LIFE IN EXILE
CHAPTER 7 Sacrificial Love
A Brother Who Lived in the Heart of God
In 1989, in a section of a dilapidated house in Wuhan lived Brother Zhi-yi Lan who was released from the Labor Camp in Qinghai Province1. The furniture, old and worn out, comprised only a table, a chair and a bed. The other half of the house, rain-damaged because of roof-tile leaks, was left unused. On March 8 th, returning home after preaching to some relatives, Brother Lan suddenly experienced heart discomfort. His neighbor took him to the Wuhan Hospital, where his son worked, for emergency care. Early the next morning, he rested in the Lord at age 81. Thank God that he passed away so serenely, without bothering anyone. It was indeed a great blessing.
I became acquainted with Brother Lan in the 1940’s. Prior to 1950, Brother Lan founded and operated an orphanage of small scale in Suzhou. In a society that was poor and at a time when most Christians were spiritually weak, the operation of the orphanage relied solely on the provision of the Heavenly Father rather than on the provision of men - the orphanage could be called a shining pearl of faith. In the circumstances following the change of political power in China, Brother Lan was compelled to close down the orphanage and to become a minister in the church in Shanghai. (The Communist government in Mainland China did not allow the common people, especially Christians, to operate orphanages in order to prevent the so-called “seizing of the next generation”.)
In 1956, Brother Lan was arrested and sentenced to ten years for the Lord’s holy name. He was exiled to the Labor Camp in Qinghai Province and was there during the “Three-Year Natural Calamities” (1959-1961). The highest national mortality resulting from starvation occurred in Labor Camps, and there were many deaths in the Qinghai highlands where the temperature was as low as -30ºC in winter. There was a time when Brother Lan was assigned to manage the warehouse in which were stored many baskets filled with shelled peanuts. Brother Lan said that, even when many in the team were starving to death in the famine with he himself also fighting hunger all day long, he had never stealthily eaten a peanut. What an honest, righteous and faithful man he was!
Brothers and sisters, such a spirit of suffering willingly for the Lord is one of the virtues very much lacking in the Global Church, particularly in developed and affluent countries (see I Pet. 4:1,2). Actually, raw peanuts are edible, delicious and nutritious, and it was only reasonable for someone dying of hunger to eat the state-owned peanuts – for, after all, they were the harvest of the whole team’s hard labor. Perhaps this plum job of managing the warehouse was intentionally assigned to Brother Lan because of his past good deeds as an orphanage director!
After his release from the Labor Camp, he was dispatched to Wuhan where his son lived. There, he was assigned to clean street sewers, the filthiest and foulest job that pays barely enough for a living. In cities like Shanghai and Wuhan, old sewers were laid underground and had an opening with steel lid in the middle of the road. When sewers were clogged, the lid was lifted and a long split of bamboo splint was used to clear the pipes. During the process, the awful stink of accumulated foulness filled the air.
In sorting out her father’s possessions after his death, Brother Lan’s eldest daughter found a five-cent coin – all the money he possessed. When news of this was accidentally spread, all the brothers who heard it were stunned. The image of Brother Lan suddenly became loftier. Oh, he was a brother who truly lived up to “suffer the loss of all things and counted them but dung” and a saint who had truly sacrificed his all to follow the Lord! How could it be that only one coin was left behind? The brothers in Shanghai were especially taken by surprise. How could it be? For it was only in January that year that Brother Lan had remitted 100 yuan (or 1,000 cents), which amounted to one-and-a-half month’s pay of the general worker at the time, to a seventy-year-old disabled Sister Wang? At the time the brothers in Shanghai thought that Brother Lan was not short of money; otherwise why would he have remitted so much money to Shanghai! That was why they had left him out of the care-list when they distributed the Lord’s money. The brothers not only felt that they had fallen short but had guilty feelings!
Speaking of Sister Wang, one of her legs had been amputated at an early age and, as a result, she suffered great physical pain and inconveniences, especially on rainy days. She was also burdened with financial difficulty but seldom asked for help. She had time and again begged the Lord to receive her weary soul. When Sister Wang unexpectedly received the 100 yuan from Wuhan, it took her quite a while to figure out that it was remitted by Brother Lan under his daughter’s name.
This tiny coin had evoked many thoughts. It made one wonder how the faithful Lord had led Brother Lan through the most desolate times. How much could a street-sewer laborer earn each month? He lived in the provincial city of Wuhan and was not well-known in the church he had served. Even after the country opened to the world (in 1978), how many overseas Christians would, by common sense, have thought about him, sought him out and cared for him? It was true that the Heavenly Father who cared for every lily of the field and every bird of the air knew how to provide for his daily bread, but how could he have remitted 100 yuan without considering his own needs? Oh, he did not offer merely a tithe, or double tithes! He was a loyal servant in every sense of the word. Though he had little, only “two mites (Luke 21:2),” yet what he had belonged to God. He had given what God wanted him to give and had lived by God’s faithfulness, allowing Him to take charge of how much to leave for himself.
In the United States or in Taiwan, are there wealthy brothers and sisters who spend money lavishly while traveling or purchasing expensive clothes but who are reluctant to make a small offering for divine work and needy Christians? Allow me to be frank, it is impossible for such Christians to attain spiritual growth (Matt. 19:16-26; I John 3:16-18).
The New Testament does not stipulate the tithe amount but rather “God loves a cheerful giver” (II Cor. 9:6-9). In the presence of Corinthian Christians, Paul praised the Christians of Macedonia, “How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves. Paying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints” (II Cor. 8:2-4). The Lord Jesus was rich but became poor for our sake. In other words, we were bought at a high price and everything we have belong to God (please read reverently I Kings Chapter 29, with emphasis on David’s excellent example in verses 14 and 16). We are merely stewards, and “it is required in stewards that one be found faithful (I Cor. 4:2).” Brother Lan was a faithful servant of the Lord.
That Brother Lan left behind only one coin when he passed away does not necessarily mean that every loyal servant has to leave behind so little. Everyone’s situation and God’s guidance differ, and even every country’s economic system differs. For instance, some may set aside reasonable amounts to “lay up … for the children” (II Cor. 12:14), as ants that save up their food in the summer (see Gen. 41:36; Prov. 30:25). Or, the Lord may guide differently. The basic principle is to love the Lord following Brother Lan’s example as a faithful steward with a clear conscience and a pure heart. Oh, those who shone during the trials in China were the ones who loved God at any cost!
Let me add a few more words here. The end-time is a time when “men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous ... lawlessness abound and the love of many will grow cold (II Tim. 3:2).” Mammon is becoming more and more powerful over many Christians, even taking the Lord’s place as their master! Faithful stewards are becoming fewer and fewer nowadays; even in the Old Testament times, there were not many who willingly offered their tithes. As the rapture and the return of the Lord draw near, may the Lord grant us abundant mercy and grace, so that we will watch and pray always rather than “heaping up treasure in the last days (James 5:3)” as we wait to meet the Lord. May He endow us with the wisdom and power of discernment as we learn to follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance in directing the money set aside for the most worthy and urgent divine work.
1. This province is situated in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.