The hidden Bible
“Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits” (Psalm 103:1,2, KJV ).
How could a young man with lung problems endure a total of 15 years of confinement inside a jail and a hard labor camp in China because of his religious convictions and finally come out safe and sound? How could his life have been spared at least six times from the near-death accidents inside that hard labor camp? How could this same person, once shut up in a 6 foot by 9 foot cell for years, be privileged to travel to dozens of countries to witness to true liberty in Christ? How could he be suspended as a student for 25 years from normal study and yet unexpectedly be given the opportunity to go back to schools thrice and eventually receive a doctoral degree in his mid-fifties? How could this shy boy turn out to be a public broadcaster and gospel communicator? I am that young man, that student, that prisoner.
From among the many blessings and providential care from the Lord, I would like to share just one particular testimony on how wonderful our loving God is! I spent the first four years of imprisonment in a custody house, and there I was placed under maximum security because of my religious beliefs. That meant I could not write to or receive letters from my family members. All I received was a sentencing paper on a hot summer afternoon. I was later transferred to a regular prison in Shanghai for another four years to complete my 8-year term. The living conditions there were almost as bad as those of the custody house—no bed, no chair, no desk, no book to read except the red bible, Mao’s Quotations. The food was anything but desirable.
Only one thing was redeeming—that was to come later: permission to communicate with my family by letters as well as through limited visitations by them. I was told, however, that my letter must be limited to 100 Chinese characters (less than a third of a page). After the first visitation by my immediate family members, a new hope arose in my heart. More important than desiring to get some supplemental food (in fact, it was not allowed at that time), I had the hunger in my heart for a Bible, since my pocket Bible had been confiscated on arrival at the police detention house. Realizing that I would be in confinement for a long time, before my extended incarceration I committed to memory Bible verses as I could. I started with the Book of Daniel, verse by verse, then on with the Book of Revelation, then the Psalms, and then other familiar texts in the Old and New Testaments. By God’s grace, once I even conducted a Bible study with two cellmates without a Bible on hand. Using a topical approach to the systematic study of Christian doctrines, I gave them 10 or more verses the first day. The following day, we reviewed the doctrines and Bible verses. On the third day, we tried to repeat them from memory. Later we even put some of these verses in song.
But all the while I was still yearning for a copy of Bible. From a human point of view, during this period of the so-called Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) in China, when everything was going berserk, and with the social fabric all but broken down, getting a Bible, which was declared as a forbidden book, was just pure fantasy. Any attempt to smuggle one to me would endanger me as well as my family. But our God is a wonder-working, miracle-performing God.
One day as I was writing to my family I was wondering how I could give them a clue that I desperately needed a Bible. Right at that moment I heard a loud voice—one of the forced laborers of the prison calling out someone’s ID number 115, 115! The Holy Spirit enlightened my mind to recall that in our old Chinese songbook the title for hymn 115 was “Give Me the Bible!” A sudden flash of God’s illumination! Amazing! Though I could not write out plainly in my censored letter, “Please send me a Bible.” So I wrote, “Send me a 115 page-notebook” and underlined the number. I handed the letter to the prison guard with a silent prayer. When he checked it and said okay, he really did not understand the spiritual secret.
The same Holy Spirit who enlightened me also opened the eyes of my family members to give them insight to my secret message. At the assigned visitation time, our hearts were pounding. Eight minutes passed and just before my family members left, they told me: “When you use the soap, cut it in pieces.” I nodded with an understanding smile. After we bade farewell, the police handed me the essential items, including a large bar of laundry soap.
Nothing was easy to do in a small cell room. I thought for a while how to take out what I suspected was inside the bar of laundry soap without being seen by the guard and others. It was near sunset. With my back to my cellmates and with the guard looking the other way, I put my dirty laundry in a basin. I used a thread to divide the soap into two halves. A lovely mini-pocket English New Testament wrapped in a piece of plastic came out. That was very exciting! I quickly put the Bible in my underwear pocket. I thanked God and prayed: “Oh Lord. You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound. I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:7, 8, NIV).
The next morning, I saw several prisoners in line being paraded in the lobby. They had to confess that they were anti-reformists. They had been caught with prohibited articles, which now were being hung around their necks. One had candy, another cookies, still another lard inside a toothpaste tube that family members had inserted. All these were detected, and the recipients of these smuggled items were punished. I learned later that someone had put a needle inside a bar of soap and it too was discovered and confiscated. It seemed the police had strained at a gnat but swallowed a camel! The police detected a small needle in a bar of soap but overlooked a New Testament. How amazed and grateful I was for God’s power and love. “So do not worry...your heavenly Father knows that you need [all these things]... But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:31-33, NIV).
But how could I read my Bible under the constant watch by the guard? That is another story. I will never forget what God has wrought for me—one who was hungry and thirsty for His truth and righteousness. The Bible has truly become a light in my path and a never-failing guide amidst darkness. Moreover, the safest place and efficient way is to have God’s Word in our heart, in our soul, and in our life.
Robert Wong is director of Global Chinese Ministries. Address: 12/F Citimark, 28 Yuen Shun Circuit; Siu Lek Yuen, Shatin; Hong Kong. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org