"The Bible is just a book, and it's full of words; If you don’t try to understand these words and absorb them into your bloodstream, you're not reading the Word of God."
This is a sentence from an interview with Sister Li Ying. At first glance, this may not sound like a "spiritually correct” sentence. It seems to contradict the Bible. But if you think about it carefully, this simple sentence actually contains something quite profound. That is to say, the Bible is presented to us as a material book, and if we don't understand and take it in, it remains a material book. But when we absorb it through reading and understanding and make it part of our souls, then God's Word becomes our practice, our truth, and a part of our lives.
Sister Li Ying is just an ordinary believer in a church in Northeast China. In her twenty years of firm faith in God, she has held on to the above words and put forth an effort to pursue an understanding and taking in of the Word of God. Not only are Bibles and theological books visible on tables and beds in her home, but a large white plastic box is crammed with stacks of notes she has taken over the years -- more than 100 notebooks and tens of millions of words. She not only insists on her own spiritual practice but has also organized a small spiritual fellowship of eight people, who communicate with each other by WeChat every day.
Because of this, when I leafed through Sister Li Ying's spiritual notes, I saw that what flickered between the lines was not the sweat that she put into writing these notes, nor the figure of her forgetting to eat and sleep while reading the Scriptures, but the smiling face of her joy when she was covered by the grace of the Lord.
This blessed smiling face was with her when she went to visit her family in Auckland, which became a spiritual journey for her that demonstrated the grace of God. In the photos she sent me via WeChat, she posed in front of a gothic church, or standing in the wind by the sea in the woods, flows and glows with the joy of enjoying the grace. It was the grass and the talc around her, the sand and the waves, the trees and the road as if faintly, that bathed her in the radiance of grace.
Sister Li flew from Shenyang to Auckland, the largest city in New Zealand, on November 23, 2019.
Anxiously awaiting and greeting her on this fresh and beautiful island were her daughter and son-in-law. Because the place where of her daughter and son-in-law work is in Auckland, they have a long-term visa to live there. New Zealand is an island country in the western Pacific Ocean. The air is fresh and comfortable, and the scenery is quiet and beautiful. It is a world-famous tourist destination. For a mother in her seventies, it is undoubtedly the best place one can travel to in order to rest and recuperate. What's more, mother and daughter are concerned and care about each other, a concern which stretches across the mountains and rivers.
The daughter of Sister Li Ying is also a Christian who shares a common faith and pursuit of faith with her mother. Mother and daughter came to the Christian faith together, due to a little-known bitter past. One day in December 2000, Li Ying's husband caught a cold and a fever, and during a CT scan of his lung, the doctors discovered a tumor. He was given only six months to live and was refused treatment by the hospital because of the advanced stage of his cancer. The daughter contacted a hospital in Beijing, where half of her father’s lung was removed during an operation. Because her family was poor at that time and had no money to continue the treatment, her father returned home to Shenyang after having his stitches removed, 14 days after the operation. Who knows, in these sad days, a wonderful thing has come silently at that moment.
After her husband came home, all day long he was in excruciating pain. He could not eat or sleep well and was extremely agitated. Then four sisters came from the church to preach the Gospel to Li Ying's husband. This made him so angry that he shouted, "I don't believe it! I don't believe it! Get out! Don't ever come again! If they did not know each other, her husband would certainly scold the four sisters. But the four sisters stuck to her husband like magnets, and “shamelessly” come to talk to him three more times.
At that time, Sister Li went to work every day, so what happened to her husband is not clear to her. But one day, just as she was coming home from work to prepare dinner, she heard her husband call out to her. Startled, she thought her husband’s sickness was getting worse and hurried to his side. But the husband was pleasantly surprised to tell her that his body did not hurt anymore. At that moment her husband told her about the four sisters who had come to preach the Gospel. They all firmly believe that this was God's healing and salvation. After that, the husband, Sister Li, and their daughter all thanked God and went to church. They were baptized on October 11, 2001.
On November 24, Li Ying and her daughter finally met and embraced each other in Auckland. The first thing that came to her mind was that her daughter should find a church for her to attend, and she kept asking about a church. Before she went to Auckland, she asked her daughter to investigate several churches for her. There are four churches under the Auckland general church, the Church of Grace, the Church of Kindness, the Church of Honor, and the Church of Salvation. Her daughter also sent pictures of each church in WeChat to her. Finally, she settled on the Church of Honor, which was close to their home.
November 30th was a Saturday. The daughter accompanied her mother into the Church of Honor. Sister Li Ying looked from side to side in the courtyard, with her face full of freshness and joy. When she entered the church, the sister who received her was very enthusiastic and helped her fill out a registration form in both Chinese and English.
Since this was the first time for her to attend church in a foreign country, Sister Li Ying had a lot of new feelings. There were two things that moved her and two things that created doubts. She was moved by the sisters who set up a special place for her to sit close to the pastor so she could better hear the sermon. The second thing that moved her is that when the pastor finished speaking, everyone welcomed her because it was the first time she attended the church. The first doubt she had was that worship focused entirely on the Lord. There were no whispers, no late arrivals, no early departures, and no applause for the pastor. It is warm and quiet. It was different from the church back home. Her second doubt was that the pastor was so humble that he did not even dare to say the words "Give a Testimony for the Lord", but only "a message from God". When singing songs of praise, there was no scene where you have violent shouting. The church had a quiet and peaceful atmosphere. I don't know whether the intensity of faith of believers here is not enough or the intensity of faith of believers back home is too strong? In addition to these two doubts, Sister Li Ying also has a little doubt. It is that the believers there kneel when they pray, which is quite different from us.
At the Church of Honor, Sister Li Ying also had a conflict over the donation. Originally, Sister Li Ying, like many simple brothers and sisters who love God, often put money into the offering box. But when she handed the money to the servant of God this time, the money was refused.
New Zealand's currency is the New Zealand dollar, while Sister Li ying contributed the Chinese yuan. Therefore, the church could not accept it. This made sister Li Ying very unhappy. The money was dedicated to God, not to any person. But at that moment, the church attendants came to comfort her by saying, "Sister, there is no pressure without New Zealand dollar. God does not need money from you, as long as you give your heart to the Lord." A very short sentence helped Sister Li Ying calm down, and she was also very moved.
It was the country's churches that Sister Li wanted to see most. On December 1, the daughter's two school children began their holiday. To satisfy her mother's wish, the daughter and son-in-law took their child and Sister Li on a drive.
In Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, she saw a gothic spire-topped building opposite the hotel, with its huge stained-glass windows, that looked strangely beautiful and mysterious. She took a photo there, as a memory that would last forever.
Regrettably, when she arrived in Christchurch, known as the garden city, the church did not open for some reason, disappointing her. But soon, in a place called Lake Taupo, a small church by the lake caught her eye. The little church is built of stone and stands in a triangle on the edge of the lake. Only one person was permitted to go inside, but Christians visiting the place were free to enter and pray or chant.
In the past six months, Sister Li Ying wrote five volumes of spiritual notes. The main contents include the first Book of Kings, the book of Revelation, and the theology course she was taking.
Originally, Li's visa was for three months, but due to the epidemic, she continued her visa for another three months. She did not officially return home until June 18 this year. During this period, she was quarantined in Shanghai for 14 days and in her home for another 14 days. It was because of the isolation in Auckland from China that Sister Li had enough time to meditate. During the epidemic, what touched her most was the church in Auckland. When they knew about the outbreak in China, the whole church prayed for China every day. When she was among them and heard everyone praying for his/her hometown, her gratitude and excitement to God was beyond words. It could only be summed up with one sentence: Thank God!
- Translated by Nicolas Cao