THE RICH MAN AND THE PRAYER WARRIOR
CHAPTER 3 (read the whole story here)
The ancient oak tree had greeted generations of visitors to Liping Village, and offered a welcome sight to Brother Wu as the afternoon sun faded slowly behind the distant western hills. The air quickly felt chilly, but Wu was warmed as soon as he spotted Mr. Ling, who was curious about the contents of Wu’s bamboo basket.
At that moment, little Li Ying let out a wail, and the two old friends broke out laughing as Mr. Ling realized the bundle that Wu carried was alive! When Mrs. Ling heard the squealing, she rushed out of her tiny house and snatched up the infant, digging beneath the blankets to see just who she was holding. “She’s beautiful! But she’s got to be hungry … and wet,” Mrs. Ling sniffed as she bundled Ying Ying into the warm house. Brother Wu was relieved, but didn’t dare show it.
The aroma of dumplings and a pungent vinegar sauce escaped through the door behind Mrs. Ling and drew the two old friends into the house, where Brother Wu faced the woman’s stern gaze. “You silly man! What are you doing carrying this baby around in terrible weather like this?”
“I had no choice,” Wu responded. “I found her near a village well, with this note attached.” MY NAME IS LI YING, AND MY PARENTS ARE DEAD. “It’s hard for me to believe that people can do this to a child. If I hadn’t run across her, this little girl might have frozen to death.”
Mrs. Ling’s eyes moistened. She quickly wiped a tear from the top of her rosy cheekbone, and nodded gently toward Wu. “You’ve done a good thing, Brother, and I’m glad you brought her here. I’ll do whatever I can to help.” The three Christians bowed their heads in prayer as they gave thanks for their food and for the gift of Li Ying.
Throughout Liping Village, lanterns flickered and wavered behind thick, wavy glass as darkness finally took over the countryside. Tired villagers drifted off to sleep while gray, sooty smoke wafted out of their chimneys and melted into an opaque haze, floating like a night blanket just above the columns of clay-tiled roofs.
It was quiet. Almost too quiet. Red hot embers glowed from the iron stove in the center of the Ling house, and occasionally popped and hissed. The only other sound was a mild breeze outside that steadily rustled the bed sheets drooping over the clothesline. The village was deep asleep at 4 a.m.
Bam! Bam! Bam!
“Open the door!”
BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM!
Who was that at this time of night? The haze outside matched that around their heads, but the angry pounding quickly startled Wu and the Lings awake. It was so early the rooster next door hadn’t even crowed – it was probably hiding in its little coop, trying to escape the early morning chill.
“OPEN UP! IT’S THE PSB! OPEN THIS DOOR RIGHT NOW!!”
What did the Public Security Bureau want here? thought Wu. Have they caught up with me?
Chris Blake looked up at the sign and read: LIPING VILLAGE. He couldn’t wait to meet the people of Liping, see how they lived and discover more of the real China, outside of the cities he so often flew into. Loud giggling drew his gaze down, and he found himself surrounded by a small gang of boys proudly wearing the blazing red scarves of the Communist Youth League.
“Wai ren!” “Wai ren!” (foreigner!) The boys crowded around Chris, jostling for position, but almost afraid to touch him. They bravely practiced their English: “Hello.” “Thank you.” “How are you?”
Chris responded with: “Ni hao ma?” The kids giggled, pushed each other and said “Hao.” “Hao.”
Chris Blake’s escort was a young Chinese man, David Ling, who worked at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. His English was flawless, and he’d been a great guide so far. He was obviously highly educated and there was a genuine warmth to his personality, which was unexpected. Chris knew that David had family in Liping, and he was excited about meeting some of them.
“Mr. Blake,” David said, “my aunt and uncle live just around the corner, in the next lane. They are honored to have you as a guest, and have prepared some of their favorite dishes for you.”
As he examined the inside of the ancestral temple, the stern gazes of an old man and woman peered down from faded paintings high above the altar, penetrating the heavy fog of incense with a sense of imperiousness. Between the thick smoke and the feeling that something – or someone – was alive in this sanctum to the dead, it was all a bit creepy, and Chris suddenly craved some fresh air. He and David exited the temple and headed for David’s aunt and uncle’s house.
It was a very simple structure, mostly stone and mud, with old cracked tiles lining the roof in almost-straight rows. The window frames obviously hadn’t been painted in decades – the white surfaces were chipped, worn and curled up in many spots, but they appeared tight. Chris had to duck to enter the modest home. “Mr. Blake, I’d like you to meet my aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Ling. And this is a good friend of the family, Wu Ming.”
Chris extended his hand and bowed slightly, just to get down to eye level. “Hello Mr. and Mrs. Ling. Thank you so much for inviting me into your home. I really appreciate it. Mr. Wu, how are you today?”
As steamed buns, bowls of rice and plates full of vegetables, tofu and pork waited, the Lings bowed their heads in prayer. Frankly, Chris didn’t expect such an open display of faith in a Communist country like China, but eagerly bowed his head too. He sensed a kinship with the Lings and with their friend, Mr. Wu.
But there was a sadness lying just under the surface of these kind people. He could clearly feel it, but he wasn’t sure if he should say anything. He didn’t want to pry, but he finally asked: “Mr. and Mrs. Ling, are you Christians?”
“Yes, we are,” Brother Ling answered firmly.
“Well, I am too, and the warmth of your home and your spirits is a real encouragement to me,” Chris said. “I never dreamed I would feel so comfortable in a place so far away from my family and home, and I want to thank you for that. But can I say that it seems like I’m missing something here? I don’t want to intrude, but is something bothering you?” Chris asked. “If so, I’d like to pray together.”
“Well, Mr. Blake, yesterday we were given a precious gift, but this morning it was taken away, and we just don’t understand why.”
“What do you mean Mrs. Ling?” Chris wanted to know more, and gently prodded his hosts.
“Yesterday, Brother Wu here arrived back in Liping after preaching and teaching in many villages in the area. We hadn’t seen him for months, and there he was – with a baby in his arms! Can you believe it?” Mrs. Ling nearly shouted. “First of all, it was a gift just to have Wu safely here. The police have been looking for him, and we were so blessed to see him. On top of that, he brought us a beautiful little girl – Li Ying.”
“So where’s the baby now, and where did she come from?” Chris asked.
“She was an orphan that I found near a well about a half day’s walk from here,” Brother Wu informed Chris. “According to a note her parents are dead, but somebody obviously cared about her and wanted her found. I didn’t know what to do but bring her here, so that’s what I did.”
“Then early this morning we were jolted awake by the police,” Mr. Ling declared. “We thought they were after Brother Wu, so he hid in a cupboard. But they were really after Li Ying! We don’t know why, but they took her away, and here we are. Please pray with us.”
To be continued … (go to CHAPTER 4)