By Robert McQuillan —
I received a phone call inviting me to meet a Chinese pastor visiting a church nearby the office I used in the days I was editing and publishing a denominational magazine.
Admitting that I’d never heard of this pastor, I agreed… It was to be an appointment I have never forgotten… and never will!
Chang Wong (not real name) proved to be the most gentle and humble minister, and what he shared with me touched my heart so deeply that I wanted to cry. Ever so humbly he related his incredible story of faith, ministry, imprisonment, pain, humiliation… and ever trusting the supernatural of God.
Speaking quietly he shared that pastors were very few in China years ago, not only in general but also because of the activities and prosecutions of the PSB (China’s Public Security Bureau).
Reflecting back many years, he shared how he had been the only minister way, way up in a mountainous area: No transport, trudging everywhere. A young married man, he had felt led by God to live in that forsaken area, plant and pastor a small ‘secret house church’ – no worship team, no assistant ministers, and no Bibles. He was on his own.
Chang Wong would teach his people well from God’s word alone, no books, no human philosophies. They would listen intently as he spoke of his Lord and the miraculous activities of the Holy Spirit. He encouraged them that while it was important to share with others, they should live out the Christian life. They loved the word of God, but to get even a New Testament, some of those poor people would save for a whole year and on receipt tear pages out to give to others who couldn’t afford anything!
‘I would spend long hours arduously trekking over mountains to reach homes for other secret meetings’ he told me. ‘My listeners would believe in the Holy Spirit I told them about, and we would have many prophecies, see many signs and wonders, miracles, and salvations.’
Imprisoned in a foul cramped cell
Then, when his little son was only four, came police investigations and persecutions, and he was taken many miles away by the PSB. He would be imprisoned for 18 years, alone in a tiny, cramped cell where he could hardly stand, let alone walk.
I sat there in that tiny church office, thinking it was cramped. It was nothing compared to what Chang was humbly telling me about.
Yet he smiled as he went on to share how one day, he deliberately requested that the guards allow him to ‘be a good Christian’ and clean the ‘slops’ (buckets containing human waste from each cell)!
Thinking he was a fool they laughingly permitted it – and began regularly dumping myriads of stinking slop buckets in that small cell… but staying away from his now stinking enclosure.
The years would go by but because he’s left alone with no guards nearby due to the foul stink, Chang would manage somehow to move around that tiny cell freely praising God out loud without harassment or beatings, recalling scripture after scripture… and praying for his little house churches and his family so far away.
As he shared, I must have looked shocked, thinking not only of Chang’s praising God freely but the humiliation of the stench around him in that little cell. He smiled again and quoted from 1 Corinthians 3:18 (KJV), ‘Did not Paul say, “If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.”’
I smiled too, but weakly. Foolishly, not really knowing what to say, I said to this man who’d been left alone in that rotten cell for 18 years, ‘It must have been rough, keeping your faith, and having no Bible.’
Quietly, without hesitation, he said, ‘But it was good to have opportunity to worship our Lord in private.’ I thought of what that meant, recalling the large comfortable church with great facilities that I was based in, and turning away, just gulped.
Mysteriously, one day Chang Wong was mistakenly released and journeyed home mile after mile trekking up mountains. Finally he arrived home, reuniting with his delighted wife and son… now 22.
A happy reunion and oh what joy in embracing his wife and son, both of whom he hadn’t seen for 18 years. But more was to happen that had him speechless. Somehow people he’d spent those long years praying for ‘just knew’ he would be coming home, and Chang was told they had gathered to hear him preach.
But when he is taken to a clearing to meet up with what he expected to be that ‘old’ small group, Chang is taken aback, indeed startled, to discover thousands have gathered to meet and hear him.
‘Who are all these people?’ he asks, amazed. ‘Why, your church, Pastor; they have travelled many miles and many days through the mountains, to greet you’ he’s told.
‘My church? But I’ve been away for years. How is this possible?’ he asks, incredulous. ‘We were only a few when I was removed. Who are your pastors to have achieved so much?’
‘You are our pastor. We have only you to pastor us’ he’s told.
‘Me? But… I’ve been in prison for 18 years, I haven’t been around’ he reminds them, astonished.
‘But Pastor, we just did what you told us, taught us… reach the lost, teach what you taught us to share. To trust the Holy Spirit and believe for his help and pray for miracles. We are your church, Pastor… please teach us more. We do not fear the authorities, only that we might miss following God’s directions.’
I felt a lump rising in my throat and, a tear falling, had to turn away.
Reachout – an ongoing priority
This humble pastor shared more, challenging me in various ways.
Here, I thought, was a case of church attenders having been taught and encouraged by a wise minister, himself a dedicated worshipper of Jesus despite difficulties. They had followed their pastor’s scriptural teachings, believing for signs and wonders to happen whatever the challenges!
We too much reach out and take every opportunity God gives wherever, however, we find them… phone calls, the marketplace despite masks and required separation distances, with neighbors, supermarket checkout personnel, sales assistants, postal deliverers, medical staff, tradies and others.
Now… I confess that I haven’t ‘made it’ in all this… but I’m open to whatever opportunity the Lord gives me. I can miss it!
Often a conversation begins with an encouraging word, a genuine ‘Thank you.’ Or as happened the other day when in closing a phone conversation with a tradie wanting to call, I’d simply added, ‘God bless.’ He did call, and when leaving casually asked if I had really said ‘God bless’ earlier. Needless to say, one thing then led to another; Jesus and kingdom matters were shared.
Perhaps we do have to rethink how the great commission can be fulfilled in these covid-19 days, as some ministers are suggesting.
Dr Robert and Maureen McQuillan’s links are [email protected] and Facebook (Scriptures mainly NIV/all emphases in this Onliner ours. Appreciated images/pics: various general sources).