Book Review

Bringing Up Men of God


陈织娘的一生 (A Wind in the Door), Mrs. Chong-Ping Tong. Available in Chinese only. Tuanjie Publishing Press, 2011, 267 pages; ISBN: 9787512606678.

Available at Baojiayin for ¥ 27.60 and Ambassadors for Christ, Inc. for US$10.95

Reviewed by Axin

Chen Zhi-Niang was an ordinary woman. Nevertheless, this ordinary woman raised six, world-prominent Chinese preachers: Chong-Ming Tong, Chong-Ping Tong, Chong-Shu Tong, Chong-An Tong, Chong-Rong Tong and Chong-Huai Tong. She was a woman abundantly blessed by God.

Chen Zhi-Niang was born in Java, Indonesia in 1909 to an immigrant family from China’s Fujian Province. Her father was the owner of a local fabric shop when Indonesia was a Dutch colony. At age 16, while attending a school run by the Dutch, Zhi-Niang’s parents decided to halt her education and married her to a businessman, a widower with several children. She objected strongly but her mother persuaded her:

You may not want to marry an older widower, but my child, this marriage is your best option. Yes, he is a much older man and his wife left him with several children. But you need not worry because he is a wealthy man so he can hire helpers to care for not only those children but you as well. Why should we marry you off to a young man struggling to start his life? Not only will you need to help him with his career, you will also need to keep his home! That is not what we want for you. Rather, we want you to live a comfortable and easy life. We’ve thought this over, our daughter. Please believe me that this is the best option for you. You must look at the benefits this marriage will bring . . .

For those who were taught under the Communist educational system, this marriage was obviously a business transaction based on financial gains, an arrangement that should have been fought no matter what. But Zhi-Niang did not do that. After some mild objections, she chose to obey her parents. While she enjoyed school and learning, this 17-year-old girl suspended her formal education and became the wife of a businessman 17 years her senior and step-mother of several young children. The year was 1926.

However, similar to the fate of many young women who married wealthy men, Zhi-Niang discovered that her husband had already taken another wife in his hometown of Xiamen at the order of his parents. Zhi-Niang was just “the other woman.” But despite the pain and humiliation, Zhi-Niang once again decided to accept the lot life dealt to her. Amazingly, after marrying, the couple gradually fell in love and built a close relationship with much affection and mutual respect.

In 1928, two years into her marriage, Zhi-Niang followed her husband, Bo-Hu Tang, to Xiamen and began her life as one of his two wives. In December of that year her oldest son, Chong-Po, was born.

In Xiamen, she needed to learn how to get along with her husband’s other wife and take orders from her domineering mother-in-law. She was forced to give away two of her children because of local superstition. However, although Zhi-Niang endured difficulties, the book leads me to conclude that she was mostly happy. Her everyday needs were well cared for and her husband truly loved and showed concern for her.

When the Sino-Japanese War erupted, Zhi-Niang’s family moved to Gulangyu. It was during those more difficult days that they encountered Jesus in a remarkable way.

Zhi-Niang’s three-year-old son, Chong-An, was gravely ill. No medicine had worked. Zhi-Niang just sat helplessly at his bedside watching him slowly dying. Then in came the person she least wanted to see—the mother of Jin-Bo, her husband’s other wife. She wanted to visit the sick child. Looking at the desperate Zhi-Niang, Mrs. Shen said in all sincerity:

“We Christians believe that we can pray to God in times of trouble. We must tell Him our difficulties and ask Him to help us. Let’s pray for your child and watch Him do His work.”

Zhi-Niang’s heart was beating strangely and all she could do was nod.  She sat quietly and watched the two elderly women gently placing their wrinkled hands on the child’s feverish forehead, turning his life over to this God who she did not know and could not see. She had never heard of people praying to this “Christian God.” But they seemed to be talking to someone very familiar. . . . Their prayer calmed her worries. 

That afternoon Zhi-Niang woke up startled and sat by the bed. This was the first time she had slept peacefully in many days. She scolded herself for falling asleep and quickly turned to check on her son. “Mommy,” his weak voice tore her heart, “Mommy, I want some crackers.”

This was the beginning of what became a renowned Chinese Christian family. Later Zhi-Niang testified that, “God came upon our home. It was that simple. Most amazingly He did it through Jin-Bo’s mother—someone I thought cared about me the least. God used her to reach me and my entire family to put our faith in Him.”

Around 1943 when Zhi-Niang was only 32, Bo-Hu became ill and died, leaving her with seven children. The oldest, Chong-Po, was not yet 17 and the youngest still an infant. Without their husband and father, Zhi-Niang could only look to her God. This woman who had enjoyed the good life for almost 20 years now had to face hardship. However, it was at that point that her inner strength and resolve emerged. She wisely maneuvered through inheritance disputes, fighting for her and her children’s rightful benefits. Getting through Japanese checkpoints, she and Jin-Bo’s sister, Jin-Zhi, conducted business on the outer islands. The venture did not work out but they were determined to make some money, so instead they decided to do hard labor at a construction site moving bricks. The money was not much but the experience gave her confidence in her own ability to care for her family and that God would bring them through. She knew she could count on him no matter what.

After this, Zhi-Niang opened a seamstress shop in Xiamen. Though the business was hard, she insisted on not working on Sundays. After testing her faith, God gave her an even more challenging mission. China was about to be transformed, and God gave Zhi-Niang the task of bringing his chosen men of God out of “Egypt.”

In the 1940s, a poor widow and her children set out across the Pacific Ocean to move from Xiamen to Indonesia. What made her go on this journey? “A simple faith,” she said. “It was certainly a gamble, but a gamble based on faith in God.”

The family settled in Surabaya and God began to work his marvelous plan. The first to respond to God’s calling was her son Chong-Ping. He went to the United States to study theology at the Reformed Bible College. Later, one Rev. Andrew Jiwen Gih came to Malang, Indonesia from the US to conduct youth gospel rallies where three of Zhi-Niang’s other children—Chong-Ming, Chong-Rong and Chong-An—all attended. Soon after the gospel rallies ended, Rev. Gih came to Zhi-Niang’s home.

Zhi-Niang was very surprised and asked, “Dr. Gih, are you having gospel meetings in Surabaya too?”

“No, Mrs. Tong,” Gih replied, “I’m not doing a gospel tour, but rather came from Malang to visit you specifically.” 

Zhi-Niang had no idea that all three boys had filled out decision cards to commit to God’s work. The following frank conversation is recorded on page 220 of the book.

“You know, Dr. Gih, I’m a widowed mother. Several months ago one of my sons went to study in the US to become a preacher.” With slight hesitation she continued humbly but boldly, “We’re not rich. So how much is the tuition?”

Dr. Gih smileda warm and unpretentious smilewith sparkles in his eyes. He seemed to understand and did not dismiss her fear and humility.  His answer was filled with comfort and assurance.

“I’m an orphan,” he replied simply, “and know how difficult it is to come up with the expenses. It is a battle. But I also know that oftentimes children without fathers have more backbone.”

He suddenly turned toward Chong-Ming and said “We can find a sponsor for you if you’re willing to enter the Southeast Asia Seminary. We welcome you there.”

This was the beginning of five of Zhi-Niang’s children—Chong-Ming Tong, Chong-An Tong, Chong-Rong Tong, Chong-Shu Tong and Chong-Huai Tong—committing themselves to serve God in full-time ministry. Let me quote Dr. Stephen Chong-Rong Tong:

I remember vividly at eight years of age that every day I woke up to the voice of my mother praying. I recall her telling me, “Because you have the fear of the Lord, I can take comfort no matter where you go. I don’t need to fret over you because I know you have the fear of the Lord in your heart. My responsibility is complete.”My mother was not highly educated, but was wise because she feared and honored God.

There are detailed and captivating descriptions in Mrs. Chong-Ping Tong’s book. You will learn about exotic cultures, the intricate relationships in an old-style Chinese family, the successes and failures of running a business, personal struggles, the effects of war, hostility among nations and life in a foreign land. Of course the book also describes familial love and the great love of the cross. 

My hope is that readers of this review will be motivated to read A Wind in the Door—the story of a noble mother who raised outstanding children.

Originally published at OC爱看网, translated by Alice Loh and reprinted with permission.

Axin

Axin (pen-name) is a Christian writer and also a NGO worker in mainland China. His recent books include Loving China with His Life: Biography of Samuel Pollard (用生命爱中国:伯格理传). View Full Bio