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Pastor Recalls Difficult Serving Days in Northeast China

Pastor Recalls Difficult Serving Days in Northeast China

A few pictures on and in a large album A few pictures on and in a large album(pixabay.com)
ByLi Zitong September 07, 2022
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When I was 17, I was cured of a serious illness by the grace of God. As I was recovering, I had a ten-day intensive training. After that, I pocketed 500 yuan of traveling fees given by my church and went to the Manchurian region to do church planting and preach with brothers and sisters from Xincai, Henan.

In order to save money, several of our co-workers bought a box of bagged instant noodles and a few bottles of water and then got on the coach to Beijing. When we arrived at Beijing Railway Station, we nearly spent half of the fee. Then, we took a train to Xinmin City, Liaoning Province, where we had little money left.

At that time, we were very young, simple, and keen. Due to the lack of study materials, we always fought for books, copied them, or took notes. With the lack of training opportunities, the best way to learn was to listen to the Christian radio programs of Hong Kong Radio Liangyou and Radio Yiyou. Therefore, the greatest wish at that time was to have a multi-band radio of Desheng brand. However, such a radio cost 50 yuan, which was far beyond our finance. Later, Aunt Wang, who lived in Tieling, bought one for each of us three co-workers. We felt so spoiled that we couldn’t put it down for a moment. We listened to it when we went to bed and learned much biblical truth.

Because it was church planting, there were no ready-made churches in many places. Even if there were some new believers, their lives were immature. The co-workers often fasted and prayed in order not to burden others, and many sisters had stomach problems. Sometimes in the countryside, in order not to burden our host families, we would often help them with farming work. Besides, our sisters would help people make fire, cook, feed pigs and chickens.

The summer in the northeast is very short, and the winter comes quickly. The biting cold wind cuts your face like a dagger. No matter how thick you wear cotton-padded clothes or trousers, you can feel the warmth even when you stand in the sun. In the freezing winter, icicles hang along the eaves of every house. I have seen ice more than two meters thick. Tractors, which are full of stones, pass through the lake unscathed.

Every household in the northeast has a fireplace bed (pronounced ‘kang’ in local dialect, translator’s notes). There is an unwritten rule in the local area, that is, the elderly and distinguished guests at home will arrange to sleep on the kang, that is, on the side close to the burning stove, because it is very warm there. However, no matter where you sleep, the kang will get cold after dawn, because the fire goes out and the heat slowly dissipates.

For a while, I was sent to a city in Jilin, where several women lived in half-believing families, and we didn’t dare to eat enough for fear of being judged. The non-Christian husband of a host aunt came back, and we took the initiative to greet him, but he turned a deaf ear to us only grunting through his nose causing us to be uneasy and anxious.

At that time, our greatest hope was to eat full without worrying about being judged, but to materialize this wish our teachers (ordained or more experienced preachers) who sent us should come to see us, because the local church would respect us while respecting our teachers. However, more often than not, we who were forgotten had to face many difficulties ourselves. Clothes couldn’t be bought, and some aunts gave us the rest of their children’s clothes. One winter, several aunts bought cloth to make trousers for us because our summer trousers couldn’t accommodate inner cotton layers.

When we went out for a tour, we usually went back to Xinmin, Liaoning to rest. One winter, I was the only one who went to Daqing Township in Tieling and stayed at the home of an aunt named Jiao Xiujie. The aunt had a son who was a little younger than me. The aunt’s uncle didn’t believe in the Lord, but he was very kind to me. They also let me sleep on the kang. But I couldn’t bear the high temperature, I often got terribly dehydrated and got up in the morning with a sore throat and a nosebleed. Aunt Jiao would buy lotus roots and boil them for me to drink, which was especially effective, and right afterward my nose stopped bleeding. Later, her family was still in the back room, and specially built me a kang with wooden boards that didn’t need a fireplace. Although it was a little cold to sleep, at least I wouldn’t get too dry by the heat.

As the weather is cold, changing clothes often didn’t dry in the sun. Aunt Jiao often secretly bought some autumn clothes and long pants for me but lied that a sister gave them to me. When I asked who they were, she refused to say. Aunt Jiao always regarded me as my mother’s pride and also his son’s model.

Due to poverty, what rural families ate most was porridge cooked from peeled corn kernels. I call it water ‘rice’ (not exactly rice, translator’s notes) because they used to pour a ladle of cold water after the porridge is cooked. What we ate the most was this kind of water ‘rice’, which is called corn dregs by them.

Not far from the Daqing Township, there is a mining bureau named Diaobingshan. When we gathered there, we often had dinner at the home of Aunt Wang, a retired worker who bought us a radio before. Sometimes, we also went to the home of a Christian couple who sold meat for dinner. What I remember the most is the sweet potato cooked by the husband. The happy feeling was simply like celebrating Chinese New Year. More than twenty years have passed, and I still remember it vividly.

In winter in northeast China, the days are very short, but the nights are very long. At the break of dawn, people often woke up from freezing, and then they couldn’t sleep. Locals were used to having breakfast at 10 o’clock, and they started cooking dinner at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, two meals a day.

In those days at Aunt Jiao’s house in Daqing Township, every day after dinner, we would go to the uncle’s house of a host family, sit on the kang and study the Bible. It was almost every day for most of the winter. Sometimes, during the day, we would ride a long bike to a village and call a few people to gather with them. Sometimes, we brought more people to the gathering than there were believers in their village.

I lived in Aunt Jiao’s house the most, and she didn’t want me to live in someone else’s house. She treated me like a mother, and gave me much love and warmth, making it home for me while I was far away from my hometown and mother. It was like my own home. During that hard time, I experienced and grew up a great deal. Thanks for the life there, for the previous sufferings, and for everyone who once cared for us!

- Translated by Charlie Li

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