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Caught by the Light of Christmas


Leann sits between classmates Liu Xing(left) and Liao Chun Lian (right).

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Choir helps to celebrate Christmas in the Chongqing Agape Church in December 2008.

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November 27, 2009
- Philip Bender

DAZHOU, China — What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people (John 1:3-4). Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven (Matt. 5:16).

In 1995, a retired couple from Leann’s* rural Chinese village of Yang Ao Shan traveled to the nearby city of Neijiang to visit their son. There they met a group of Christians. Hearing their testimony about Jesus, the couple became believers.

Upon returning to Yang Ao Shan, the couple told others about their new-found faith and how Jesus had changed their lives. Among those to whom they spoke were Leann’s grandparents – and they decided to believe. Leann had been living with her grandparents since her father’s death three years earlier.

Many of Leann’s neighbours also heard the couple speak and came to believe. Since the village had no church, they began to meet in each other’s homes for singing, worship, and prayer. Occasionally a speaker from Neijiang would visit. Since few of the people could read well, he would read from and explain the Bible.

Sometimes Leann would attend these meetings of Christians. “They would talk about how their God is real, not false,” she recalls. “They would say that God will bless us.” Leann also remembers hearing about “ten rules,” and about the need to live a different kind of life. She found one of these gatherings to be a little curious; each month the Christians would have a celebration in which they would eat bread, drink wine, and talk about the death of “Jidu.” But not everything in these meetings was serious. These Christians, she says, could also just “enjoy themselves.”

And they would help each other. “When someone was sick, or needed help with farming,” Leann remembers, “the Christians would be there.” They once brought medicine for her sick grandfather, and ointment for her grandmother’s eye infection. And when the family farm needed extra labour, Christians came to help. Once she began middle school, Leann no longer attended the Christian gatherings, because suspicious local government officials had forbidden the group to meet. But when an investigation turned up nothing incriminating the meetings were eventually allowed to resume.

By that time, Leann had left Yang Ao Shan to study medicine in Chongqing where she was also a student in my Advanced English class at Chongqing Medical University. Today she is married and works as a neurosurgical nurse at a large teaching hospital in Chongqing.

“I have no religion now,” Leann concedes. “I’m too busy.” She has also been influenced by her scientific, communist education, which ridiculed religious belief. “Communists don’t believe in anything—just in themselves,” she reflects, adding, “And the world is worse for it.”

Though she does not practice religion, those village Christians helped Leann learn to respect it. “I think religion is good— Christianity, and Buddhism too. Religions teach the correct way to live.” Such as those “ten rules.” And helping each other when in need.

“I once watched a video about Jesus with my grandparents,” Leann recalls. “Something he said seemed very right. That was, if someone beats you on the right side of your face you should give him the left side.”

The early church historian Tertullian noted that the pagan community of Rome, while suspicious of a new sect called “Christians,” would favourably remark, “Behold how they love each another.” No doubt this witness of mutual love helped draw some of those pagans to Christ.

This Christmas we again remember how divine love has come to earth as light in a darkened world. By their words, and especially by their loving deeds, the Christians of Yang Ao Shan beamed that light of Christmas toward Leann. And though she has not yet followed her grandparents into faith, the rays of that light have caught her attention.

“There should be more priests so that we could know more about Christianity,” Leann says, with conviction. “I should think more about it myself.”

* psuedonym