Editor’s note: After attending the in-person Sunday service in a Shaanxi Church on July 19, Brother Tian asked me to take a walk with him. Then he shared his grandmother’s tough experience and her joy after following Jesus in her later years.
Below is the story of Tian’s grandmother:
Born in 1920, my grandmother Hu Huizhen passed away at the end of January 1998, aged 78. Her happiest period was the 18 years after becoming a Christian at the age of 60.
Born into a family of five children in Hujia Village, Yanta District, Xi’an, at the age of seven or eight she had her feet bound. Growing up in a poor family, she was uneducated and illiterate. Though not able to read, she was smart and spoke clearly. Since she began to believe in the Lord at 60, I did not see her without her Bible. It was amazing that she could hear the whole Bible and recite verses. Whoever she met, she would share the great love of Christ and the blessings and joy of her faith with them.
As a boy, I recognized her resilience: she wore a cotton button-up blouse, trousers which functioned as leg wrappings, and a pair of small cotton shoes. They were all made by her. Although she couldn’t walk well, there was a power and toughness in her. I subtly learned from my father that she lived a life of frustration that was unimaginable and complicated.
When my grandmother was 17, she married my grandfather, who lived five kilometers away from her parents’ house, after being introduced to him by a match-maker. Five years later, my grandfather, who was always out on business, died of tuberculosis, leaving three sons. She became a young widow. My father was only several months old. Confronted with the pressure from feudal customs that she had to remarry, she chose to raise the three children all by herself.
She said that she often gleaned the ears of corns in the fields of her relatives when the harvest was finished so she could feed her children.
The poor family was despised. They did not know where the next meal would come from. Before the founding of the PRC, she often carried her children to hide when the Japanese bombers would come.
She could make clothes, shoe soles, and home-cooked meals. Before 1949, she sewed shoes for the Communist soldiers through the night. She was in charge of a production team (a unit of the socialist agricultural economy during the early period of the PRC) and cooked in a rural big canteen.
In her later years, she walked into a church and was baptized. Then at 7:30 in the morning, she walked about 600 meters with clean clothes, carrying a cloth bag with the Bible inside. Wearing reading glasses with a small pencil, she arrived at Hanzhong Church in Shaanxi. There she read the Bible, prayed, and sang hymns with other elderly people her own age. On the road home, they talked and laughed together. The joy on her face lasted for days.
Being single for the rest of her life, she had joy amid difficulties. Before converting to Christianity, she loved watching Qinqiang, one of the folk Chinese operas, and sang the tunes, but when she became a Christian, she stopped singing them and adapted their melody into hymns. In my memory, my grandmother rejoiced no matter hard the days were.
Her hands were always busy. After she started going to church, she learned how to read. Once she had time, she would sit at the door and struggle to read the Bible, wearing reading glasses. She asked me to be her reading teacher. Certainly, I gained much in return from helping her. She told me Bible stories she had heard from the school and taught me to sing some songs.
In 1991, our family moved to Baoji, a prefecture-level city in western Shaanxi. She moved with us, too. Later she was ill with cataract and cerebral thrombosis. Enduring the pain caused by the loss of eyesight, she would use her time to recite Bible passages. I was working away from home and not always around her. But I would read some Bible passages for her when I returned home. Every time, a rare smile was reflected on her face.
As her cataracts got worse and worse, she was also not able to walk due to a fall from her bed. Knowing her Christian faith, my family members who took care of her in turns would read the Bible for her, whether she was conscious or not. It was the only moment when the woman who was severely tortured by pain smiled.
In the last two years, I visited her several times. But she realized that her Bible, which had accompanied her for more than ten years, was missing. When she was conscious, she would urge me to find it for her. So I went to many bookstores to buy a portion of the Bible, but I couldn’t find any. I had to buy a book that looked similar to the Bible. I read the book to please her, but when she was aware of what was happening around her, she would deny that was the Bible.
When she was dying, I held her swollen hand, shedding tears. I said to her, “Grandma you will get better. You will be okay. I will miss you forever...” She said with all her might, “Sheng...sheng...jing” (the Chinese word for the Bible). I handed over the “fake” Bible to her. She held it in her hands then left us in a smile.
For many years I regretted that I failed to give her a Bible. I often remembered her difficulties before she became a Christian and the joy after believing in the Lord. I wondered how could I make up for that.
One day I was passing by a hospital, the familiar sound of a church bell reached me. Following voices, I found that church. At that time, a sound came to me again, “Sheng...sheng...jing.” On that day, I stepped into a church for the first time in my life. I also bought a real Bible. Later, I became a Christian. My actions brought comfort and granted the last wish of my grandmother who is in heaven.
- Translated by Karen Luo