Anyone who knows Reverend Li Wendao, vice-chairman of Chongqing TSPM, would know that he is a warm-hearted, gentle and optimistic man.
I knew Rev. Li quite accidentally. The reason I got to know him is that he is the executive editor of Tianyun magazine, published by the Chongqing CC&TSPM. I happened to have written an article and intended to publish it. Also, during that time I encountered some setbacks, which made me doubt my faith. So I dialed the phone number that was in the Tianyun magazine. After talking about a few things, Pastor Li said enthusiastically, “You could come here, bring your manuscript, and we can talk about it in detail.”
I was new to Chongqing at the time, so Pastor Li kindly told me where he was, which bus I should take, and at which stop I should get off. When I arrived at my destination, I saw, at a distance, a middle-aged man of medium height, standing by the bus stop, with a modest smile on his face. I thought to myself, he must be the pastor I was meeting. Sure enough, it was him. Hanging up the phone, Rev. Li came over, smiled, and said, "I was afraid that you couldn’t find the place, so I just came to the station to meet you."
Later I learned that in addition to serving as the executive editor of Tianyun magazine, Pastor Li also was responsible for the pastoral work for three district or county churches. He is very busy in his daily work because editing the magazine itself is a very hard job. Throughout the year, manuscripts are sent from all over the country, from teachers and students of seminaries, from pastoral staff in rural churches, and from urban and rural Christians. Because of the differences in knowledge and culture level of those submitting papers, the manuscripts are mixed in quality and depth. However, Pastor Li seldom dismisses the submissions and he sends the manuscripts back. He would always contact and communicate with the authors while making careful revisions by himself. It was a common practice for him to burn the midnight oil.
From Monday to Friday, he was responsible for proofreading, editing, publishing, and dealing with producing the magazine. He was even busier on weekends. He had to go to the countryside to oversee the affairs of local churches and preach in grassroots churches. Sometimes he would not get home until late on Sunday afternoons.
I began to hear more and more about Pastor Li from others.
Pastor Li is a native of Fengjie County, Chongqing. In 1999, at the beginning of the resettlement work for the Three Gorges Dam, "Looking at Jinghua by the Big Dipper" (a poem of Du Fu), "Yidoumen" (Fengjie's ancient gate for the city wall), were inundated by the reservoir created by the damming of the Yangtze River. Fengjie County Christian Evangelism Church, which was next to "Yidoumen," was also included in the urban relocation work. In the process of relocating the church, Pastor Li did not agree to let a colleague make an illegal private contract for the church relocation project in order to protect the interests of the church. During that time, a different case occurred in the same county, and the colleague's family was also involved in this case, so the colleague's family "reported" Pastor Li. Misfortune and injustice befell Pastor Li. He was mistakenly detained twice in a row after his colleague's family wrongly reported him, and the government paid him "state compensation" after the facts were clarified.
But after suffering through two periods of torture, which lasted for dozens of days, the body of Pastor Li suffered great damage. He lost a large area of healthy black hair. Later the examination in the hospital showed that follicle necrosis happened to the hair on his head.
Friends and fellow villagers suggested that Pastor Li should make a legal case against the family that had badly wronged him. But Pastor Li said, "We are Christians. We shall learn to forgive." That's what Reverend Li said and did.
In May 2003, Pastor Li was transferred to the Chongqing CC&TSPM. Later, the colleague who "reported" Pastor Li came to the city to attend a study session but was in turn comforted by Pastor Li. Someone said: "Pastor Li, are you still so kind to that man?"Pastor Li said: "Yes, love is tolerant!"
Pastor Li's wife is also a pastor, working in the Beibei district church in Chongqing. She is so busy with the work in her church that she can only go home once a week because the church is so far away from her home. On weekdays, Pastor Li takes on the role of house husband, going grocery shopping, cooking, and taking care of their child. When his wife comes home for her weekly visit, she often smells the delicious aroma coming out of the kitchen. Then she looks at her husband and goes into the kitchen, singing happily.
In the eyes of others, Pastor Li's wife Pastor Zhou is a simple kind and weak woman, and a good pastor. But in Pastor Li's eyes, she is just a "little girl" who never grew up.
Pastor Li says he is not a good father to his 15-year old son. On Saturday and Sunday, he and his wife are not allowed to accompany their child. While other children are taken to parks and zoos by their parents, Pastor Li’s son can only read books and do homework at home. Locking a child indoors on Saturday night is not uncommon, and the family has done this since their son was in elementary school. Because every Saturday and Sunday, the pastors must take turns in going to church and preaching. His wife works in the Beibei church so she cannot go home either. On Saturday morning, Pastor Li will prepare his child’s meals for the weekend, store them in the refrigerator, tell his kid about important things, and head out for a few hours' drive to the parish church. Li says it is also a way to help their child learn to live independently.
There are many stories about Pastor Li's preaching in the county church. For example, once, after a sermon, a young girl found Pastor Li and tearfully told her experience of how she had been hurt. Later, with Pastor Li's help and persuasion, she went on to a new life. She called and said, "Pastor Li, thank you for saving my life..."
Here's how it happened. When she was 20, she worked as a clerk in a clothing store, fell in love with the store manager, and became pregnant. The irresponsible man knew about it and walked away. She had to borrow money for an abortion. She was seriously injured in both body and mind. Because of this, her mother broke off relations with her. Having lost love and family affection, she contemplated suicide. She went to the church to confess and planned to commit suicide after that. As it happened, she heard Pastor Li's sermon and wept as she listened, and suddenly she was filled with hope. After the sermon, he encouraged and comforted her, saying, "When you are young, you are bound to make mistakes. Death is not the way to solve any problem. The right way is to correct your mistakes, learn from them, and resolve not to make this kind of mistake ever again."
Pastor Li's phone is as busy as a hotline. "Pastor Li! Please pray for me, I can't sLip because I'm worried about my two sons..." After hanging up, the second call, the third...The calls continue to pour in:
"Pastor Li, thank you for praying for me. I am full of faith in life now.”
“Reverend Li, my husband and I are really reconciled, as you said!”
“Pastor Li, my daughter-in-law is much better than before. She's brought me something nice to eat after she came back from shopping!”
A colleague said: "Pastor Li's smile makes people feel warm and cheerful. He is really optimistic!" Speaking of Pastor Li's optimism, here is an example that shows how he views life: Once, Pastor Li and several believers went to visit a believer's home in a mountainous area. They were caught in heavy rain and walked on a wet and narrow path in the mountain, with one foot in the mud and one foot in the water. They were holding hands to remain together. Inspiration suddenly came to Pastor Li. A poem naturally came to him—"I am the paradise which the Father keeps watering.” This poem was published in the Tianfeng journal and was later set to sacred music by a composer in Wuhan. In 2000 it was adapted and called "I Am a Dewdrop," which is number 196 in the Chinese New Hymnal.
Li says that he does have some regrets. On April 29, 2008, on a Sunday, Pastor Li's father died. On that morning Li was giving a sermon in church. When he came down from the platform after finishing his sermon, there were more than ten missed calls on his mobile phone. His father passed away while he was preaching. He could have been with his father when he was dying. He could have seen his father for the last time, but he did not do that. He is a pastor. Sunday is the day for sermons. It’s a day to lead believers to worship God!
"Pastors are human beings too, and pastors should teach others how to be human beings by themselves, so as to bring harmony and unity between people!" This is one of Pastor Li's frequent phrases when he converses with others. The simple words speak of the responsibility that a pastor feels in real life.
(Note: This witness article was written by a Christian in the Chongqing Holy Love Church named Yi Huifang. She loves literature and is a regular contributor to Tianyun magazine. )
- Translated by Nicolas Cao