A few years ago I had the immense privilege of travelling with a group of Christian leaders in mainland China. It was a wonderful experience and one that has made a profound impact on me, and on my perspective on life.
I was humbled and in tears when we were introduced to a lady who looked like she was 200 years old, yet she had the spark of youth in her eyes as she told us part of her story through an interpreter:
She had been a nurse during the Cultural Revolution, working in a Christian Mission Hospital. One day soldiers came and took away all of the doctors and many of the other staff, leaving a handful of Christian nurses to care for all the patients. Each week the soldiers would come and beat them, demanding that they deny their faith in Jesus. Each week they would refuse.
With tears running down her cheeks she told us of how, to her shame, one week it got too much for her and she told the soldiers that she was no longer a believer, so that they would leave her alone. When they left she told us of how she wept and wept because, like Peter, she had denied her Lord. She prayed for forgiveness and strength.
The next week the soldiers returned to beat the Christians and were leaving her alone. She went up to them and told them that she had been weak when she denied being a follower of Jesus, but she had asked him to forgive her and he had, so they had better include her in the beatings again. She told them that even though they beat her every week for the rest of her life she would not stop following Jesus.
The soldiers left, and never returned.
What a wonderful woman! What incredible bravery, honesty and faith.
Later in our ‘tour’ we went to a Buddhist Temple as tourists. I was fascinated with how the Chinese people were buying temple currency and then taking it up and placing it before a Buddhist Priest, who had his head bowed in prayer. I was told that this was to buy prayers for themselves or for those for whom they were concerned. I was also told that the temple currency was recycled and sent back to the place where people were buying it to be bought again.
I moved from where we were stood and managed to get a view behind the table where the money was laid and see the priest who was bowed in prayer.
Except he was not praying.
He had his phone out in front of him, under the table, and was busy texting. I presume he was not texting prayers to Buddha!
The contrast between these two experiences has stayed with me. To me they illustrate the difference between living faith and dead religion. One left me energised, blessed, humbled and joyful. The other left me sad, dulled and upset at how people were being exploited.
May I always be more like that old lady than that priest.
Be blessed. Be a blessing.
Unfortunate translations of the Bible can lead to inappropriate understandings of what Jesus meant for us to do. He was not condoning bribery of the police when, in his parable about settling with your opponent before going to court, he mentions that if you fail to do so you will end up in prison. ‘You will not get out’, he concludes, ‘until you have paid the last copper’. (Luke 12:59, RSV).
Of course this could just be a corrupt text.