E-text prepared by Al Haines
One of China's Women
ANNA MAGDALENA JOHANNSEN
For Sixteen Years a Missionary in China
With Preface by Walter B. Sloan
[Frontispiece: EVERLASTING PEARL. The photo was taken after her marriage to Mr. Lue.]
China Inland Mission London, Philadelphia, Toronto, Melbourne and Shanghai Morgan & Scott, Ltd. 12 Paternoster Buildings, London, E.C. MCMXVIII
First Edition October 1913 Reprinted January 1918 Completing 5000 copies
Thirty-five years ago missionary work was commenced in the city of Yueshan, situated on the Kwangsin River in Kiangsi, one of the central Provinces of China.
The conversion of "Everlasting Pearl," which is the subject of the following narrative, is a part of the harvest which has been reaped in later years by the missionaries of the China Inland Mission, who still continue to carry on the work in this city and neighbourhood.
In April of last year I had the privilege of spending ten days there, and of addressing the Church on the Sundays. On the first Monday morning we watched, with great interest, the departure of some of the country Christians to their homes. The party consisted of a simple-looking company of men and women, clad in the plain blue garments that the country people usually wear. The men were walking, but the few women, with their diminutive feet, were perched on barrows, and one of them was pointed out as being "evangelist, pastor, and Biblewoman, all rolled into one," in the district from which they all came. This was the woman, a part of whose life-story is told in this book, and after reading the many striking incidents which it contains, I gladly welcome the opportunity afforded me of writing a brief introduction.
Even as a study of human life, the story is one that is full of interest. It takes us far away from the ordinary beaten track right into the heart of China; and so intimate is the writer's acquaintance with the habits and customs of the people, that there are few, even of those who know Chinese life well, who will not be able to learn something from reading these pages.
The Chinese are a people of strong character; and although this woman stands out as being possessed of marked ability and determination, there are other lives of which we catch a glimpse in which similar features can be clearly discerned.
It is, however, as an illustration of the power of the Gospel, in the heart of one who was brought up in heathenism, that the narrative possesses its supreme interest. In this case from the time when the great decision was made, after long resistance, to yield to Christ and trust in Him, there was no going back. We read of many trials, sorrows, testings, but the onward and upward course is steadily maintained.
The religious devotee, when converted, always makes a better disciple than the person who has been entirely indifferent to the concerns of the soul; and so it was in the case of "Everlasting Pearl." She clung strongly to the vow that she had taken when she became a vegetarian, and on this account she long withstood the claims of the Gospel; but when at last she heard the call of Christ, then she turned to Him in full surrender and whole-hearted obedience, and became a burning and a shining light amongst her relatives and neighbours.
The reader will observe the record of not a few dreams and visions in the story; but instead of these tending to discredit its truthfulness, they will only confirm it to those who know the life of the people of this class in China.
The statement is constantly being made that the Gospel spreads more through the life and testimony of the converts themselves than by the work of the missionaries. The way in which this woman was brought to Christ, and the way in which she led others to Him, illustrates this fact; but truth is many-sided, and here we also see how large a ministry there still is for the missionaries to exercise, and how much they are needed to help the people in the midst of their struggles, perplexities, and sorrows, by their counsel, kind sympathy, and their prayers.
I have only to add that the account of the early years is given just as it has been told by the woman herself, and the account of the later days is a simple narrative of the facts as they have come under the observation of the writer.
WALTER B. SLOAN.
I. BIRTH AND INFANCY. II. FOOTBINDING III. CHILDHOOD DAYS IV. ENGAGEMENT V. MARRIAGE—PART I VI. MARRIAGE—PART II VII. DARK DAYS VIII. MISERABLE COMFORTERS IX. BROKEN CISTERNS X. WAYS NOT KNOWN XI. THE MESSENGERS OF PEACE XII. THE BEGINNING OF CONFLICT XIII. THE BATTLE GROWS FIERCER XIV. LIGHT AFTER DARKNESS XV. SAVED TO SERVE XVI. PERSECUTION AND TRIAL XVII. LABOUR AND FRUIT XVIII. FRUIT MORE ABUNDANT XIX. PREPARATION FOR FURTHER SERVICE XX. DAYS OF SHADOW XXI. THE SHADOW DEEPENS XXII. ENTERING THE VALLEY XXIII. ANOTHER JEWEL WON FOR CHRIST XXIV. CONCLUSION
EVERLASTING PEARL . . . . . Frontispiece
A PRECIOUS BUNDLE
PLAITING SILK BRAID
A SOURCE OF GREAT DELIGHT
WRITING THE ENGAGEMENT DOCUMENT
ADORNED AS A BRIDE
THE OUT-STATION OF KUCHENG
ANOTHER JEWEL FOR CHRIST
BIRTH AND INFANCY
It was a warm, close day in May, in Central China. The summer heat had just set in, and the inhabitants of Kucheng (Ancient City) were somewhat weary and languid, when a woman brought the news to her neighbour—"A daughter has been born to the Tu family." The news soon spread from door to door. All languor was shaken off, for curiosity got the better of lassitude, and the women, now fully alert, hobbled on their small feet to the little house where farmer Tu lived with his young wife and parents.
The house was a small, unpretentious building, with mud walls and a tiled roof. The interior was like that of all the homes around. If you had seen one, you had a good idea of the appearance of the rest. You entered the guest-hall, where on the wall at the farther end hung a large centre scroll, representing the "Ruler of Heaven," before which incense was lighted morning and evening. On either side of the idol, and on all the pillars you would see paper scrolls pasted up, with trite sayings written in flowery phrases, such as—
"If in your house you walk circumspectly, then when you leave your home you will associate with virtuous friends only."
"If the house is clean and beautiful, an excellent wind will be wafted through it."
"If the flowers give out their fragrance, a bright moon will shine upon them."
On either side of the guest-hall were doors leading into the bedrooms. Into one of these the women crowded eagerly, in search of the little newcomer, shouting, as they entered, their congratulations, first to the grandmother, and then to the parents of the child. On seeing the precious bundle held out to them, decked out in all the new, gorgeous, but uncomfortable clothes bought by the maternal grandmother, one visitor could not help whispering, "What a pity it is not a boy!" But the other women politely interrupted her, and the young mother looked proudly at the "bundle of clothes" handed back to her. It was true she would have preferred a son, so would her husband, and above all her mother-in-law, but as it was their first child, even the little girl received a welcome. Had she been the second or third girl in the family, she would not have had the same kind reception. Very likely she would have been given away to some other family, who would have made her a drudge, and in later years have married her to one of their sons; or she might even have been left to die from want.
But now things were different. Her parents were ready to lavish all their love and kindness on the little girl. They called in the fortune-teller, asking him what her fate would be in after years. He, having been told the day and hour of her birth, declared the child had been born under a lucky star. Her heart was good, her disposition kind and amiable; they need not worry about her, only, he added, she was born to toil and hard work. Satisfied with his prophecies, Mr. Tu paid him his wonted fee, fully believing in his skill.
After a month had elapsed, the relatives and neighbours were invited to a feast in honour of the child. Candles and incense were lighted before the gods, the babe was presented to them, and henceforward she was regarded as under their protection. When the little girl was a year old, the relatives assembled again. The grandmother had brought another lot of presents, among them some beautifully embroidered shoes, as the time had come for the child to learn to walk. She was old enough to notice things, and the baby eyes looked delightedly at her feet, that had never worn shoes before, now so beautifully adorned in the gayest of colours. Again a thank-offering was given to the gods. The grandmother carried the child forward, and this time the baby fingers had to hold the incense that was lighted before the sacred picture.
Thus, instead of being brought to the living, loving Saviour to be blessed, the little Chinese boy or girl is led before the dead idols, and dedicated to them. Do not say, "Oh, it will make no difference, the idols are nothing." The idols are nothing, but there is a fearful power of darkness behind them. The longer one lives in China, the more one feels that in a true sense the Chinese child is dedicated, not to the idols only, but to the prince of darkness himself. And oh! how one longs to lead the parents into the light of Christ, so that they may bring their little ones to Him, who is waiting to bless them.
The name given to the little girl was Ch'ang-Chu, which means "Everlasting Pearl," and a little treasure she proved herself to be to her parents. She was good-natured and kind-hearted, full of life and spirit, and gave much joy to those who watched over her. But it was very seldom—indeed, only on state occasions—that she was called Everlasting Pearl in her home and among her little friends. More often she went by the name of Nue-ku, or "Girl-dog." Her parents, afraid of losing her, had given her this name in order to deceive the evil spirits who might be seeking her life, but who were not likely to trouble themselves about a "dog."
One day, when Everlasting Pearl was about six years old, she saw her mother working on a pair of small shoes, and asked for whom they were. Her mother informed her they were for her, as it was time she had her feet bound. "Your feet are getting so big and clumsy," she said, "and you are running about far too much for a girl. It is high time that you had them bound." Everlasting Pearl made no protest. She knew all girls had to have their feet bound, and, of course, she could not be different from the rest.
So when the shoes were finished the footbinding was begun. But oh, the suffering of it! The mother took a long strip of calico, and wound it tightly round the little foot, bending the toes right under the sole. She did not succeed at once in getting the right size, so she undid the binding and tried again, whilst the little girl cried aloud for pain. Over and over again the process was begun, but not finished, as the shoes were so small that the feet could not be squeezed into them. But at last they were made to fit the shoes, and Everlasting Pearl walked about with sore and aching feet, wondering if they could ever become as small as those of some young girls she knew. Night after night she cried herself to sleep, wondering whether the pain would ever come to an end, and how she could possibly endure it much longer. But there were compensations. Month by month and year by year her feet grew smaller, until her shoes were tinier than those she had worn in her babyhood. Her little girl-companions admired the tiny feet, and respected their owner, and both she and her mother received a great deal of praise from the older women. Her small feet were a sign that her mother cared for her, and meant to marry her well: so the future looked bright and promising.
A few uneventful years passed by; happy ones for the little girl, as she was loved and appreciated by all. Two little brothers had been born in the home, and Everlasting Pearl might often be seen with the younger of them strapped to her back, rocking herself to and fro, and softly cooing to the babe. Or she might be found crouching before the cooking-stove, feeding the fire with brushwood, dried bracken, and fern, trying to use as little fuel as possible; for strict economy had to be practised in that home. At other times she would be sitting on a low stool beside her mother, spinning hemp, not with a spinning-wheel, but separating the threads with her fingers, and afterwards winding the thread into balls. Or she would be learning to sew, to embroider, and to make silk braid. By all these occupations she could only earn about a farthing a day; but that small sum would pay at least for her vegetables, salt, and oil, and even leave a little balance.
During the summer and autumn she often had to take her low stool and work outside, so as to watch the grain, which was drying on a large bamboo mat in front of the house. On such occasions a long bamboo stick lay at her side, and this she used most vigorously, and with as much noise as possible, whenever the inhabitants of the poultry-yard paid her a visit.
But her life was not all work. There were some variations. Her little brothers were a source of great delight to her. Her love for them was intense and motherly, though she would often tease them. When one of them happened to be dawdling over his food, she would do her best to coax him to eat, but often without success, until she playfully exclaimed:
Who first shall be satisfied may do as he wishes, But the last one to finish must wash all the dishes.
Her ready wit often helped to keep herself and others in good temper.
Not only was she full of life and humour, she was also kind and generous, and had sympathy with those who suffered. When, for instance, a poor, blind beggar came to her home, chanting his doleful refrain:
Oh, friends who can see, in heaven you dwell; To have sightless eyes is like living in hell,
her heart would be touched, and she would beg and obtain permission from her mother to give him some rice.
Mrs. Tu was a home-loving and industrious woman, who did not often leave her home, or allow her children to run wild. Once a year, however, there was a big dramatic performance at Kucheng, and then Everlasting Pearl, dressed in her best, was taken to the theatre. These were red-letter days in her life. Chinese plays are mostly very stupid. Often immoral, and almost invariably connected with idolatry, they are a snare to some of the people when they want to break with everything idolatrous. But to the little country girl the theatre was all that could be desired, and gave her much pleasure. She understood little of what she saw and heard there, but was carried away with the excitement and noise.
Another great occasion was that on which the famous god from Tanyoh passed through Kucheng. This deity was supposed to have his abode in Tanyoh, and called it his paternal home; but his maternal home was in Hongtsun, a few miles off, and to that village he paid yearly visits. He was carried with great pomp through Kucheng, and as he passed along all the people came to their doors to bow to him, and implore his blessing and protection. For the little girl this yearly visit of the idol was a very solemn occasion, as she was a firm believer in his power. As yet she had not heard of any greater power; she had never heard of the true and living God. The ugly idol she saw carried through the streets of Kucheng embodied the highest object for her worship, and to him she gave unreserved reverence.
Surely the messengers of Christ had been a long time in reaching Kucheng,—yet it was situated on one of the main roads in China. They had indeed been slow in obeying their Lord's command, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature."
Everlasting Pearl was now thirteen years old, and by many relatives and friends her parents were urged to make arrangements for her future. "You can keep her a few years before you marry her, but she certainly ought to be engaged," was the advice given generally.
A middleman, therefore, had to be found. There are always numerous applicants for that office, as not only is a good fee usually given, but it is considered an honour to be entrusted with the future arrangements for a young couple. On such occasions a great many untruths are often told, which are only discovered after the marriage, when it is too late to mend matters. In Everlasting Pearl's case, the middleman was a relative, one of those who had been urging a speedy engagement.
He took the girl's Pah tsi, and went with these to a family of the name of Hsue, who lived in a village four miles distant. The Cyclical Characters were closely examined, and put in front of the ancestral tablet, incense being lighted before them morning and evening. There they remained for a month, and as nothing happened to disturb the peace of the family during the interval—no child was hurt, no pig died, no rice basin was broken—they were thought to augur only good luck, and to promise well for the alliance of the two families. So Mr. Hsue made out the "Cyclical Characters" of one of his sons, a young man twenty-five years old. He then called in an astrologer, and asked him to compare the two papers and give his verdict as to the advisability of the two young people being joined in marriage. With an important air, this gentleman examined the two papers put before him, and announced that everything was in favour of such an alliance. Several of their characters were alike, the two young people were both born under the "Tiger," and other things agreed as well. Whereupon the two families expressed their satisfaction, and declared themselves ready to arrange for an engagement.
But now the middleman had a busy time of it, for there were many things to settle before the engagement could take place. First of all, he went to Mr. and Mrs. Tu, and asked how much money they would want for their daughter. "As she is our only daughter, we want her to have a good outfit," replied the parents, "so Mr. Hsue must give at least $40 and some good clothes." The list was then made out—$40, ten articles of clothing, a ring, two bracelets, a pair of earrings, and three silver hair ornaments. The indefatigable middleman took the list to the Hsue family, who looked at it critically. After some time of haggling over the different articles, they finally agreed to furnish all, and preparations were begun in full earnest.
The day appointed for the engagement arrived, and there was great excitement in the two homes which were filled with visitors and well-wishers. The feast on both sides had to be provided by the young man's family. About dinner-time, on the day appointed, a party, headed by the middleman, was seen advancing toward Kucheng, carrying a sort of wooden box or basket, with several trays, one piled on top of the other. One tray carried all sorts of sweetmeats and the half of the money, twenty dollars, wrapped in red paper. Another tray was filled with pork and fish; again, another with different kinds of expensive vegetables. Another carrier brought the engagement cake, and five articles of clothing, and all the silver ornaments. Everywhere, scattered among all the things, were cypress leaves, a symbol of longevity and good luck.
On reaching the Tu home, the men with their precious burdens were received with fire-crackers, and eagerly all the things were examined, some of them meeting with approval, others with disapproval. After dinner the party started off again for the Hsue home, taking the return presents. These consisted of the following articles—a hat, a pair of shoes and stockings, a sash, a number of embroidered purses, with a few dollars in them, also some vegetable seeds, peanuts, sunflower seeds, etc. Most of these things were graciously received by the young man and his family, and the parents on both sides were satisfied.
The Engagement Agreement, as binding as a marriage certificate, had been signed by the two families, and Everlasting Pearl's parents had returned it to Mr. and Mrs. Hsue. The girl of thirteen had her future settled for her before she had any idea of what such a future might mean. Her little girl-friends teased her, but there was an added respect in their treatment of her. She dimly realised that somehow she had risen in their estimation and that of others. The change was rather a pleasant one, the new clothes were a welcome addition to her scanty wardrobe, and she was too young to worry about the future.
 The Eight Cyclical Characters appertaining to the hour of a person's birth.
Again we pass over a few years. Everlasting Pearl had now reached the age of seventeen, and her future husband was twenty-nine years old; therefore the day of the wedding was drawing near. The intervening years between engagement and marriage had been busy ones. Little by little the trousseau had been prepared, and was all ready. A lucky day, the third of the eleventh moon, had been chosen for the approaching wedding; and already, a few days before that date, some of the guests began to arrive, each one bringing a present of some garment, or hair flowers, shoes, etc. for the bride. A present of 120 lbs. of pork, 60 lbs. of fish, 12 chickens, and a good supply of expensive vegetables had been sent by the young man, and the guests, with many of whom luxuries were rare, set themselves to enjoy the good things.
The evening before the wedding the middleman arrived with the bridal chair, which was covered all around with red cloth, and embroidered in gay colours. Now the feasting began in real earnest. The pipers struck up their usual melody, and with each hour the excitement grew.
The following morning the trousseau had to be packed, but the bride had nothing to do with it. She did not rise from her bed at all. Her breakfast was brought to her by one of her relatives, and she was exhorted to eat heartily, as that would be her last meal till the following morning. Towards dinner-time she was coaxed to get up, but she persistently refused to do so, and began bemoaning her fate, in having to leave her parents and her own home to go to strangers. Every now and again the mother joined in the wailing, and the relatives stood round them crying, trying in vain to comfort them. After dinner the bride was again urged to get up, but maidenly modesty and her dutifulness to her parents still forbade her to obey. No one should have any reason to say that she was anxious to go. She wanted to show how loath she was to leave her parents, and every one was praising her, and saying that such a dutiful daughter would make a filial daughter-in-law.
But even the most ardent filial piety could not put off the hour of separation much longer. At last she was dragged from her bed by the women who had to prepare her for her journey, and she reluctantly submitted to the preparation. Her hair was shaved all around the edges, the hair in front, which used to make the fringe for the forehead, was pulled out. Then her hair was combed straight back to show that she was now to enter the ranks of the married women. Then she was powdered and painted, and dressed in her bridal attire, which consisted of a red skirt, and red cloak, beautifully embroidered in bright colours, but rather the worse for wear, as it had accompanied the bridal chair on many another journey. The box with the mitre was brought forth and the crown was placed on her head, already too richly adorned with artificial flowers. And now the wailing broke forth beyond all bounds, the young bride and her mother vying with each other in making the greatest possible noise; at times beating their heads against the wall, the bed, or the table in their self-imposed manifestations of sorrow.
Outside, the trousseau was being sent off, as it had to reach the bride's future home before she entered the same. Two men carried a cupboard between them. Others followed with some chairs, and a table covered with candlesticks and all kinds of utensils. A pair of the bride's shoes might also be found, placed within those of the bridegroom's, for, as every one remarked, "The two must now walk together till old age." Others carried a couple of red wooden boxes filled with the clothes and personal belongings of the bride, also a wadded bed-quilt, a bed-curtain, and two embroidered pillows, etc. The whole procession made an imposing show, and the relatives of Everlasting Pearl looked after it with pride. The girl had been well provided for, and could lift up her head without shame before her husband's people.
The bride herself was at that time kneeling in her bedroom on a large sieve (a token that all evil influences are "sifted out" and all good luck and riches "sifted in"), bidding farewell to all her relatives. One by one they were led to her, beginning with her parents and brothers, and ending with the distant relatives, neighbours, and guests. To each one she clung in despair, clutching their feet, and vowing she could not leave them; and she did not let go her hold until a coin, wrapped in red paper, was dropped into the sieve; then, with a few words of comfort, the giver would move away to make room for another, and all the time the red paper parcels increased in number.
When the farewells had nearly come to an end, the middleman urged a speedy departure, and at last, when she still delayed, he entered the room, lifted the weeping girl into his arms, and carried her out into the guest-hall. Standing on the table before the ancestral tablet, she worshipped her dead ancestors for the last time, for from henceforth they were nothing to her, as she would bear another's name. This performance over, the middleman again lifted her up like a child, and placed her in the chair. The little bride was then locked in, the key to the chair resting in the pocket of her guide. Fire-crackers were let off, the pipers piped, and the bride, loudly wailing, was on her way to her future home.
Her brothers followed her for a short distance. After having escorted her for about a mile, they handed her the keys of her boxes and cupboard, bade her a last farewell, and returned home, leaving the middleman and his assistant to escort her all the way. Some ragged little boys were carrying the large lanterns, on which was inscribed her husband's name, in front of her chair; others carried red banners; again, others were beating gongs. One carried the big red umbrella, which only a bride or a Mandarin is allowed to have carried in front of the chair.
It was a proud day in the young girl's life. Everywhere the people crowded round to get a peep at her through the glass windows of her sedan chair. And she, sitting motionless and with bent head all the way, was conscious of the deference paid to her. All the people turned respectfully aside for the procession to pass, and even if a Mandarin had happened to meet her on the way he would have had to turn aside. For once in a lifetime the simple country girl was to be honoured by him, to whom all others had to bow, for, as he would have said, "Who knows if the bride of to-day may not bear a son, who shall far exceed me in position and power?"
Meanwhile the bridegroom's family had not been idle. They had prepared and decorated their house; had put up new red scrolls, and draped the guest-hall and the outside door with red cloth. Large red candles, painted with gold, were burning on a sort of mantelpiece at the top of the room, and new lanterns were adorning the hall.
The bedroom for the bride had also been prepared. A man who had been prosperous in his life and home decided where the bed was to be placed; and a woman equally prosperous in her home made the bed, and took good care that no ill-luck should come near the dwelling of the young couple.
When about a mile's distance from her future husband's home, Everlasting Pearl suddenly ceased her wailing, for it now behoved her to show the right submission. The old life lay behind her; she had mourned for it, but must now prepare for the new life ahead.
She was met by messengers from the Hsue family. The chair was put down and some superstitious rites were performed to drive away the evil influences which she might have encountered by the way. And then, as it was getting dark, the lanterns were lighted for the last stage of the journey, and soon she was carried into her new home. She entered it to the sound of fire-crackers, music, beating of gongs, and the shouts of all the people who had gathered in great numbers, each one present trying to catch the first glimpse of the bride.
The bridal chair was put down in the guest-hall, and there it remained. After what seemed an exceptionally long waiting time, the door was unlocked, but still the bride could not move. At last, a woman, the proud mother of several sons, came forward and helped her out of the chair. Two little girls, richly adorned with flowers, were waiting, one on either side of the chair, to offer her some tea. After that she was led into the room prepared for her. Her own furniture had already been placed in the room, and the bridegroom, clad in official robes, was standing near the bed, waiting for her. Then they both sat down, a table was placed before them with two basins of rice, some eggs, vermicelli, and a chicken leg for each. Not much of it was eaten, however; the little bride, still veiled, could touch nothing, but the guests, who had crowded into the room to stare at her, helped themselves freely to the rice.
After a short time the bridegroom left the room, and a little later the bride was led out to the public guest-hall, supported by two women. The young man was waiting for her. They took their stand in front of the ancestral tablet side by side, and now the real wedding ceremony began.
A wadded quilt, covered with red, was spread on a mat on the floor, the bride and bridegroom knelt down on it, and three times worshipped their ancestors, their heads touching the ground each time. Then they turned round and worshipped "Heaven and earth" in the same way. Afterwards two cups of wine were brought from the table. The man who was supporting the bridegroom offered the latter one of the cups, and the second one was held to the lips of the bride by the women in charge of her. Then the wine from the two cups was mixed, and each one took a sip from the same cup, indicating that from now on they were united, and must share life together, whilst some of the bystanders laughingly chanted:
Together they walk, each other aid, The knot is tied, the covenant made.
The first ceremony had come to an end. Bride and bridegroom bowed to each other, and then the latter lifted the veil, and beheld for the first time the face of the girl who had been given him to wife! The crowd was getting excited, and from all sides the shout arose:
Oh, with what joy the hour we hail, When time has come to lift the veil.
The poor little bride was getting weary, and her bridesmaid led her back to the bedroom, closely followed by the bridegroom. For a few moments they took their stand together in front of the bed, but soon the young man went out of the room, threw off his wedding garments, and began to help in looking after the guests. Soon all of them were feasting around a number of square tables, the bridegroom being one of the busiest in ministering to them.
But the bride had not got over her ordeal. The whole evening she was made a gazing-stock to all. Any one might go in to stare at her, and acquaintances of the bridegroom and even strangers who crowded into the room were allowed to make any remarks they liked. The children were dancing around her singing:
Little bride, little bride! You climbed the wall from the other side!
Every now and again this refrain was started, and sometimes a more mischievous boy or girl would take it up, adding another line:
Little bride, little bride! You climbed the wall from the other side! And to steal our potatoes moreover tried!
Later on, a table was spread in front of the bride, and a few intimate friends and relatives had their supper with her, but she herself could touch nothing. She was sitting on the edge of the bed, trying to keep calm and composed; no smile lit up her face, no word was uttered, and it was very seldom that a sentence was addressed to her.
In the middle of the many courses, her mitre was placed on her head again, and she was led out to the guest-hall. With a wine cup in her hand, she went from table to table, and bowed low to her husband's friends. Their cups were filled afresh, and each one took a drink in honour of the bride, while the band played vigorously. After she had finished her round, she went back to her bedroom till the feasting was over.
It was then getting late, and the young bridegroom entered, accompanied by his friends, who were carrying big red candles in front of him, and sending off fire-crackers. They did not leave the young people till after midnight, and not before having tried to get hold of as many of their belongings as possible. These they endeavoured to hide, and a good thing it was that the bride had got plenty of sweets, peanuts, beans, etc., for all the stolen articles had to be redeemed the following morning.
After a few short hours of rest, the young people had to get ready for breakfast, and soon afterwards the second part of the wedding ceremony began, the part which is called Fen ta siao, which, literally translated, means "To distinguish between great and small." Bride and bridegroom were arrayed once more in their wedding robes, and proceeded to the guest-hall where all the relatives were assembled. Again the two knelt together on the red quilt, bowing their heads three times to the ground before Mr. and Mrs. Hsue, who bowed in return. Mr. Hsue threw down the keys of the household before the young people. He had, however, no thought of giving them any responsibility, and every intention of getting the keys back into his own pockets and keeping them there.
Then the uncles and aunts were led forward, to whom was paid the same respect. The brothers, cousins, and other relatives came next, but being of the same generation as the bride and bridegroom, they also knelt down and "worshipped" them in return. Each relative put a piece of money, wrapped in red paper, on a tray placed there for that purpose, and, when filled, it was carried to the bride's room until a more convenient time was found for the counting of the money.
The whole party, headed by the bridegroom and the bride, then proceeded to the kitchen for the purpose of worshipping the kitchen god. The bridegroom carried a rice measure with a lamp placed in it, the bride a brush for cleaning the cooking pan. Many superstitious rites are connected with the worship in the kitchen, the smallest detail has its own meaning, but it would be too tedious to relate all.
The dinner came next, and this time the bride had to take the seat of honour at the top table, but once seated there, she remained as silent as the night before, and ate nothing. Again she went round to bow to the guests at the different tables, who all stood up and solemnly drank her health.
After dinner she was allowed to put off her bridal attire, and wear some of the clothes sent her by her husband. She was also permitted to throw off some of the reserve of the past days, and could talk more freely to those around her.
The following day a messenger arrived from Mr. and Mrs. Tu, inviting the young couple to return to the bride's home for dinner. They were both carried in sedan chairs, and had to wear most of their wedding garments again. They were very careful and modest in their behaviour,—young Hsue especially was afraid of offending in word or deed,—and they were not sorry when, soon after the formal dinner, they could once more return home. Another formal visit had to be paid, about two months later, at the beginning of the Chinese New Year, to the bride's home, but then a more free and natural relationship was established between the two families.
The home Everlasting Pearl had entered was not a rich one. The members were all simple, hard-working people, ordinary country farmers who had to earn their living by the sweat of their brow. But they were honest and peace-loving, and the five brothers worked together in unity. Although one of the Chinese sages had said:
Let brotherly love in the home abound And to gold will be changed the dust of the ground,
the gold seemed a long time coming to the Hsue family. They were able by steady work to make a comfortable living at their farming, but there was little over to make a fortune. On the whole, Everlasting Pearl was moderately happy. Her husband was quite satisfied with his bright young wife, and treated her kindly. The mother-in-law was rather hard on her and inconsiderate, but the father-in-law loved her as a daughter, and made things as easy as possible. Her husband's brothers, too, were kind, and she went about her common task cheerfully, quite ready to take her share in the household work.
Four years passed peacefully, but no child came to gladden the home, and that was a sore disappointment to the young people. The mother-in-law too was disappointed, and did not look very kindly on the young wife who was trying so hard to do her duty. Old Mr. Hsue had left this world. For three days and nights the Taoist priests had come to chant their formulas, promising to cleanse the house from evil spirits, and to break open the door of hell and rescue the soul of the departed father. There was real sorrow in Everlasting Pearl's heart as she knelt near the coffin wailing. The old man had been like a father to her, and had helped her over many rough places. She knew things would be harder without him, but little did she realize what heavy trials awaited her. A merciful God had hidden the knowledge from her sight, or her inborn courage might have failed.
During the fifth year of Everlasting Pearl's married life her sorrows began. Twice within a few months she was summoned to the deathbed of her loved ones. She first knelt mourning at the grave of her father; and then, before that sorrow had had time to lose its sting, she was throwing herself in agony over the body of her dead mother, the mother who had always loved her so tenderly. And death was fearful to her. The "three souls and seven spirits" had evidently all taken their departure. Where had they gone? If only she knew, the separation would not be so hard. But there was no one to solve the mystery for her; no ray of light to dispel the darkness and fear that crept over her; no hope of a reunion; no Resurrection Morning to look forward to, and therefore no comfort to lighten her sorrow.
But greater trials were yet in store. The brothers did not work quite so well together after old Mr. Hsue's death, and decided to divide their fields between them, which they did equally and peacefully, and each one set up for himself. Everlasting Pearl and her husband worked harder than ever, as now all the profit they made would be their own. The harvest promised to be a good one. In the beginning of the sixth moon, after the early crops of rice had been cut, they ate their new rice on the day appointed by the Mandarin. Before touching any of the food they took it to the temple near by, and earnestly invoked the blessing of the gods on the new grain, after which they sat down to partake of it without any fear of sickness or trouble coming to them that year.
But alas! Only a few days later the husband was taken ill, and day by day became worse. The wife was naturally anxious, and when his illness deprived him of his reason, her cup of sorrow seemed full. For three years he was raving mad, and often, when in one of his fits of rage, he would ill-treat his wife. These fits might come on without any warning, day or night, so that she was kept in constant fear.
These were dark days indeed for the young wife. Not only had she to nurse her husband, but she was obliged to do a great deal of his work in the fields, although it required a man's strength. Bravely she plodded on, but often lost heart and gave herself up to her sorrow. If only her parents or her father-in-law had been alive, they would have comforted her. If only she were not so alone in the world. If only she had had a child of her own to love and to work for, she could have borne it better. Many a time she would repeat the sad cry of the childless wife:
No son, no daughter to call my own, Thus daily my pitiful lot I bemoan!
How hard it was to be all alone, without a refuge to turn to, without some one to share her sorrow. How her heart longed for comfort, but there was none to give it. How she needed a friend to stand by her, but none was found. Alas! no one had told her of "the Friend that sticketh closer than a brother." She was so weary and burdened, but no one had ever whispered in her ear the sweet and tender invitation of the great Rest-Giver: "Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." No one around her knew of that blessed invitation, for the messengers to whom it had been entrusted had been sleeping and taking their rest, neglecting their Lord's command, and forgetting that "the King's business requireth haste."
The case of Everlasting Pearl's husband was a hopeless one, and despair took possession of both mother and wife as time went on. They exhausted all the means in their power, but very soon realized that vain was the help of man, for the doctors could do nothing for him. They then turned to the spirits and implored their help. In these surely they would not be disappointed.
First of all they sent to a medium to ask what was the matter. She told them that the sick man had lost a soul, and they would have to go out and find it. A party of them, therefore, quickly set out, carrying a measure of rice, which they strewed by the way to show the spirit the direction home. At every step Everlasting Pearl frantically called out, "My husband, come home, come home." Each time, when her cry arose, the rest of the party answered with assurance, "He has come home, he has come home." But when they returned, after their weary tramp, the lost soul had not found its way home, and there was no improvement in the condition of the patient.
A few days later, the mother decided that they would have to call in a Taoist priest for a ceremony called kan tong, or "influence." In the middle of the afternoon, when the spirits were supposed to have come out of their hiding-places, the priest started his work. Three men were beating the gong and drum most vigorously, while he himself took three sticks of incense and worshipped the idol hanging before him. Then he drew a tiger on two pieces of paper, put them down on the ground, and called for the chosen medium. A relative of young Hsue, with a red turban round his head, stepped forward, and took his stand somewhat reluctantly on the tigers. He had seen other mediums return with their bodily and mental health impaired, and he had no desire to risk his own; but his duty and brotherly love bade him perform this service for his young kinsman.
The priest now began chanting his formulas to the beating of the gong, keeping his eyes steadfastly fixed on the medium, watching for the latter to show signs of being mesmerized. After a time, when the pupils of the eyes began to dilate, and when the man started jumping, as the tigers were unable to keep his feet quiet any longer, the priest asked, "Have you seen light?" The medium answered in the affirmative, and off he dashed, whilst a number prepared to follow him. They were horribly painted and armed with pitchforks. On and on they rushed, calling for the soul. Anything more devilish can hardly be imagined. Suddenly the medium stopped in one of the fields, and declared that that was the place where the soul had been lost. Lighting their incense, they called loudly for the soul, till the medium rushed off home again, telling them the soul would return with them, and the sick man would recover. But again the gods had played them false, for the sick man got worse instead of better.
What was to be done next? An astrologer's advice was sought, and readily given. He informed them that they had made a mistake the first time, when they called in the Taoist priest, and that the wrong ceremony had been performed. They must call in four Taoist priests to perform for a day and a night, so as to drive away the evil spirits which had taken possession of the sick man. The house was accordingly decorated with idols on all sides, and the four priests began their work. The noise in the house was almost unbearable, and thus it continued for twenty-four hours, after which time the priests announced young Hsue to be out of danger, as the evil spirits had taken their departure. In reality there was only one thing that had taken its departure, and that was the money possessed by the Hsue family, which had now found its way into the roomy pockets of the priests.
The young wife was almost in despair. But it never occurred to her, or to any one else in the family, to blame the idols or the priests. Very likely they had not done enough for the sick man. They would call the Taoist priests again, and let them go on for three days and three nights. But where was the money to come from? A consultation was held, and it was decided to mortgage the fields in order to get the money needed. Of course it would mean poverty afterwards, but that point could not be considered just now; all that mattered was to get the young man well again. So the fields were mortgaged, and the priests were more than pleased to come again. Needless to say they succeeded no better than before, but that did not trouble them.
At last the whole family gave up in despair. It was true there was still the rite called "The turning of tables," but that was too expensive, and there was no money left for it. Nothing more could be done. Young Hsue would have to be left to his fate, and they had to resign themselves and make the best of their difficulties.
Time dragged wearily on in that afflicted household, and Everlasting Pearl walked about with a heavy heart. Her brothers-in-law felt sorry for her, and several times offered to kill her husband, or get rid of him somehow, thinking they might do the young wife a service. But she refused to accept their offer, and said she would much rather do his work, and earn what was necessary to supply his needs as well as her own. He had been kind to her, and had worked for her in earlier years, and now, in his weakness, it was her turn to work for him.
Day after day and month after month she toiled on, through hard work and sorrow and trials, often suffering herself both in body and mind; and all this had to be borne without a shadow of comfort. She knew nothing about the "God of all comfort," and had never heard of Him who "day by day beareth our burden." No wonder she was at times almost driven to despair, and cried out for a ray of light in the darkness, for a flicker of hope amid the hopeless condition and sad chaos of her life. Through all the bitter days of suffering her mind was turned to the things hereafter, and she determined that if she had to toil and suffer here she would, if at all possible, do something to escape the suffering in the life to come. But how should she begin? What was she to do? Was there anything that could give her aching heart some comfort, her despairing soul some hope? Was it possible to flee from the suffering in the next world? for that such existed she was sure, and her heart cried out for deliverance.
In the neighbourhood a great many vegetarians resided, and one day, when Everlasting Pearl was engaged in irrigating the field, a woman, one of the leaders among the vegetarians, passed by. Of course she knew all about the trouble of the young wife, and stopped to speak to her. Everlasting Pearl instantly ceased her work. The sun was just then at its hottest stage, and as she had been standing the whole morning exposed to its scorching rays, doing work which was far too heavy for any woman, her tired body was glad of a moment's rest. The kind words of the woman went to her heart, so she soon confided all her troubles to her. The listener had only one way of helping her, and began to exhort her to become a vegetarian for life. She offered to look upon her as a daughter, and declared herself willing to instruct her in the vegetarian doctrine.
Everlasting Pearl eagerly reached out after the comfort promised. The necessary rosary was bought. She went to the leaders of the vegetarian sect, and told them of her decision. They gladly welcomed her among their number, gave her a book and the necessary instructions, with many exhortations to be steadfast in the way she had begun to walk. If she remained firm to the end, they promised her what her heart desired, a life hereafter without any suffering. Through her life as a vegetarian she would be accumulating merit day by day, and would be able to lay up such a large store for herself that she would not have to pass through all the usual stages of transmigration in the next world, but would be able to go straight to the goal she had set before her, the "Western Heaven," or "Paradise."
Everlasting Pearl started as a vegetarian when she was twenty-two years old, at the advice of the woman whom, from that time on, she adopted as her mother. She did so in uprightness of heart, seeking after the truth, and as determination and steadfastness were two very strong traits in her character, she found it easier than many others to keep to what she had promised.
Seldom had the vegetarian cause had a more decided and devout follower than she was, and Everlasting Pearl soon won a name among the members of her faith, and far beyond that circle. She was deeply respected, not only for her steadfastness of purpose, but also for her general conduct, which was in the eyes of men blameless. Every evening, when her day's work was done, she would take down her beads, and, kneeling down before the picture of Buddha, would repeat over and over again O-mi-to-fuh—"In Buddha do I put my trust," counting her beads all the time. Sometimes she continued till far into the night; thousands of times she would count her rosary, trying to persuade herself that she had found relief from her suffering. In reality her heart remained empty and devoid of any true comfort. The longer she went on, the more her assurance grew. After all, it was the next world she was working for, and all things would come out right in the end.
But God, who looks upon the intents and motives of the heart, saw this poor, struggling soul trying to grope her way in the darkness, and determined to work out her own salvation, since she had no one to show her the true way. In His love and pity He had laid up a better inheritance for her, and in His own way, all unknown to her, He began to lay His plans for bringing her into contact with His children and the messengers of Peace. Slowly, but surely, all things worked together for her good, and for the salvation of her soul.
WAYS NOT KNOWN
As mentioned previously, Everlasting Pearl's husband was raving mad for three years. Then he took a turn for the better, but was still insane and unable to do any work. For seven years he remained in that condition, and then, when death knocked at the door, it seemed to bring relief to the members of the family.
A few months later Everlasting Pearl was persuaded to marry a widower, a quiet, honest tailor, who lived at Kucheng. So she returned to the place of her birth, and found a real home awaiting her. Mr. Lue, her husband, was a man of sterling worth, and soon a real affection sprang up between them. Mrs. Lue, for as such Everlasting Pearl will now appear, was very happy, and fully appreciated her change of circumstances.
Mr. Lue had three little children when his new wife entered his home; but about a month later one child died. He had been ill for some time, and Mrs. Lue's motherly care could not save him from death. A second son died three years later, apparently from the same illness, both seeming to waste away. Their mother had died from consumption, and evidently her weakness had affected the children. Only one child, a brother's son, remained, and Mrs. Lue took him to her loving heart. The lad, in his turn, lavished all his childish affection on her, for she was a real mother to him.
About two years after her marriage to Mr. Lue, the latter was asked by a neighbour, who was a seeker after the Truth, to accompany him to the Gospel Hall. We were then holding meetings in the house of a Christian, who lived in a village about two miles' distance from Kucheng. But Mr. Lue, being a very nervous man, felt shy about going and shrank from meeting strangers, especially when these appeared in the form of foreigners. Moreover, he was loath to give up his time without having a sure compensation for it, as he was hard-working, and did not like to spend an hour in vain. So he refused to go.
Another two years passed by. The Boxer troubles had quietened down, and the workers who had returned were again holding meetings in the little village near Kucheng. The place was very hard, the Christians cold, and the man in whose house the services were held was not on good terms with the other Church members in the village. One Sunday, when the writer was there, her heart was specially heavy. The coldness was appalling, and she came to the point where she said, "Lord, I cannot go on with the work here. If Thou dost not show forth Thy mighty power in doing a new thing in this place, I must give it up!" The spiritual battle was a fearful and exhausting one. Returning home to the central station, she told her fellow-workers how she felt, and all set to pray for that place as never before, claiming victory from the Lord. A month later, the writer visited that centre again in fear and trembling; but the Lord had already begun to work. He was manifestly in the midst, and it was easily realized that God had granted a real answer to prayer.
In one of the meetings one of the Christians humbly confessed his sin before God, and asked for forgiveness and for strength to walk in newness of life. Another Christian gave a bright testimony. Life was beginning to get into the dead bones. That Sunday morning, too, a new enquirer came to the meetings, and stayed for the whole day. His presence there seemed to be a promise of coming blessing. And this impression was not wrong, for the following month a few others came with him, some of them from Kucheng. One of these enquirers invited Mr. Lue to the services, and this time he consented. Well does the writer remember the first Sunday he came. His face and manner alike were altogether out of the ordinary, and somehow, from the very beginning, a conviction was received that God had chosen him for Himself. From that very day a work was begun in his heart.
Soon the little meeting-place became too small for the congregation, and a house was rented at Kucheng. Many enquirers had gathered around this centre, some with mixed motives, it is true. There were those who only came for worldly advantages, and these soon dropped off. Others were touched by the Spirit of God, and a real work was begun in their hearts. But two or three years later, when they had to make their decision for or against Christ, when they had to count the cost, which in some cases was a heavy one, they were not willing to pay the price, and gradually grew cold and indifferent. Some of them caused real disappointment, as they had been so bright and promising. But there were a few who went steadily on, and among them was Mr. Lue. He never wavered, never missed a Sunday. Although in the beginning he used to do some pressing work after the Sunday meetings, it was pointed out to him one night that it was not only he who should keep the day of rest, but all within his house. He listened and understood, and the next morning, being Sunday, he brought his son to the services. From that day he never sent him to work again on the Sunday. To those who knew that Mr. Lue had never wasted an hour before, or let his work stop for any pleasure of his own, it was a real miracle that he should now be willing to allow his whole household rest on Sunday. What had happened to the man? What power was there in that strange religion that could make him forgo all the money a weekly day of rest meant to him and his family? What was it that had given the timid and reserved man courage to speak out freely about the new life that had opened up before him, and had made him strong to stand against all the ridicule that was heaped upon him in many of the houses where he worked? A God who could bring about such a change was a God indeed.
From the very beginning, Mr. Lue showed unusual understanding about spiritual things. Was it not because he believed God and took Him simply at His word? He never attempted to bring in his own wisdom, never leaned to his own understanding. Very often, when asked questions about spiritual matters, his answers would cause astonishment and surprise. The Spirit of God was taking of the things of Christ, and showing them unto him, and day by day his faith grew stronger and his trust in the Lord firmer.
THE MESSENGERS OF PEACE
When first Mr. Lue began to attend the services his wife did not like it. She exhorted him to continue in the old way, living a quiet and respectable life lest he should be involved in difficulties and trouble because of his friendship with the foreigners. But when she saw that his mind was made up, she left him alone.
The writer's first acquaintance with Mrs. Lue dates back to the spring of 1902, when the out-station at Kucheng was opened. The house that was rented adjoined that belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Lue, and when the writer, in company with a Christian woman who was to fill the office of chapel-keeper, arrived in Kucheng late one evening, Mr. and Mrs. Lue were there to receive us. The enquirers had had the house cleaned up and prepared for our coming, and the key to the house had been given to Mr. Lue. His wife's mind was rather in a state of confusion. She tried to persuade herself that the coming of this strange religion, which seemed to take a wonderful hold on the minds of people, could be nothing to her, as her way was the only right one. But, of course, she must be neighbourly. Moreover, the strangers were friends of her husband, and her loyalty to him bade her do all in her power to be kind to the new-comers. Thus it came about that she, together with her husband, gave us a hearty welcome, and informed us that supper had already been prepared. Our heart went out to Mrs. Lue, and very soon a firm friendship was established. She was exceedingly kind, but there she stopped. She was very pleased to see her husband and other members of the family becoming Christians, and even exhorted them to be steadfast and give their whole hearts to what they believed. But they were not to ask her to accept their creed. She must go her own way, and pursue the path she had marked out for herself for so many years. The doctrine was very good, she said, and she did not mind attending the meetings. That could not do her any harm, as she intended to go no further. Thus everything went on smoothly, Satan left her in peace, whilst others kept on praying for her and claiming this precious soul for the Lord. It was impossible not to realize what a power this woman would have for good, if only she were won for the Master, and very soon some of us received the assurance that one day she would become a trophy of His grace.
All during that summer Mrs. Lue continued to attend the meetings, and she enjoyed them thoroughly. In spite of herself she got more and more interested in what she saw and heard. In the autumn of that year the writer stayed at Kucheng for a fortnight, and while there held Bible Study for the men twice a week, and although visiting some of the villages around, gave a good deal of time in teaching the women and children to read. Mrs. Lue came as usual, and as she was more intelligent than the average Chinese woman, she not only obtained a good deal of knowledge concerning salvation in Christ Jesus, but learned to read quite a little and enjoyed it with all her heart.
Something happened at that time which made a great impression on her mind. Early one morning a dreadful quarrel broke out in Mr. Lue's house. It seemed incredible, as they were a very affectionate family. But there was no doubt about it; Mrs. Lue had completely lost her temper with her brother, and was scolding and swearing like any other Chinese woman. For a while the writer kept quiet, but as the quarrel continued and increased, we dressed quickly, and made our way to the place from which the angry voices came. Mr. Lue was sitting there, meekly listening, and evidently on his wife's side, but not opening his lips, while Mrs. Lue could not control her voice for anger. The writer, putting her hand on Mrs. Lue's shoulder, said, "Mrs. Lue, what are you doing this morning? I never heard you like this before." Then she narrated all, and added, "If only he would keep quiet and not answer back, I would get over my anger; but when he retaliates, I lose my temper altogether, and he ought to have done what I told him!" We said it was quite true, but she was wrong in saying all these things against her brother, which she really did not mean, and which would only rile him instead of bringing him to his sense of duty. After being exhorted to keep quiet, she calmed down.
When returning home, we met the brother, who had been hiding in the kitchen, and had evidently been listening to what had been said to his sister. Going up to him we said, "Look here, you know you are in the wrong. Your sister has your good at heart, and has only asked you to do what it was your duty to do. Now say nothing more about it, but go and do it, and you will all have peace again." He looked very shamefaced for a moment, then he got the victory and said, "Very well, I will do it." And with that he went out to do his work, and the quarrel was ended.
But the best result was yet to follow in two hearts. Towards noon Mrs. Lue appeared, looking very sad and dejected. She said how miserable she was because she had given way to anger; that after all these years of trying to live uprightly and do her duty by all, she had no control over herself when she was roused to anger. "So that is all your many years of vegetarianism have done for you," the writer added. The tears started to her eyes, and she answered, "That is all. I have no more control over myself than I had seventeen years ago, when I first started as a vegetarian." Solemnly and tenderly we pointed her to the cleansing and keeping power of Christ. She listened eagerly, for her heart was sad and weary.
Her brother, as yet, had not been willing to come to the meetings, although his brother-in-law had tried earnestly to persuade him to do so. But that night he walked in and smiled happily, evidently glad that the little domestic scene had ended so well. So there was a double victory won, for from that time he came off and on, till about a year later, when he started to come regularly, and ultimately became a real enquirer after the Truth. When the writer left for home in November it was impossible not to praise God for all the blessing He had given in Kucheng, and to hope and pray for greater things.
THE BEGINNING OF CONFLICT
A few weeks went by, and then Miss M—— paid a visit to Kucheng. On her return she said that Mrs. Lue had stopped coming to the meetings, as she was frightened. At night she was haunted by horrible dreams, and was afraid she had sinned against her cause in learning our doctrine, and in listening to the preaching of the Word. So she stayed away altogether, and began reciting her prayers to Buddha more diligently than ever before. She determined never to give up her vow, but to go steadily on, and to be even more earnest in the future, so that if possible she might find peace and rest for her soul.
In that state we found her when next we visited the place. She was so unhappy. Till late into the night she could be heard counting her beads, and reciting her O-mi-to-fuh, in earnest and pleading tones.
One Sunday, after the meeting, her husband took down the idols and burned them publicly. Even to please his wife he could not leave them any longer. The ancestral tablet was destroyed the same day, and some Christian scrolls and pictures were hung up, to show that henceforth the Lord Jesus was to be Master in the house instead of Satan. His real power was to take the place of the imagined power at the disposal of the idols. Mr. Lue was so happy when his house was cleansed from everything idolatrous, and we heartily rejoiced with him, praising God for his salvation and for his bright testimony.
But as for Mrs. Lue, her face was a picture of sadness. She had not dared to come to the meeting, but came privately afterwards. We asked her why she had been sitting alone and miserable in her own house, when she might have been gathering with others joyfully before the Lord. The tears started to her eyes, as she answered, "I do want to come, oh so much, but I dare not, I dare not!" When asked what she was going to do now, as all the idols had been burned, she said she would have to recite her prayers without a Buddha to burn incense to.
"What about your beads? Where are they going to be hung?"
"Oh, I don't know. My husband says they cannot be hung on the wall beside the Word of God."
"You will have to put them in the bedroom."
"That will not do either, for my husband shares that with me, and he will not have them there."
"Well, then, you must make a corner somewhere in the house, all to yourself," we told her laughingly, but not laughing in our heart.
Her suffering was evident to all; and one day one of the enquirers suggested that her husband should secretly give her an egg to eat, and so break her vow. Turning round, he said, "No, I do not want to do this, but will continue to pray for her. When the Holy Spirit opens her understanding, she will break it herself." This gave us an opportunity of telling him and all present that the Lord would not compel any one to serve Him, but wanted a willing people. We must wait, until in His light she would see light, and realize her nothingness and the utter vanity of her own striving after righteousness. So she was left with Him who was able to remove the veil from her face, and lead her into the true and living way, fully assured that He had already begun a gracious work in her heart.
THE BATTLE GROWS FIERCER
At that time the Lord began to prepare Mrs. Lue's heart through dreams and visions, as is so often His way in heathen countries. Once after her husband had forbidden her to have idols and burn incense in his house, she was sitting alone in the evening, feeling dejected and forlorn, and sadly counting her beads to herself. At last she grew too weary to continue and sought her pillow. That night she dreamed that some one she had never seen before came to her, put his foot on her breast, and said, "And still you will continue to recite your prayers to Buddha!" She awoke terrified, and for a long time was unable to shake off the fear that had laid hold of her heart.
Another time one of the Biblewomen had been telling her about the Lord being the great Physician, and that He was able to heal her from the infirmities she had had since the time she had been working too hard for her strength. When she went to rest that evening she dreamed that she saw a rope, in the shape of a circle, swinging between heaven and earth, and on it an old man was standing. After a while he came close up to her, and said, "Trust me, I have come to heal you." When she awoke, she was wondering if it was God who had appeared to her in a vision.
Time after time, when we visited Kucheng, she would tell us of her experiences, her dreams and visions, her fears and conflicts. Night after night she would dream that somebody was setting meat and fish before her, tempting her to eat, whilst she turned away determined not to be tempted, not to defile herself, not to lose the merit she had stored up for herself all these many years. Day and night her mind was in confusion. She dreaded the night with its visions, and could not welcome the day that would only bring her unrest. In her agony she cried out, "No, I will never go back. I will be steadfast to the very end, and keep my vow till death. Others may walk their different ways, but no one shall make me change. I have never doubted, have never been vacillating, and am not going to be so now."
Oh! how she longed for peace, but none came to end all her struggles, for they only increased. But God had chosen her for Himself, and could not give her heart rest until it rested in Him for whom it was made. But she did not see that all her struggles were "cords of love" with which the Father was trying to draw her to Himself. One day she said to me, "If you only knew what I suffer. But it is impossible to put into words what I have been passing through. It is as if two mighty powers were fighting about me, and I am just torn between the two." "Quite true," we answered; "two great Powers, God and the Devil, are fighting for you; both want you, but God will conquer." It was pitiful to behold her sufferings. We had never seen any conflict like it in China, and our heart cried out to the Lord for the deliverance which we knew must surely come.
The following day she spoke again about her two dreams. She dreamed that with many others she went to worship a removed idol, the one she had so often looked upon with awe in her childhood days. One after another went to kneel down before the idol, worshipping it, and praying for health and happiness. But when, after some time of patient waiting, her turn came, something strange happened. She was just about to kneel down, when the idol took off his hat, and showed her his head, which was bald from a loathsome skin disease. He told her he was false all through, and she was not to worship him. Why should he reveal to her what he had hidden from the other worshippers? When she awoke she kept pondering over the meaning of it all.
Another dream was that she was trying to settle a quarrel, and in doing so received a wound in her leg. She looked down to where the cut was, and to her horror she saw no flesh revealed, but only straw. She examined it closely, but it seemed to be the same all through; she had nothing but straw inside, and she turned from the sight that had met her eyes in horror and despair. She was not able to get away from that dream, feeling quite sure that it had some special teaching in it for her, and she turned to the writer to help her understand what it might mean. Recognizing that the dream was from God, that He was teaching her through these visions, we lifted our heart to God in prayer. We were standing beside a stack of straw in Mrs. Lue's yard. Pulling out one straw, and showing it to her, we said, "Do you see that straw? Now, how much is it worth? You just touch it and it is broken. There is no real value in it. Suppose you take a match and set fire to this whole stack of straw, in a few minutes all would be burned up, nothing but ashes would remain. As with this straw, so will it be with all the merit you think you have stored up for the life to come. The Word of God says that everything which is not built on Christ as the foundation is wood, hay, and stubble, and shall be burned up. So all your supposed merit will vanish when the day of reckoning comes. There is no real, lasting value in it; it will all be burned up, only the ashes will remain, and you will have nothing with which to appear before God. But all that is built on Christ Jesus will abide."
This interpretation may not appeal to Western minds, but it made a deep impression on Mrs. Lue, and we believe it was the message God meant for her. That night she came again to the meeting. She could stay away no longer, the time of her deliverance was drawing nigh.
LIGHT AFTER DARKNESS
Quite a few weeks elapsed before we went to Kucheng again, and during that interval nothing had been heard of Mrs. Lue. But we had not been silent before the Throne of Grace. When we reached Kucheng, several met us at the gate, shouting, "We have good news for you, which will give you great joy; Mrs. Lue is now your friend indeed, she has broken her vow, and has been eating meat for the first time to-day!" That was good news indeed, and there is no need to tell what joy this news brought; indeed, it would be impossible to do so. How we did praise God for having answered prayer and given such a glorious deliverance. And that song of praise rose higher when we heard from Mrs. Lue's own lips the full story of God's dealings with her.
She met us with a radiant face, and began immediately to tell how it was the Lord Himself who had constrained her to yield. No other power or person could have done so. The story must be told in her own words.
"After you had left me," she said, "I was still restless and could find no peace. As the days passed by, I became more and more miserable, and at night my sleep was disturbed by all kinds of dreams. I knew I ought to trust God and break my vow, but I could not. I felt I must go on in the way I had walked for so long, and I determined again not to turn to anything or to anybody else. But one night, in my dream, I saw the old tailor who is living with us and who is earnestly seeking after God, standing before me in new, beautiful garments. He was altogether changed, and oh how glorious he was. At that moment, when I was overwhelmed with the appearance of the old man, I caught sight of some blood which seemed to flow from his heart, and I cried out, 'That is the blood of Jesus, the Son of God, which has cleansed away his sin. That is why he is so beautiful.' How I wished I were like him!
"After that I awoke, but soon went to sleep again, and then another vision came. Some one with supernatural strength caught hold of me. His grasp was so firm that I had no power to move a finger, and I screamed out, asking him to free me. But he answered, 'Unless you promise to give up your vegetarian vow, I will not let you go.' Now I knew it was the Lord speaking to me, and in my terror I cried out, 'Yes, Lord, I will, I will give up my vow.' Still He kept His hold on me, and said, 'Unless you promise that you will not only give up your vow, but repent with your whole heart, I will not let you go.' Again I replied, 'Yes, Lord, I will repent with my whole heart, only let me go, and I will serve Thee.' As soon as I had promised, He let me go, and I awoke, feeling so free and happy. My chains were gone, my fetters broken, and all my unrest had departed.
"The following day I kept repeating, 'Lord, I have repented. I have promised to serve Thee, and I will keep my promise to the very end.' My heart is filled with joy and peace, and now I want to tell you that you may not worry or be anxious about me any more. You have fought the battle with me, you have prayed much for me, you have often felt sad and anxious about me, but now you can be at rest. It is God Himself who has made me take this step, who was too strong for me, and there is no turning back."
That was Mrs. Lue's story. What joy it brought to us as we stood and listened to that testimony. She had spoken truly, "there was no turning back," and so there was only grateful praise in our heart, no fear for the future, for the victory had been won once for all. Mrs. Lue's conversion was like that of the Apostle Paul, a radical change; and like him she began to preach boldly the Truth in Christ Jesus. All who saw and heard her marvelled and could not understand what had brought about such a change. Over and over again she had to tell the wonderful story of her conversion, and it made a deep impression on many.
The vegetarian leaders were angry, and came time after time to try and win her back, sometimes by earnest pleading, at other times by threats and denunciations. But she remained firm, and to each party confessed that it was God who had called her. It was in His almighty power that she had been constrained to give up her vow and seek salvation in Christ Jesus, and she could not resist Him. He had done for her what no human power could ever have accomplished. She told them it was no use trying to persuade her to go back, for she would never serve any one but the Lord Jesus, so they might as well leave her in peace to go her own road. Her old friends and instructors did not like it, but while they threatened, she remained calm and spoke kindly to them, and even suggested that they too should believe; whereupon they began to curse her in their rage.
Steadily Mrs. Lue went on growing in the knowledge of Christ. She continued her reading, and soon began to teach others. About six or seven months later she and her husband were baptized together into the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They returned to their home, full of joy in the Lord, and with the earnest desire to live for Him who had died for them, and to show forth His salvation from day to day.
SAVED TO SERVE
But the story does not end here. It is possible to go on to tell a little of the life of Mrs. Lue as a follower of Him whose Name she bears. The more we saw of Mr. and Mrs. Lue the more we loved and appreciated them, and many happy hours were spent in true fellowship with them and a few other Christians at Kucheng. We felt indeed that we were one family, united in one Lord and Master and in His service. As they lived next door to the chapel they had special opportunities for service, and the way in which they took up the responsibility of the place, and of the people there, often awakened surprise. At times it seemed as though they were taking too great a share in the burden. But they did it so joyfully that it was not easy to restrain them.
When any newcomer attended the meeting, who did not know the rule that each person must bring his own dinner with him, Mr. and Mrs. Lue would invite him to their house, "just to make him feel at home the first time"; and they did it in such a way that the visitor did not feel that he was receiving any grace from their hands. If, after some of the Christians had gathered together on a Sunday, it began to snow or rain, Mr. and Mrs. Lue would persuade them to stay with them for dinner—"Just that we may be able to have the afternoon meeting together," they would say quietly. When remonstrated with about doing too much, they answered cheerfully, "Oh, we like to do it. We put two or three loads of rice aside for that purpose every year. We give that to the Lord who has blessed us so greatly." What more could be said? They were doing it joyfully for the Master, and He who "is not unrighteous to forget the labour of love" done for Him and for His sake, will surely reward them "according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus." And He did reward them even here.
When they had been coming to the services for about a year, they were asked if they had any want, or if they had lost that year, seeing they had given all their Sundays and many evenings, whereas they had worked hard all the time in former years. They replied that they had lost nothing, but had a greater surplus at the end of the year than formerly. And the following year that surplus increased, and they declared laughingly, "Why, we are richer than ever." Is not this a practical testimony to the way in which God keeps His promise—"Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you"?
They also taught some of us practical lessons, which will not soon be forgotten. One year they had some building and repairs done, and had a number of workmen working for them by the day. When Saturday came, the question was what was to be done with all these men for the Sunday. The men said they must go on working, or leave for a few days, as they could not begin work somewhere else for one day. Mr. and Mrs. Lue were in great need of their house; and yet what were they to do, for they felt they could not let the men work for them on the day of rest? The whole day they were ill at ease, but towards evening Mrs. Lue said to her husband, "I know what we will do. We will just give them their food and their wages the same as any other day, but tell them they need not work. And then those who are willing can come with us to the meetings."
"But what about the money for all these men?"
"The Lord is able to give that back to us in some other way," she said, "and, at any rate, we shall have the assurance that we have done our best to let them have a chance of hearing the Gospel." So it was all settled, and their hearts were at rest.
The writer arrived at Kucheng that Saturday evening, and was surprised to see some of the workmen in the meeting, listening very attentively. The following day, Sunday, three of them came again, but others went to some of the shops for a talk and a smoke.
"But why are you not working to-day? How can you play about like this?" thus some of the shopkeepers addressed them.
"We were working at Mr. Lue's house, but he told us not to do any work to-day."
"But how can you afford to lose a day's money like that?"
"We do not lose anything. Mr. and Mrs. Lue give us our board and wages, just as if we were working for them the whole day."
"Well, that is strange. They used to be careful over their money, and they seem to be so even now."
"That is quite true, but they say they will not sin against their God in making us work for them on Sunday."
"That doctrine about Jesus is really good: surely there must be something in it."
Thus the people reasoned, and it need hardly be said that Mr. and Mrs. Lue, through their steady and careful walk with God, gained a respect among the people which only few in their position could attain. It was to them that the people came in sickness and sorrow, counting upon their help and prayers. It was from them they sought advice when in perplexity and uncertainty. And it was in their home the Christians often gathered for a helpful talk before or after the meetings.
PERSECUTION AND TRIAL
Things did not always go smoothly for Mr. and Mrs. Lue, and the narrow way was not always easy to tread. As followers of Christ they had to share in His sufferings, in His being rejected and despised by the world. They had to learn by practical experience that "the servant is not above his Lord," that if they had persecuted Him, the Lord of Glory, they would also persecute His followers. A share in His rejection must, in greater or smaller measure, fall to the lot of every true believer, and Mr. and Mrs. Lue were not excepted. Persecutions, threats, and even cursings were not lacking, but as those who uttered them received only meek answers and kind treatment in return, some of them, at least, very soon became ashamed of themselves, and left Mr. Lue and his wife alone. The Lord was on their side, and did not allow their persecutors to go a step beyond His control; and His servants found that it was easier to go all lengths with Christ, than to serve Him in a half-hearted way, as they saw some others doing.
When the annual theatre was held in Kucheng and every one subscribed to meet the expenses, the collectors came as usual to Mr. Lue's house. Of course he and his wife refused, saying they had given up idolatry and could not subscribe to the theatre in future. The collectors began to curse, but found Mr. and Mrs. Lue steadfast in their refusal.
"We are quite willing to entertain you," they said, "we are quite ready to provide dinner for you to-day, to show you that it is not a question of money, but we cannot and will not give money for idol-worship and stage-playing."
The people left enraged, but came again next day, and for many days, but they had always to return empty-handed. In such cases where the money is refused, those who will not contribute invariably get into trouble. The collectors, aided by others, take such things as chairs, tables, etc., by force. Some of these things are used at the play, others are sold to make up for the money the owners have refused to give willingly. Day by day Mr. Lue and his wife were threatened by the collectors, who had gathered in great numbers, and when threats failed to achieve anything, their tormentors began to curse them, and declared they would beat them and soon teach them what it meant to turn from idols to a new religion. But the Lord kept His children calm and joyful in Himself, and they answered quietly:
"Very well, if you take our chairs and tables and break them to pieces, as you say you will, we cannot hinder you. And if you beat us, as you threaten to, we cannot help that either; but we are not going to give you any money for the play, as it is against our conscience and we will not sin against God."
Some of the persecutors still threatened, but others listened to the promptings of their better nature and gave up the quarrel. These, thoroughly ashamed of themselves, restrained the rest from going any further. Soon all of them scattered, and Mrs. Lue and her husband were left in peace, thanking God for the way in which He had undertaken for them.
The next year the people threatened them worse than ever, and then Mr. and Mrs. Lue, with some other Christians, almost lost heart. They began to look at the difficulties. They feared the storm that was threatening, and like Peter, as soon as they turned their eyes from the Lord and began to look around at the wind and waves, they lost faith, and were tempted to look to the missionaries for help. We told them, however, to cry to their Master. They did so, and soon realized that He was still the same as in His days on earth, that the hearts of men were in His hands, and that He turneth them according to His own will. At a word from Him the tempest ceased, and there was a great calm. The enemies, evidently restrained by the hand of God, did not even come to the house of His servants. The Lord was fighting for them, and they could afford to stand still and see His salvation.
LABOUR AND FRUIT
Mrs. Lue was faithful in using her opportunities for service, and not a few precious souls have found Christ through her. Some had been coming to the meetings before she had given up her vegetarian vow, and were still halting between two opinions. Mrs. Lue helped such to break through and fully decide for Christ. She did not believe in half measures. Others first heard the Gospel message from her lips, and were not able to resist the power with which she spoke. Amongst the latter was an old woman, called Mrs. Hsiao.
The first Sunday Mrs. Lue brought her to the meetings the writer happened to be at Kucheng. A collection was being taken for the Bible Society, and this old woman wanted to give thirty cash. We did not wish to receive it, fearing that she did not know what she was giving it for. But she pressed us to take it, and Mrs. Lue said, "Please, do take it. She understands quite well. Although she is at the services for the first time to-day she knows the Gospel already, for I have spoken to her several times, and she has quite made up her mind to serve the Lord. If you do not take it, she will be disappointed." And when Mrs. Hsiao herself was asked, she said she wanted to give the money so that others might hear the "Good News" Mrs. Lue had been telling her.
Mrs. Lue went on teaching her about Christ, and helped her to learn some hymns and to read a little. This latter work seemed a hopeless task, as Mrs. Hsiao was not young; moreover, she was half blind. When the writer saw her next time she had, however, mastered quite a few hymns. Patiently she was plodding on, using every spare minute, determined to learn as much as possible, but lamenting her own stupidity. Mrs. Lue showed herself a patient teacher, and it was touching to see how persevering they both were, never losing heart, even when the hymns were specially difficult, and one sentence had to be repeated over and over again before it had any meaning at all to the student. The catechism did not prove easier, but little by little some real progress was visible.
When Mrs. Hsiao had learned several hymns she longed to possess a hymn-book of her own. She asked if she might buy one and pay for it in instalments, as she could not afford to pay for it all at once. We gladly assented, and gave her the book. She made Mrs. Lue her treasurer, and whenever she had been able to save ten cash she brought them to her. About a month or two later she had paid the whole amount, and Mrs. Lue handed the money over to us. Gladly would we have given the book freely, but felt that Mrs. Hsiao would prize it more if it cost her a little, and at the same time it would afford us a better chance of seeing how far she was in earnest.