Chinese Church Voices

Peace and Preparedness

Chinese Church Voices is a weekly column of the ChinaSource Blog providing translations of original writing by Christians in China. The views represented are entirely those of the original author; inclusion in Chinese Church Voices does not imply or equal an endorsement by ChinaSource.

It is the start of the school year and that means homework. Chinese primary and secondary students are typically assigned homework during their summer holiday. Students normally need to have their summer homework ready before the start of the school year.

In this article, Wang Ziyu shares from personal experience about one summer that taught Wang the value of preparedness. Wang likens preparedness for the school year with readiness for the coming of God’s kingdom.

Are You Prepared For Your "Special Assignment?"

Today is August 31; September, the beginning of the school year, is nearly here. Children are tidying up the last of their vacation homework and preparing to go back to school. Every year at this time, there are always some children who leave their vacation homework to the last minute and rush it. The reason for this is simple—they aren’t prepared for the new school year.

I still remember the end of the summer vacation when I was in third grade at primary school. As I was registering for the new school year, my teacher took my still-unfinished homework, flicked through the pages glowering, threw down my book, and asked me harshly what possible excuse I could have for this.

At the time, because I had to pay to register, my older sister had come with me. She was five years older than me, but she was also standing there beside me feeling very uncomfortable, taking the teacher’s dressing down together with me. After a while, my sister asked by way of a promise, "Teacher, there are still two days until semester officially starts—if I go home and make my brother finish his homework, would it be possible for you to let us pay the school fees now?" My impression of 1980s Chinese primary school education is that only as long as you paid the fees you were considered officially registered at school. Extremely unwillingly, my teacher opened up the accounts book—and then, counting the money, said we were five RMB short.

This was no small horror to us. This was an age of extreme material impoverishment. Although my father earned 80 to 90 RMB a month, which was considered quite a lot, we had five mouths to feed at home, three kids at school, and a number of relatives in the countryside to whom we sent money. Things were not easy. I watched my sister take her purse out of another bag and slowly count out small change—fifty cents, twenty cents, ten cents, five cents… It was tough to scrape together five dollars to put into the teacher’s hand. My mind went totally blank; I took in nothing of their conversation at the time.

On the way back home, I asked my sister why we needed to pay five RMB extra. She said that our family had prepared the money according to the school’s official requirements. The reason we had to give extra was because I hadn’t finished my vacation homework—only if I finished it could we get those five dollars back. I knew I had rushed headlong into serious disaster, and had no idea what kind of dreadful punishment I was about to encounter.

Fortunately for me, when we got home my sister didn’t tell my parents what had happened. I flew off with my homework book, ran up to the balcony on the top floor and began furiously scribbling away. The stabbingly-bright sunlight was like fire on my arms, and before long sweat ran down my face in beads as big as beans. The sweat from my hands ran onto my homework book and soaked it, but I wasn’t giving up—all I thought of was finishing that homework as soon as possible. And I couldn’t do my homework in the main house, otherwise my parents would find me out. My only choice was to hide away on the top floor.

That afternoon, since my parents both went off to work, I could temporarily come down and sit in the bedroom with the electric fan on, and "voluntarily" continue with my homework. While I wrote, I anxiously kept an ear open for approaching footsteps, petrified lest anyone discover me. I don’t know how long it was before I clearly heard my mother’s footfalls. Too late—there was already nowhere I could run to. I frantically bundled my homework into my arms and cowered on the bed, hid my head under the blanket, and didn’t dare look.

My mother came in and was surprised to find me under the blankets on such a hot day. I opened an eye and used my childish cunning to affect a performance of having just been awakened, lazily crawling out—and using one hand to surreptitiously shove my homework up my clothes at the same time.

I was hoping that after our evening meal everyone would go to bed early so I could steal away and carry on with my homework. Because I was so wound up, TV that evening held no interest for me: I didn’t care how many skeletons the Monkey King beat up (I knew Xuanzang the monk wasn’t going to get eaten by them anyway). I got in and out of my chair countless times, thinking how on earth I could do my homework that evening without my parents finding out. The bedroom light? I couldn’t turn it on! Could I do my homework in the bathroom? No, that wouldn’t do—what if someone came in, in the middle of the night? What about outside on the street? The lighting might be strong enough, but when I returned the front door would make too much noise and wake someone up—that was no good either!

Finally, everyone had gone to bed and fallen asleep; I hid under the covers and, never mind how hot it was and how stuffy it got under there, I clutched my torch in one hand and wrote my homework with the other. I fought to keep my eyelids from drooping shut, my sight gradually growing blurry, until finally I had spent my last strength—I turned off my torch and fell into a deep, deep sleep.

This is a true story—it really happened to me. I can’t remember now whether, when I went to hand in my homework, my teacher did return those five RMB; I also can’t recall whether it really was because of my unfinished homework that we had to give the money in the first place. And I have never asked my sister whether she still remembers such a thing happening. Because for those two days I was under severe pressure, in awful fear because of my unfinished homework, completely at a loss as to know what to do.

But it really, firmly taught me a lesson—only if you prepare well, can you avoid panic and bewilderment. From then on, the moment school finished I would take out a stool, sit outside by the door of our house, and do my homework by twilight. Before I had eaten my evening meal I already had that relieved feeling of having finished my homework. I felt so much more carefree than when I had to steal away in secret to finish writing it up. Every time the winter or summer vacation came, I would take the first few days—both day and night—and "sweep clean" all my homework, even completing my Spring Festival diaries and reports beforehand just as if I had already experienced festivities I’d only imagined. I discovered that when I took the initiative to do all my vacation homework early on, I didn’t need someone standing guard over me and suspiciously watching my every move while I wrote—the feeling of doing the right thing was great! I could exchange a few days’ hard labor for an entire vacation of freedom and fun, and never have to worry about homework at the start of semester again. So, during the Spring Festival when I set off firecrackers I could do so with total enjoyment; during the summer vacation I could sit by the riverside fishing with all my heart. Because I knew I had already finished all my homework—I was prepared.

Nowadays, I often advise my daughter: ‘When you are studying, study like crazy; when you are playing, play like crazy. If you think of playing while you are studying, you won’t study anything deeply; if you think of your studies while you are playing, you won’t get full enjoyment out of play.’

In the same way, nowadays in this world we scrupulously abide by the principles we believe in , running the race with great effort, in order to prepare for the future. On all levels, although sometimes chastised as a "pessimistic stoic", I still think there is nothing bad about this. Holding fast to my faith, my heart is full of peace and joy; but this kind of peace and joy need us to be prepared and to strive in our walk of faith. We need this kind of vision: our faith is not supposed to be an anesthetic to soothe all our pains, but something that expresses itself in our lives, from both within and without. .

Calling me a "pessimist"—I admit this is true. I often ask myself, "If tomorrow turns out to be the end of the world, am I sure I will go to heaven?" Dearest brothers and sisters, you can treat me however you wish, but please don’t lightly disregard this question. I believe my faith is true; but the question now becomes, can this faith get me to heaven? Eight years ago, I would have said so; four years ago, I had already changed my mind. If one day, we come to the gates of heaven and discover that people we thought were sure to get in do not enter, will this make our faith come crashing down? But, actually, it might really be like that. The people who get into heaven might not be the people we think will get in. Is that pessimistic? I don’t think so. The One I have believed in loves me and he has promised, "my love will never change." This gives me great joy, great peace, but it mustn’t become an excuse for me to do whatever I want—because he is not only loving, he is also just. If this is "pessimism," I would rather understand it as "being on my guard;" if during the battle we drink water, we should "cup water in our hands and lap it." [Judges 7:6-7] "Stay awake, watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak." [Matthew 26:41] If the people around me are all uniformly lifted up to heaven and I am the only one who gets quickly dropped back to earth, that really is such a horrifying situation that I can’t bear to think of it! This kind of vigilant concern will last until I am before the Lord, safely home, and then I will have rest.

Calling me a stoic—I admit this is true, too. Life is full of ups and downs; aren’t countless people travelling narrow and winding paths, even to the point of this being a "walk through the valley of the shadow of death," [Psalm 23:4] their hearts surging with violent emotion or full of jumpiness and fears? But if we understand that "there is nothing new under the sun" [Ecclesiastes 1:9] we will not be so anxious about personal gains and losses; even supposing the mountains are completely covered with snow we won’t feel cold. "Do not take situations or possessions as your joy; do not take gains and losses to heart" is the peaceful attitude I originally pursued. Now, because of the teaching that has come down from heaven, I have even greater peace and reassurance. Peace, because although I do not know what will happen tomorrow, yet I know who commands the future; peace, because although I walk through a roadless wilderness, yet I know the fiery, cloudy pillar will be my guide; peace, because even if I don’t know where my next meal will come from, I know the One who feeds the sparrows is looking after me.

We can all achieve this peace—get rid of selfishness, rely on faith in the One who creates all and brings all to its completion, be prepared at every moment, and take advantage of the little time that is left of the time before the Last Day to urgently complete your preparations. Then when the Judgement comes, we won’t need to feel restless and apprehensive, won’t need to secretly steal away and be scorched by the sun on a balcony, won’t need to listen in fear for approaching footsteps, won’t need to get ready to hide under the blankets with a torch.

The voice calling in the wilderness to prepare the road says "the kingdom of God is near!" Yes, the kingdom of God is near! Although we do not know the day or the hour, we can be absolutely sure we will need to "give an account”—are we prepared?

May every schoolchild prepare well for the start of semester—and may every brother and sister prepare well, joyfully anticipating his return!

Original Article: 【特稿】准备好了吗? by Wang Ziyu

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