LIFE IN EXILE
Faking Mental Sickness - Hoping to be Allowed to Return Home
To the inmates, days passed like years. Everyone tried all he could to gain release to return home. One day a lunatic, surnamed Chen, shouted all day long, “Bring me some fried eggs stealthily!” He must have liked fried eggs, though eggs were out of sight and out of talk during these years of reform. For acting wildly, he was locked up in a small hut, which made his condition even worse. He smeared feces on his face and on doorposts, messing things up. Concluding that the Camp would be better off without him, the cadres released him and sent him home.
This provided incentive for some inmates who started to pretend to be mentally ill also. Yet, acts of pretense were not easy for a normal person. An inmate, named Russ Sun, pretending to be mentally ill, jumped into a frozen pond one winter mid-night. The night guard, hearing a loud, strange sound, searched around with his flashlight. Finding Sun in the pond, he dragged him out, cold and dirty. If he had been found feigning madness and acting like an idiot, he would have been labeled a “counter-reform element” and would have suffered miserably for it. Fortunately, the Camp doctor was not well trained enough to detect his true mental state. For quite some time, he was allowed to cease laboring even though he was not allowed to return home.
A teammate, named Dylan Zhou, was quiet by nature and hated the daily 2-hour duration of extremely boring and senseless “political study.” He found the flattering talks in discussion meetings most disgusting, and yet he was afraid that he would be denounced for “grumbling and sneering, and speaking in opposition.” For some time, therefore, he had wanted to simply stay silent. However, silence could also be interpreted as “opposition in silence.” One time he heard that a man could lose his ability to speak after bumping his head in a certain direction. One day, gathering all his courage, he made a report to the team leader by handing him a piece of paper on which he wrote that he had lost his ability to speak after falling off a cow while pasturing it. There was no ear-nose-throat specialist in the Camp and the truth was not disclosed. For two years he had remained silent but the truth was finally known. Then he was made to appear in the public to conduct his own self-examination and self-criticism, enduring a great deal of extra suffering.
In addition, my roommate Sean Chen had severe myopia. He learned that severe myopia could cause blindness under certain conditions. One day, pretending to be blind, he refused to work and asked others to bring him his meal. Unfortunately, the eye doctor found out that he was feigning blindness.1 He became so frightened that he committed suicide by poisoning himself. He was rushed to the hospital in a cart and saved from the brink of death.
Thank God that we who trust God are not like that! I was reminded of David when he fled to Achish, king of Gath, in the land of the Philistines. He was greatly afraid that he would be recognized as the killer of the Philistines’ hero, Goliath. At the critical moment, “he changed his behavior before them, pretended madness in their hands, scratched on the doors of the gate, and let his saliva fall down on his beard (I Sam. 21:13).” The ruling hand of God had let David gone through the depth of storms and waves, and David was able to write the beautiful Psalm 34, testifying through his personal experience that “blessed is the man who trusts in Him.” Right after he was anointed and had killed Goliath, David, a man after God’s heart, was faced with distress and forced to flee for refuge and to hide himself from Saul who wanted to kill him. Before David was crowned king, the ruling hand of God had used various forms of cross and suffering to break him, purify him, and edify him. This way, God taught David to be humble and submissive, to trust Him, look up to Him, love Him and fear Him so that he could become a king after His own heart. Regrettably, we often do not learn our lessons seriously, just as the spoiled vessel of clay in the hand of the potter that had to be remade into another vessel (Isa. 64:8; Jer. 18:4).
1. This female doctor was actually a famous eye doctor in Haerbin. She had volunteered to work in the Labor Camp hospital in order to be around her beloved husband who was there on Labor Reform.