FAITH & REFLECTION — In May, my wife and I travelled to China to visit our son and his family. We applied for visas and my wife obtained one on her first visit to the Chinese embassy. She is allowed multiple, unlimited visits and re-entries over the next several years. After three visits and signing a form pledging that I would not engage in Christian proselytizing while in China, I received a visa allowing me a single 23-day stay.
I began to feel critical about this slight infringement, until I remembered a story about a pastor who, in the early days of communism in China, experienced much more than an infringement.
This Christian pastor was arrested for his unwillingness to cease from gathering with other believers and teaching the Bible. He was imprisoned and spent years on meager rations in a vile, abusive and unsanitary environment. He was denied contact with other Christians. Christian literature was prohibited and he was told that he would be beaten if they ever found him praying out loud.
His health began to fail, but his faith remained strong. He silently prayed that he would be able to be alone somehow, somewhere, so that he could pray and praise his God with his voice. His opportunity came one day when a guard asked for a volunteer to work in the sewage system. Most prisoners said they would rather die than take the job. They were surprised and relieved when the pastor quickly volunteered to take the position.
The job entailed wading out into a cesspool of sewage to skim the filth off the top and clean off grates so the raw sewage could flow out to a nearby swamp. The pastor did this for one hour every day. He was quite short, so in order to keep his head above the foul liquid, he would have to stand on his tiptoes and occasionally bounce to keep his mouth and nose clear for breathing.
Years later, when he was released, he solemnly stated that the hour spent daily in the sewage was his sweetest prison experience. He explained that he was always alone, because no one came near the filth and stench. During that hour, as he bounced on his tiptoes, he could open his mouth to pray and sing praises to the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God for all that He had done for him! That is true thanksgiving!
This man’s testimonial is a powerful reminder that thankfulness should not be relegated to one weekend in October, nor should it be attached to only positive and upbeat circumstances in our lives.
“Whatever happens, keep thanking God … . Because this is what God wants you to do” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)