – Finding Joy through Suffering

I was born into a Christian family that was afflicted by poverty, sorrow and suffering. My father, Wang Li Gang, was a son who showed much devotion to his parents and so he was also named the Loving Third, being the third child. He came to know the Lord as a young man through his general-in-command, Feng Yu Xiang. My father was a very warm-hearted and caring Christian, yet at the same time he was outspoken and upright. He was a man who would not bow to the forces of evil.

I was the fifth child in a family of many girls. As the fourth was also a girl, my grandmother called my elder sister “Grandma’s Misery.” Grandma was a traditional woman with feudal values. She preferred boys and did not like girls. So when I came along, Grandma disliked me even more. Even when I was five years old, I was not able to walk. Grandma called me “The Lame One.” She strictly forbade my mother to pick me up and hold me. I was to be raised as a dog. Whether I lived or died would not matter at all. I asked my mother, “Why won’t you pick me up?” She tearfully replied, “I don’t have the ‘good fortune’ to hold you. If I pick you up, your grandmother will beat me.” When my grandmother passed away, my mother cared for me most lovingly and so I grew very quickly. I started schooling when I was seven.

Father turned our attention
to worshipping the Lord.

There were ten of us in my family and we all relied on a single donkey to grind flour for us. After selling the flour, we would make porridge out of the leftover bran. This porridge did not fill our stomachs and we often went hungry. I will never forget the poem my third older brother wrote, describing the pitiful condition of our family. It was written during the twelfth month of the lunar year, with howling north winds blowing and heavy snow falling. The poem, translated, goes like this:

Another year’s end. Snow falls, thick and bright, Melting in fragrant plumes of smoke all over the city.

Neighbors’ stoves are burning heartily;

Their homes, bathed in light.

Another year’s end. Snow falls, heavy and cold,

Settling in our dusty chimney.

We watch the storm, our bowls empty;

Our clothes, drab and old.

Everyone was joyfully welcoming the New Year, preparing all sorts of delicacies – steamed, sautéed and fried – that filled the air with an appetizing aroma. Families went shopping so that they could enjoy the New Year wearing new clothes.

There were, however, no preparations going on in our kitchen, and nothing cooking on the stove. In fact, we had nothing to eat. All of us girls were sad, but my father was not at all troubled. Instead, he turned our attention to worshipping the Lord. We girls were very helpful to each other and our older brothers loved us deeply. And God was with us. In this way, our family still bubbled with the holiday spirit. Poverty and deprivation actually molded us into an extraordinarily close-knit family.

When my three brothers grew older, they attended Christian schools. As a result, they not only received a good education but also a basic foundation in their faith. They loved to sing praises to God, and also played the flute and the hou lou qin, a two-stringed instrument. Each one of us was musically gifted and we became a family very blessed by God.

Father presented our donkey — our only
means of livelihood — to the Lord.

With All His Heart, Strength and Faithfulness

One day, my father took the family donkey to a Christian meeting and presented it to the Lord. The donkey was our only means of livelihood. At that time, Father was only concerned with loving the Lord. He did not worry about other things while my mother was always anxious, often losing sleep over the daily needs of our family. My father had faith and hope, relying in the Lord who loves us.

Shortly after my father gave away the donkey, the Lord provided us with two milk goats. So we began selling goat’s milk. Gradually, our goat herd multiplied and our customers increased. My brother’s friend also gave us a milk cow, so we soon had our own family dairy. We were the only dairy farm in our little township, so that even the rich folk bought milk from us regularly. We thanked our heavenly Father for unexpectedly providing a means for us to make a living. And we were happier as life became more stable.

Our mother underwent
severe despair.

A Merciless War

The Lugouqiao (Marco Polo Bridge) Incident in 1937 led to the outbreak of the merciless war between China and Japan. The Japanese army murdered, plundered, set fires and raped wherever they went. Every heart was gripped with terror. Our family, along with everybody else, fled to the countryside while my three brothers joined the anti-Japanese resistance army at school. We did not know where they were and could only pray that God would keep them safe.

My father was a very patriotic man and was very proud of his own nation. As he could not bear living under Japanese oppression, he set his mind to join the resistance forces. However, the ruthless enemy arrested him only six months after enlisting. Before he was put to death, he asked for a few minutes to pray. On his knees, he offered up his spirit and pleaded with the Lord to look after his wife and children. Thus, my father was martyred in a temple cave.

Afterwards, our home was completely looted. It was the 21st day of the twelfth month of the lunar year. Piercing winds swept over thick snow and ice that enveloped everything in sight. With everything gone and Father dead, my mother was in unspeak-able grief. And one day, while she was crying bitterly, she lapsed into unconsciousness. Although many tried to save her, she remained in a coma facing imminent death. My older sister and I rocked Mother in our arms as we were filled with boundless sorrow. We did not want to leave her even for a moment. We wailed at the top of our voices, crying, “Mama! Oh, my mama!” and “O Lord, my Lord! Please don’t let Mama leave us in such misery!” And God heard our cries. He saw our suffering and agony. He knew that we were heartbroken and that we did know how to continue living. So the Lord took pity on us. My mother came out of her coma and we were able to hug one another tightly and lovingly again.

The Lord took pity on us.
My mother came out of her coma.

Walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death

Mother was in grief the second day after Father died. And while she was praying, she saw three angels dressed in white passing by her side, saying, “Leave here quickly.” Mother was taken aback. The next night, again while she was praying, she saw three angels in white passing by her, saying, “Leave here quickly.” When the vision appeared yet again for the third night in a row, it dawned on Mother that the Lord was speaking to her. Filled with faith and strength, she immediately gathered us to leave.

We walked through the valley
of the shadow of death.

Through pitch-darkness, Mother led us by the hand to leave the horrifying place we were in where our lives were in danger. We could hear dogs barking fiercely and we were terribly frightened that the enemy would pursue us. In the biting cold, my older sister and I took turns to carry our little brother while holding our younger sisters’ hands. Each time we slipped and fell, we got up again. Not knowing where we were going, we cried out, “O Lord! Please help us!” We were utterly exhausted.

By dawn, we had covered eighteen kilometers and arrived at Brother Li Bao Ming’s home. He was Father’s old friend and a brother who loved the Lord. He warmly welcomed our family, and so our hearts were filled with peace and relief. It was as though, after struggling in stormy seas, we had reached restful, quiet waters.

We learned later that the day after we had fled, the enemy had sent men to our home to arrest my older sister and me. If we had not left that night, we would have met our end. Thank the Lord! His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. O Lord, how precious are your thoughts! I will praise you continually!

At that time, I recalled the heart-rending words of my father’s last prayer before his execution. God had heard him, and the Lord did not forget his wife and children. In the valley of the shadow of death, we experienced the protection and care of the Lord, who loves each one of us.

The Warmth of Mother’s Love

I especially want to thank the Lord for giving me a mother who loved him and was willing to suffer for him. During those times when the political situation was chaotic and bandits were everywhere, it was almost impossible to travel. Many good-hearted people saw how difficult it was for Mother to take care of five children. So they tried to persuade her to give my older sister and me away in marriage to families with good prospects. We were at the age that was inconvenient to be taken along during such turmoil.

It was a dilemma that deeply pained my mother. Yet by faith she said, “I’ve already come this far. How can I leave my children behind? If we die, we die together. I can’t leave them behind.” Depending on the Lord for strength, Mother, with us by her side, was able to walk sixty kilometers in two days. She would sing,

Do not be afraid; only believe.

Do not look at man;

Do not look at circumstances.

Only gaze upon the Lord Jesus and

Walk with him to the heavenly home.

I could feel God’s powerful strength sustaining Mother. The radiance in her shone brilliantly like the splendid rising sun and it will always shine in my heart. Her prayers in the dead of night constantly touched me. I will never forget one of Mother’s favorite hymns, which goes like this:

Walking the heavenly road is difficult and hard.

People misunderstand, but Jesus knows me.

The Compassionate Father always embraces me.

The flesh suffers, but the soul rejoices.

When cooking, Mother would pump the bellows and fan the fire as though she was playing the accordion. When she sang, it was as though there was accompaniment. She loved to sing Psalm 34. Mother suffered much but she was still joyful.

Psalm 34:1 (NJB)

Of David, when he had feigned insanity before Abimelech, and Abimelech sent him away .

1 I will bless Yahweh at all times, his praise continually on my lips.

2 I will praise Yahweh from my heart; let the humble hear and rejoice.

3 Proclaim with me the greatness of Yahweh, let us acclaim his name together.

4 I seek Yahweh and he answers me, frees me from all my fears.

5 Fix your gaze on Yahweh and your face will grow bright, you will never hang your head in shame.

6 A pauper calls out and Yahweh hears, saves him from all his troubles.

7 The angel of Yahweh encamps around those who fear him, and rescues them.

8 Taste and see that Yahweh is good. How blessed are those who take refuge in him.

9 Fear Yahweh, you his holy ones; those who fear him lack for nothing.

10 Young lions may go needy and hungry, but those who seek Yahweh lack nothing good.

11 Come, my children, listen to me, I will teach you the fear of Yahweh.

12 Who among you delights in life, longs for time to enjoy prosperity?

13 Guard your tongue from evil, your lips from any breath of deceit.

14 Turn away from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it.

15 The eyes of Yahweh are on the upright, his ear turned to their cry.

16 But Yahweh’s face is set against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth.

17 They cry in anguish and Yahweh hears, and rescues them from all their troubles.

18 Yahweh is near to the broken-hearted, he helps those whose spirit is crushed.

19 Though hardships without number beset the upright, Yahweh brings rescue from them all.

20 Yahweh takes care of all their bones, not one of them will be broken.

21 But to the wicked evil brings death, those who hate the upright will pay the penalty.

22 Yahweh ransoms the lives of those who serve him, and there will be no penalty for those who take refuge in him.

Hard Times

Soon afterwards, life became even more difficult. Mother took us into town and worked as a seamstress. For this she was given half a kilo of sorghum flour a day and seven and a half kilos of soy cake a week. I got up early every day to cut grass which was sold to cattle raisers. At night, I worked as a go-fer. I gave every cent I earned to Mother to help provide for the family. My older sister and I studied and worked concurrently. In three years of junior high school, I never bought a textbook; instead, I borrowed my classmates’ books. I often cried as I studied, partly because I was hungry and also because I had to wear tattered clothes for which I was despised. I was so sad that I often took walks in the school sports field by myself to pray to the Lord. Only by pouring my heart out to the Lord could I be comforted.

I was always hungry at that time,
and my clothes were all old.

My older sister was admitted to a nursing school for a four-year program. When the time came for her departure, I carried my younger brother along to send her off at the train station. I bought her a few steamed buns to eat on the way, but she gave them to our little brother because he wanted to eat them. So she traveled, hungry, to the nursing school in Henan Province. With teary eyes and an aching heart, I waved goodbye to her until I could no longer see her. During those years, I went hungry many times. As hunger pangs gripped me, I would cry out to the Lord for help. I often gathered wild herbs in the fields to fill my stomach. Others despised me for being poor, and their ridiculing and condescending looks often tore at my heart. On many occasions, I stayed at home, crying because I did not want to see them. I prayed at home and found peace and comfort in my heart. If the Lord had not been there for me, I would have despaired long ago. The Lord was the strength of my heart!

Trained through Tribulation

I remember one time when a bomb thrown by Japanese soldiers landed right beside me. I was buried in flying debris, but I was not killed. I thank the Lord for preserving my life.

On another occasion, while I was washing clothes by the river, a Japanese soldier walked by. For no reason, he kicked me and I fell into the river. I didn’t dare move a muscle as I floated on the water and cried within, “O Lord, please save me.” The Japanese soldier roared with laughter and then left.

“We can share my blanket.”

On still another occasion, a traitor came with Japanese soldiers in the night. They looked fierce as they barged in, demanding to search our home. When I replied the traitor in Japanese, he smilingly said, “All right,” and left. Actually, those were the only Japanese sentences I knew. The Japanese soldiers had deliberately come to our home because they knew that I had a few brothers who were serving in the anti-Japanese resistance army. So they jumped on us suddenly to check if my brothers were home. I thank the Lord for protecting us once more.

In 1942, I was accepted into the Xuzhou Provincial Teachers’ Training College. There, I was able to eat my fill and so my health improved. But what was more important to me was to study diligently.

I thank my heavenly Father for providing me with such a wonderful opportunity. Oh, how I want to praise his Name!

I will never forget the day I moved into the college dormitory. Though it was cold that night and all my schoolmates were already in bed, I was still praying in the yard. “How can I sleep, O Lord, when I don’t have a blanket?” I cried out. So I stood in the yard waiting for the Lord to be merciful to me. After a while, my classmate, Wang Hua, who was two years older than me, called me in to sleep. I told her that I did not have a blanket. She said, “We can both share mine.” From that time on until we graduated three years later, she deeply cared for me as a younger sister. I was especially thankful to the Lord for this. I could see that the Lord had prepared for me in advance a schoolmate who loved me so graciously.

Yet another time, there was an elderly brother in the Lord who came all the way to Xuzhou to visit me. As he knew I was very short of money, he wanted to give me two silver dollars. At that time, however, I was reluctant to take money from others because neither Mother nor I had the means to repay him. So I firmly declined his money. During the process, however, one of the silver dollars rolled into the wheat field and got lost. I was very upset and felt I owed him a deep apology. He had offered money to me out of his love, but I had not wanted to be in debt to him. Although I had never intended for him to lose his money, I had upset him and was unworthy of his kindness. I prayed that the Lord would forgive me and bless him richly.

In 1943, my older sister came to visit me in Xuzhou. When she saw my thin clothing, she immediately took off her padded jacket and gave it to me. The weather was very cold and I could hardly bear to see her shivering. As we said goodbye, tears welled up in my eyes. I deeply respect my sister. Both of us grew up in destitution and distress, and so we loved each other and were united in heart. Even today, she loves the Lord and me deeply. I thank the Lord for letting us grow up together in his training camp of suffering.

I graduated in 1945 and returned home the day after the ceremony. The Head of my alma mater invited me to teach there, which was something I had never dreamed of. I thanked the Lord for his grace because this job gave me the opportunity to pay for my brothers and sisters’ schooling. Those who had previously looked down on me took the initiative to befriend me. Now that times were better, I felt happier. Most of the students were Christians, and some colleagues had even graduated from seminaries. We often gathered to worship, pray and fellowship and we got along very harmoniously. I admired them for their exuberant spiritual lives and virtuous conduct. I, too, wanted to go to seminary so that the Lord could use me. I was hoping that the Lord would give me the opportunity.

 

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church