LIFE IN EXILE
CHAPTER 4 Labor Camp In Anhui Province (1962-1979)
It was bitterly cold in early 1961. In order to reduce mortality resulting from starvation1, the kitchen workers were ordered by the team leaders to cook and deliver a large pail of gruel to our quarters at 12 midnight and to give each of us a ladle for warmth. One night when the porridge arrived, the man sleeping next to me did not take his portion. He was found dead the following day. Someone else then came to fill his space; he, too, died shortly after. In just a few months, 3 men by my side had died. I was very frail myself - a man in his 30’s, 5 feet 10 inches tall weighing only about 100 pounds, who had to walk with a cane.
The Service of Sisters Amid Persecution and Hardship
A sister in the Lord I called Aunt Susan, a villager of Zhejiang, once worked as a house-maid for my relative in Shanghai. She was simple, kind, tender, courageous and physically strong. She belonged to the social class of “poor peasants” which the Communist Party regarded as the most reliable people’s group. Thank God that in the summer when hardly anyone in the society would be willing to visit Labor Camp inmates, Aunt Susan offered to bring me the food that my family had saved up and collected for saving my life amid wide-spread starvation. Carrying the load of food, she traveled great distances of winding, difficult paths in high mountains to the remote and dangerous forest to visit me.
Her visit helped me realize the precious role of sisters in the Body of Christ – the serving of the saints. There were many such examples in the Bible. For instance, in the Old Testament it was a widow who received Elijah; a Shunammite woman who received Elisha; sisters who provided for Jesus and his disciples (Luke 8:1-3), Martha and Mary who received and served the Lord; and sisters were also the ones who “lodged strangers, washed the saints’ feet and relieved the afflicted” (I Tim. 5:10).
There was a Lord’s servant in the Labor Camp whose family members had left him and was in a very awkward situation. A young sister, who claimed to be his daughter (in Christ), ventured to visit him in the Camp and brought him some daily necessities. This touching story was often retold later.
Sisters like Aunt Dong, the parcel sender, and Doctor Qiu, Brother Chen’s Labor Camp visitor, deserved our special love and respect. Of course, brothers, too, have the responsibility and blessed gift to host and serve others (Titus 1:8; Heb.13:1). However, especially at times of persecution and trials, sisters are more blessed in this respect, perhaps because their actions draw less attention and are not as closely watched. Also, the percentage of women imprisoned or sent to Labor Camps is comparatively much lower. It is, therefore, easier for them to serve in times of trials.
I remember that day when Aunt Susan arrived safely in my Camp. What an arduous journey she made! She went from Shanghai to Shaowu by train before taking a long coach-ride to Jiangle County. Then, carrying a load of about 60 pounds, she walked another 18 miles of dangerous, unfamiliar, winding and steep mountain paths before arriving at the destination. Even more precious was the sincere love in the Body of Christ!
I was notified by the Sub-Camp to go to the reception room to receive a family visitor. With thanksgiving in my heart, I made my way there with the aid of a cane. At noon, we had for lunch a vegetable known as “cow-hide cabbage”. A very productive plant, its outer leaves were picked for food; when fully grown, the whole plant would be pulled out, cooked and eaten. I let her try some, but she did not eat it because of its bitterness. Yet we only wished we had been given more of it! She told me that she had thrown away some boiled eggs that had gone bad in the summer heat. How regrettable, I thought. “Perhaps the yolk part could have been taken out for eating!” I said. How very precious food was at times of famine! In those days, common moaning in the Camp could be heard; such as: “Oh, I’d be contented to die if only I’d fill my stomach with sweet potatoes (the cheapest food in the rural areas)!” “Oh, plantain roots, stone pork-liver, pumpkin, rice gruel … just when could I eat them to my heart’s content!”
After resting for a day in the Camp’s guest-house, Aunt Susan picked some wild herbs not commonly found in mountain areas, and returned to Shanghai on the third day. With the aid of a walking cane, I walked her to Jiang Creek Village to see her off. Afterwards, with tearful eyes and overwhelming emotions, I returned to the Camp.
The food that I received was actually saved up and accumulated by my wife, mother and sister who themselves often went hungry. My wife told me that when the hunger became unbearable she took a drink of water; even so, it was not as hard for her as for us who had to labor even in hunger. The food was life-saving; once again, I was saved from the brink of death.
Oh! Holy sisters, partakers of the heavenly calling, may the Lord remember your toil on that day! It is due to your gifts of love that today I am still alive to serve the Lord. May I prove worthy of your expectations and of the grace of our Heavenly Father.
1. Deaths in Labor Camps had to be reported to the high authorities. The influence of such deaths was bad on the Camp, and much worse on the families, relatives and the whole society.