Lui Sing took his son by the hand. “Tonight we will slip through the rice field like shadows,” he told Wo Ming. “Do not stumble. Do not whisper. Death walks beside us.”
Wo Ming trembled. He had been to prayer meetings with his father many times. Each time he shivered with fear.
If my father wasn’t a secret Christian, I wouldn’t have to walk in fear, he thought resentfully.
That night they hurried through the rice field. At the far edge of the field Lui Sing paused. Wo Ming shivered harder than ever. The thing that his father was going to do now was what caused death to walk beside them. He watched his father reach deep in between two rocks that were set in the bank just above the water line. The rocks were flat, and the space between them was like a shelf.
“I want to go back to our house,” Wo Ming whispered suddenly.
“Shhhhh,” said his father, drawing Wo Ming closer to him. “I know you’re afraid, but I must take you along.”
“Is it because I must know what to do if you are sent away?” Wo Ming’s lips quivered. He knew that this was the reason, but he had to ask. He needed to be told again.
“Workers are needed in the northern villages,” his father replied. “I think that any time now I may be sent away–maybe for months.”
Lui Sing slipped a small package from between the rocks. It was wrapped in oiled silk to keep the moisture out. Carefully he removed the Bible from the silk and tucked it inside his shirt.
Then they hurried to a house that was owned by a merchant. Bamboo screens were set in front of the doors and the windows to shut out any light that might shine through.
Once inside the house, Lui Sing opened the Bible. A dozen families had slipped into the merchant’s house to hear the reading of the Bible and to pray. Lui Sing read about how Jesus sat on the mountainside and preached to the people.
Wo Ming tried hard to listen, but the words all flowed away from him. All he could think about was his fear. When all of the people knelt to pray, however, Wo Ming knelt with them.
I don’t want them to know that I would rather not be with the Jesus people, he reminded himself. If they were caught, they might be imprisoned–or worse. Wo Ming looked for fear on their faces. There wasn’t any. In fact, their faces all seemed to shine.
Wo Ming was glad to leave the house and creep back across the rice field. He was even more glad to flop down on his reed mat, safe at home again.
In a few days Wo Ming’s father was sent away to a cold northern village to work. After he was gone Wo Ming thought much about the hidden Bible. The next prayer time would not be until the dark of the moon. It gave him much time to think–more time than he really wanted.
I cannot cross the field alone, he told himself. It cannot be that my father would want me to do this thing.
Wo Ming knew better than that, however. It was for this reason that his father had tried to teach him to walk with death beside him. The Jesus people were sometimes put to death when they were caught. Sometimes they had accidents that no one dared to ask too much about.
The people who come to the merchant’s house from the villages cannot read, Wo Ming reminded himself. Even the merchants can do only figures. My father, Lui Sing, can read. I can read. Besides, we have the only Bible.
Again and again Wo Ming told himself that he could not go. Yet when the moon was dark he thought of how his father had trusted him. He slipped across the field like a shadow. He reached and took the Bible from the rock shelf. He hurried to the merchant’s house.
My voice will quiver like a willow, and I will not be able to read, he groaned to himself. He wished that he had not been too fearful to listen while his father had read.
Wo Ming opened the Bible to the page marked by a slip of paper. He began with the very words that his father had read at the last prayer time: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
He read on and on. Then he looked up at the people in the room. There was a hungering eagerness on their faces, as there must have been on the faces of those who listened to Jesus on the mountain.
Wo Ming closed the Bible. All the people prayed.
Wo Ming smiled at them. “I will return with the Book at the next dark of the moon,” he promised quietly. They nodded to him and smiled trustingly.
It was not possible to hide the Bible and cross the field without feeling fear. Wo Ming still shivered in the lonely night. But he knew that he would be doing this same thing again and again. He also knew that he would never be just a small boy again. He felt tall in the deep night of the Orient.
“To be poor in spirit is not to be frightened in spirit,” he said quietly to himself. “It is to be in need of more knowledge of the Savior. Because I have not listened well, my spirit is poor–but now my ears and eyes will be opened.”
And now the Bible was hidden again, and Wo Ming lay on his reed mat in safety. But he didn’t think too much about either of these things. Instead the words in his mind were like music: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Now Wo Ming could pray and have heaven seem very close.
Reprinted from the March 9, 1977, issue of Guide.
Illustrated by Marcus Mashburn