In this article from Manna of God, the author describes the radical transformation of his home village from a “village of thieves” into a Christian community built on faith, hope, and love. He tells the story of an unlikely group of villains who have their lives profoundly changed by the gospel of Christ.
A Village Transformed by Christ
Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Matthew 5:15
Twenty years ago, my hometown was known far and wide as a wicked "village of thieves.” Who knows how it got that way? Perhaps poverty drove people to crime, or perhaps over time an atmosphere of worldliness simply eroded their sense of morality. However it happened, our little hamlet became a byword and object of scorn to everyone around us.
The villagers themselves thought such a reputation was uncalled for. Even the illiterates were content to mock those prissy observers. “Let ’em talk! We’ll walk our own path.”
They played by different rules. I remember one time an old lady from the west side of town was caught stealing in the market. The local government locked her up for a day, but as soon as she was out, she was like a triumphant soldier returning from battle, regaling the neighbors with tales of her exploits.
Only a handful of families—some said maybe ten at most—refrained from the rampant crime and theft. For a time, my next door neighbor Auntie San was deeply disturbed by what went on in our village. But in the end even she couldn’t resist more money, and she joined the criminal masses.
Vendors and sellers from Feng, Yutai, Pei, and Shan counties all suffered at the well-practiced hands of our village’s thieves. As for the legal consequences . . . it was like a little game the villagers got to play over and over again. Get caught, get released. Get released, get caught. Get caught, get released again. The government was toothless.
I left in 1993 to study in another small city, and after I graduated I traveled extensively. I rarely returned home, and even though I had opportunities to visit my folks, I did not keep up with what happened back in the “village of thieves.”
It was almost ten years later that news came from back home which shocked me. In the spring of 2002, I was talking with my mother over the phone when she shared about a stunning transformation in the village. It was a “village of thieves” no longer. No one stole; theft and crime had disappeared. There was one simple reason: one after another, most of the villagers had come to believe in and follow Jesus Christ.
I was dumbfounded. Who exactly was this “Jesus Christ?” How in the world did he change my village? What kind of power could turn such a perverse, obstinate community of people into a town of law-abiding, respectful citizens?
I brought these questions with me when I returned home that year for Chinese New Year. My mother and I visited a local church in the village. When we arrived all eight rooms were packed with people, and their faces shone with happiness and peace. Everything about the place stood out from the dreary desolation and pain of the outside world. These Christians prayed, worshiped, made music, and preached with real joy. I knew this was a place where people’s hearts were set free.
Not long after, I heard of an older woman returning from the market who was hit by a car rounding the bend, fracturing her right leg. When the sisters in the church heard of it, they took turns visiting and serving her. The Christian community helped her and her family through that difficult time. What’s more, their love and service toward one another silently sowed seeds of their faith in the people around them. If someone was sick, he or she always had visitors. Whenever a family was in trouble, those who could did everything within their power to help. Those who could not help in material ways prayed earnestly on the family’s behalf, and everyone would face the crisis together.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. John 13:34
People can fake acts of service, but they can’t fake heart transformation. When people are changed on the inside—that is real power. I saw that power at work, even though I still did not know where it ultimately came from.
As I watched, I saw that power work even in my own family. My aunt told me, “People can’t just change other people—it’s almost impossible. But the change I saw in your mother’s life ended up changing me. When I saw the testimony of her life, I had to learn more about her faith, and now I’m a Christian, too. It’s all because of your mother’s example.”
My mother used to be quick-tempered. The most trivial thing could set her off, and she would argue ferociously with my father. Our once harmonious home couldn’t go a day without strife and anger. But something changed in my mother after she started following the Lord. A year later, she was respectful, amiable, forgiving, humble, and a whole host of other adjectives that I never thought would describe my mother. She was wonderful to be around.
It was not just my mom, either. After my foul-mouthed sister Liu came to know the Lord, she began to speak differently. She was kind, gentle, and gracious. Her words became a blessing and a grace to those around her.
And then there was the fearsome Miss Chang, a notoriously overbearing vegetable vendor. No one in the vegetable market dared provoke her. But after she came to faith, people marveled at her transformation. Everyone in the surrounding area talked about how honestly she did business, how kindly she carried herself, how generously she dealt with customers.
These and many more testimonies presented themselves as indisputable evidence. I had left a village corrupted by crime, and returned to a village transformed by Christ.
The power of God is like a breath of wind that silently, stealthily slips into the deepest regions of a person’s soul. It cleanses the blemishes on his heart, and peels off the old ways of thinking that have encrusted his mind. In the presence of Christ, traditional feudal ways of thinking, cultural Chinese contempt for women, and other strongholds are shattered, and God replaces them with a new value for people and a new way of seeing the world.
Now these three things remain: faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love. That very faith rebuilt our community’s crumbled sense of right and wrong. That very love took our discordant, selfish society and led us in a new song of harmony. Miserly vendors are now generous, irascible mothers are now gentle, vulgar women are now gracious—that is what Jesus has done for my village.
Original Article: 被基督改变的村庄, by 张凯法律工作者.
Image credit: Xiamei, Wuyi by Henrik Berger Jørgensen via Flickr.
Are you enjoying a cup of good coffee or fragrant tea while reading the latest ChinaSource post? Consider donating the cost of that “cuppa” to support our content so we can continue to serve you with the latest on Christianity in China.