This moving article from shares how one drug rehabilitation ministry has impacted the lives of drug addicts in China. Qiu Han tells the faith stories of Huang Feng-hua and Bao-ling, two former drug addicts who also battled cancer. Due to the length of their stories, the article will be divided into two parts.
Would Jesus Want a Drug Addict with Final Stage Cancer?—Bao-ling’s Days at Home of Abundant Grace
The morning of January 19, Huang Feng-hua should have been meeting her mother, who was being discharged from the hospital. But instead, Feng-hua was busy trying to rent an apartment for Bao-ling. Even before noon, her brother phoned her saying that their mother was calling her “a lantern hung up high.” Feng-hua laughed out loud, explaining to me, “I shine on those who are far, but ignore the people closest to me.”
On their way to lunch, Mrs. Huang did not stop scolding her the entire way, saying that you could tell at a glance that Bao-ling was no good, and would only take advantage of Feng-hua for food and drink. Feng-hua’s brother, on the other hand, mocked his sister as he drove, “I’m telling you, they’re a garbage recycling service. All day long they take in the stuff nobody wants. The government doesn’t want it, maybe Jesus does!”
Feng-hua smiled as if she had heard it all before. After a moment of silence, she quietly said, “But I’m recycled garbage myself.”
Feng-hua’s brother excitedly said:
The thing is, you could be recycled, but could she? Nobody would want her even for filling land! You think it’s that easy making a new Huang Feng-hua? You know how much of a struggle your own journey has been. How much more for that half-dead woman? You could count the days she has. Why don’t you save your strength and help someone else?
Feng-hua playing and singing hymns.
You Thought I Must Have Quit This Time?
Feng Le Second Street in Haizhu District is across the river from the White Swan Hotel. This district of old buildings was quite lively in the 80s and 90s. Huang Feng-hua was born here and this was where she had her first taste of heroin. Today, her ancestral home has become a weekly gathering place for recovering drug addicts to study the Bible—the Home of Abundant Grace. And Feng-hua herself is one of the core staff in this rehabilitation ministry. Though Mrs. Huang scolded her daughter, she only charges a nominal rent of 500 RMB per month for the house. This shows her full support!
In 1988, when Feng-hua and her brother first encountered heroin, they thought that it wasn’t much different from cigarettes.
At the time I liked money and was impulsive, and didn’t really understand the dangers of drugs. Because one roll was 50 RMB, normal people simply couldn’t afford it. It was as if I had achieved something and had face in being able to afford heroin.
In the 80s, Guangzhou saw the rise of the first ten-thousand dollar households among business owners and the self-employed, just like in the TV show Gao Di Street. The businessmen who came from Hong Kong, Yunnan, Thailand, and the Golden Triangle quickly brought the wicked habit of heroin into this community. At the time, Feng-hua was just 20 years old and she started working at restaurants before graduating from middle school. All day she eagerly joined coworkers in meeting businessmen who came back from abroad. They dined together, flirted, joked, and laughed. All she had to do was ask, and the money would come. She woke up at noon, went for afternoon tea, then went directly to the dance halls after dinner.
After 1995, I kept getting arrested. I’ve basically been through all the rehabilitation centers in Guangzhou. My mother visited me in various jails. To get money I would steal things to sell. Many convenient stores had my photo up. Once I entered a store, the staff would follow me closely. I even stole and pawned the money and jewelry from home. There was once when my addiction flared up, and I asked my mother for money. She was so angry she hit her head against the wall. I had lost all reason and said, "then go ahead and die. But at least give me money before dying."
As long as I could satisfy my addiction, I cared nothing for my family or the world. I had no desire to date or marry. I simply lived from day to day, trying to satisfy my addiction. Now you know that once people get hooked on drugs they lose all humanity. Especially women, for a handful of heroin, they would even give up their own dignity . . .
In talking about her past, Feng-hua hid nothing. Her mother looked more harried every time she visited Feng-hua in jail, and Feng-hua would feel guilty, swearing to never use drugs again. But once she left the rehabilitation center, the first thing she did was use drugs. Her family spent good money to bring her to health centers for quitting drugs. They also tried tying her up with wires, but nothing worked. Because she had more and more experience with rehabilitation programs, she could guess and respond to whatever symptoms she experienced. In the end she was completely numb. From age 20 to age 40, Huang Feng-hua’s best years wasted away because of heroin.
In the spring of 2009, for probably the eighth time, Feng-hua was arrested and brought to a rehabilitation center. The first dozen days of withdrawal were very painful. She lay on the hard bed, staring at the ceiling, suffering through each second. At this point a woman in the same room started singing, “Jesus can change your experiences. Jesus can understand your feelings. . .”
As she listened, Feng-hua felt as if her pain lightened greatly. She suddenly yearned for the life that the song sang about, and not her current existence. Not till after asking for many songs and hearing many Bible stories from this woman did Feng-hua learn that she was a Christian and had successfully quit drugs. She was detained because she had taken sleeping pills and did not pass a urine test.
You think that I must have quit this time?” Feng-hua laughed. “Not that easy! It’s as if at their most painful moment a person grasps at a saving straw, but afterward goes back to their old life. I was in the rehabilitation center for seven days, and as soon as I left I ran to buy some heroin. I was quickly caught and detained again. I suddenly thought, if I could only read the Bible and pray with these women, how wonderful life would be! Only then did I utterly repent, and on my knees I asked for God’s help. I came to this village to quit drugs and learn, and have lived here for the past 10 years.
A year and a half after coming to this village, Feng-hua found out that she had breast cancer.
Women’s rehabilitation center—Home of Abundant Grace
I Still Remember that Tear-filled Gaze
Feng-hua honestly shared that there were many rules at the rehabilitation center, and it was difficult to change. For example, after she quit heroin, she was back to cigarettes. She could only rely on the Spirit’s work and the reminder of “Parent” to pray continually. the Home of Abundant Grace has an entire program for life change. Each stage had different Bible courses to study, as well as mentorship and counselling.
“Parent” is how the younger people address Old Brother Chen, the founder of the Home of Abundant Grace. Old Brother Chen is now seventy some years old. Forty years ago, he had his own experience with quitting drugs. In 2005, he went from Hong Kong to Guangzhou on a short-term mission trip from church, and saw the suffering of women drug addicts in the red-light district. He pitied them, so when he returned to Hong Kong, he registered a charity organization and raised funds to help establish a gospel rehabilitation ministry in the mainland.
At first their rehabilitation village was divided into a men’s village and a women’s village. Generally speaking, men are more likely to encounter drugs than women. At the same time, men were more likely than women to successfully quit drugs and be accepted by society. Women’s bodies have a more difficult time bearing the pain of withdrawal, and even after quitting they more easily fall back into drugs because of relationships or emotional influences. Furthermore, in raising funds to buy drugs they easily fall into sexual transactions or risk harassment from others. This is also one of the reasons society has a harder time accepting women drug addicts. The possibility of men entering marriage after quitting drugs is higher, whereas women must bear greater scrutiny from society. These pressures are part of the reasons they are pushed towards relapse or even worse choices.
A couple years after the Home of Abundant Grace began their ministry, everyone found that the rehabilitation results of women were very good. It also eventually produced several spiritually mature staff, so the focus began slowly shifting to specialize in women’s drug rehabilitation.
A year and a half after Feng-hua entered the village, her spiritual life grew quickly. Not only did she become a Christian, but she became one of the managers of the place, serving new addicts that came in. This was very comforting for Old Brother Chen and the other staff, and they trusted her greatly. But just then, she found out that she had breast cancer.
During surgery and chemotherapy in the hospital, Feng-hua found out that chemotherapy and withdrawal are both sufferings that cannot be described by words. Although she persisted in reading the Bible, the hospital was very free, and she had money with her from her family. She began struggling in her heart. She struggled for a whole week—should she go buy some heroin? As the chemotherapy became worse and worse, her desire became stronger and stronger.
Ultimately, I went back to drugs for a month. I was likely a walking corpse. When the staff asked me if I had relapsed, on the one hand I felt ashamed, on the other I was worried about disappointing Parent, so I never admitted it. But I looked worse and worse, and anyone could tell. Finally, I went to tell our Parent. He bowed his head and stared into space for a long time, and finally raised his head to softly ask me, “Hua, what are you planning to do now?” That tearful gaze, I still remember to this day. I instantly remembered how Peter denied Christ three times, and how Jesus turned to look at him in the end. That acceptance and forgiveness—it was heart-wrenching. . . Then I said, I want to come back to rehab in the village.
Recalling that scene from years ago, Feng-hua was still somewhat emotional.
Parent was already elderly, and was not in good health. Yet he still gave his money and his energy to Abundant Grace, never asking for any returns. If not for God’s love working through his servant, I would not be here today. Parent has really influenced me in terms of perseverance in life, loving the Lord, and acceptance of others!
After chemotherapy was completed, Feng-hua took a break from serving, and went back to the village for a month for rehabilitation. Afterwards, she even sought out the people who sold her drugs during chemotherapy, to apologize to them.
Having believed in Jesus I should be a blessing to others. Instead, I was a bad testimony to these people. Not only did I bring shame to God’s name, but I caused others to stumble. So, I owed them an apology. After that, every time I went to people who sold drugs, I would first pray and empty myself, and on entering, I make my intention clear, asking that they stop dealing with drugs. Now when my drug-using friends come see me, they will put away their things first, and listen to me share the gospel, knowing that I sincerely have their good at heart.
Through her weakness, God also began an outward fellowship ministry. In 2012, she and another staff began an outreach, visiting drug addicts and sharing the gospel. Her ancestral home also became a place of fellowship.
Looking back over the past, Feng-hua found that she never cried when she was using drugs, but after coming to Christ she cried often—grateful because God chose her, crying to God because of the loneliness or difficulties in ministry, sorrow over her own weakness, or moved by the love of spiritual elders around her. . . After her cancer, God has continued to work through her ministry to this day.
Feng-hua's and Bao-ling's story will be continued next week in Chinese Church Voices.
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