My grandma's father was a member of the previously prestigious and famous Nineteenth Division of the Iron Road Army. It is said that General Jiang Guangnai put forth a rousing command to sign up to the Division in his native Guangdong countryside; all the hot-blooded young men swarmed to him. Their heads and flesh watered the ground at the battle of Wusong. Although the battle was fought in Wusong, Shanghai, the cemetery of the Nineteenth Division is in Guangzhou, not in Shanghai.
Since my grandma's father was gone, depriving them of the treelike shelter of his presence, my grandma's mother took Grandma-who was constantly asking where her father had gone-to my great-great-grandmother's home.
Grandma's grandparents lived a life of gentleness and joy, and all in their community were believers. So Grandma and her mother naturally also came at the sound of Jesus' name.
Grandma entered the local church school, and also unbound her feet that had been bound for several years. Her new days of freely running about were full of relief and happiness. Most importantly, my student grandma and the schoolteacher-my grandpa-fell in love. And then began my grandma's 70-year journey as a shimu (preacher's wife)-such a mixed bag of joys and sorrows that I can hardly express.
Grandpa was a preacher. His teaching at the local church school was only part of his work; the greater part was his service in the church.
At that time, preachers weren't paid in money but in rice. You could say they weren't rich, but they had enough. But the church, for financial reasons, often fell behind on their payments of the preachers' rice. Having no rice was a very hard situation, even for an adept wife; furthermore, they often showed hospitality to the poor widows who didn't even have two cents to rub together. For my grandpa it was work, work, and more work, and on top of that service, service, and more service. If there was no rice left to go in the pot he didn't know about it; food was the shimu's job.
At that time in the church, preachers often exchanged jobs. On the muddy roads, in the midst of an army full of people who shouldered heavy loads with carrying poles, frequently there were preachers-their books on one shoulder and everyday essentials on the other, and the shimu followed with a child on each side. In those days it was not uncommon to meet Japanese bombs or the Nationalists' stray bullets. It was truly experiencing a "walk through the valley of the shadow of death." But thanks be to God! He prepared a great victory feast in front of their enemies.
When many people hear the term "Chaoshan woman," they describe a suffering, uncomplainingly laboring, wise, kind, and capable wife, and during those days Grandma perfectly fit that description. During the day she had to welcome believers to the church, answer seekers' questions, and at the same time she served as the gardener and the cleaning person for the church. When evening came, she had sewing and spinning to do, her "Chaoshan woman's needlework danced through her fingers and supplemented the household income. In the "buy one get one free" era of appointing preachers, Grandma took on the character of an "all-capable shimu."
When the war was over the country entered into a new era, and the church entered a new phase as well. As a consequence, with each campaign following hot on the last one's heels, my uncles lost their chance to study at university because their father was a preacher. Even though they did not complain, still, it was quite depressing. Grandma would often tell them, "God has already treated us with such grace; if you can't go to university and become a worker, then just be a good peasant. It will be better in the future to be a peasant than a city-dweller." I have to say that Grandma was a prophet. Nowadays many people who left the countryside wish they could find a way to go back to the village life they were so desperate to leave behind at that time.
During the Cultural Revolution, Grandma buried her Bible in the ashes of the stove and hid her hymn music in a stool. When the Red Guards' people's militia searched the place and took them, Grandma cried for a long time. She was even more distressed than when they took the ten rare silver dollars she had kept hidden for ages. Because of this experience, Grandma pushed us to learn the Bible by heart. If you have the Scriptures by heart, it doesn't matter when or where you are, you will always have them. In those days snacks were a rare luxury, but we would get a sweet as a reward if we managed to successfully memorize a passage of Scripture. I don't know if perhaps Grandma was like that legendary Jewish mother who spread honey on the Scriptures.
Grandma always hoped to see a preacher come out of her daughter's generation, but there was no way for such a thing to happen during that period of history. So, when I was ready to go to seminary, her joy was indescribable. She cried and said, "Oh Lord, my heart is so satisfied! I can depart and meet you now, and hand everything over."
At that time I was teaching in a school. When I went to hand in my resignation notice the principal could hardly bear to let me leave, repeatedly telling me that preachers would have no insurance or pension and they could never retire; why not just volunteer in the church and continue teaching where my salary would always increase, and so on and so forth.
When I told Grandma what the principal had said, she asked me, "Have you ever come across a preacher today who starved to death?"
Grandma, I miss you!
Note: this piece was originally written by the pastor of Yijiceng Church in Guangdong, entitled "My Mother's Mother."
Translated By: China Source
CCD reprinted with permission.