On a frozen December night in 1970, a young Chinese boy discovers the real meaning of Christmas
ABOUT 26 YEARS AGO, A CALAMITY took place in China. It lasted more than 10 years. During that time, many faithful Christian believers in China were persecuted and put to death. My parents were among them.
Because of my parents’ background, I was considered a “black child” from a counter-revolutionary family. No one dared to take care of me. I became homeless and started to live on my own at the young age of 9. During the day, I helped people push their carts in exchange for money. At night, I slept in the street. If it was a rainy or snowy day, no one worked outside and I could not make any money. Hunger and cold were part of my daily life.
One and a half years later, I met a man who was more than 50 years old. I called him Uncle Shen. Uncle Shen was a strong believer in Jesus. When he found out I was homeless, he decided to take care of me. Actually, Uncle Shen had escaped from prison and did not have a family, so he asked me if I would like to stay with him. I agreed because I felt he was a very nice man.
Uncle Shen decided to go to northwestern China because he thought it would be safer there. Many places in northwestern China were very poor. Most of the people in the countryside were not educated. They did not know how to read or fix their machines. Uncle Shen, however, was a skilled mechanic, so we went to many places to fix machines for the peasants in exchange for our food and lodging. Since there were not many machines in any one place, we had to move frequently to find enough work. Otherwise, we would not have survived.
One day, near the end of December 1970, we were out of work. Uncle Shen decided we should go look for work somewhere else. We were in one of the poorest areas of China. There was no bus available, so we walked a whole day. Before dark, we went to a country inn on a rugged country trail, a single mud house on the roadside. Outside, on the wall, there were four Chinese characters – “Che Ma Da Dian” (Horse-Cart-Grand-Inn) – a grandiose name for such a simple place. The inn had four mud-brick walls and a thatched roof. The entrance was about six feet wide and seven feet high. The “door” was made of dry cornstalks. To get into the “Grand Horsecart Inn,” we pushed the dry cornstalks aside. Once inside, we pulled the cornstalks back in place to block the cold wind outside.
The inside of the inn was like a rectangular barn. There were only two oil lamps in it, one near the entrance, another near the farthest corner. In the middle of the inn stood a long row of mangers. On one side of the mangers, there were sleeping areas made of dry straws along the wall. No heat, no blankets, just some mud brick to be used as pillows.
That “Grand Horsecart Inn” welcomed both men and women. It cost 50 cents for an overnight stay per person. People who wanted to get a bowl of noodles had to pay 50 cents more. After we paid, we were assigned a mud brick and shown where we could sleep. No matter who came, a man or a woman, old or young, everybody was treated the same. On the other side of the mangers there were spaces for horses, oxen, and donkeys. It cost 50 cents for each horse, ox, or donkey because of the fodder.
That December night of 1970, Uncle Shen and I stayed overnight in that “Grand Horsecart Inn.” To keep warm, we snuggled together. I fell asleep quickly. Sometime after midnight, the sound of the animals woke me up. Because it was so cold, I couldn’t fall back to sleep again. Unconsciously, I started to think about my parents. My mind overflowed with memories of when my parents were taken away; my father was tied up and beaten so badly, he could not stand up again . . . my mother was forced to kneel down and her hair was shaved off, her face was blackened with ink.
As I was thinking about them, I asked myself, “Where are my parents? Are they dead? When can I see them again?” I could not hold back my grief and tears rolled down my face silently.
I did not realize that Uncle Shen was awake, but he had felt my sobbing. Gently, he held my hands and tried to comfort me. We sat in the dry straw silently. After a while, Uncle Shen thought my tears had dried up and in a tender voice he asked me, “Are you still sleepy?”
I said, “No, I do not feel sleepy.”
“Do you know what day is today?” he asked me softly.
“Not exactly,” I replied. “Probably the end of the year.”
Uncle Shen said, “Yes, today is December 25. It’s Christmas morning. Today is the birthday of Jesus. But, do you know how Jesus suffered before He was crucified on the cross?”
He talked as if he knew I was thinking about how my parents suffered before they were taken away. Uncle Shen quoted from the Gospel. “They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on His head. They put a staff in His right hand and knelt in front of Him and mocked Him. They spit on Him, and took the staff and struck Him on the head again and again…”
As Uncle Shen recited these Bible verses, my heart was moved. From my parents’ suffering, I tried to imagine how Jesus, my Lord, suffered before He was crucified and how He died. Uncle Shen continued, “The soldier pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood.”
At that moment, I felt my own heart was bleeding. “Jesus, the Lord of my parents and Uncle Shen, is my Lord,” I said in my heart.
It was early in the morning. Except for Uncle Shen’s small voice, the snoring of the other people, and the sound of animals eating their fodder, it was a very quiet and cold night. After a while – I don’t know how long – Uncle Shen started to sing a song, “Silent night! Holy night! All is calm, all is bright.”
Since then, 20 years have passed. For me, it is just like yesterday. I can still feel Uncle Shen beside me and hear him singing. I still hear Uncle Shen telling me the story of the birth of Jesus:
The poor carpenter Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem from Nazareth to be registered. They traveled about 100 miles. It was very difficult for them, because Mary was pregnant. They were poor, so they could not afford a good place to stay. That night, Jesus was born in a humble place just like the “Grand Horsecart Inn” where Uncle Shen and I stayed. Indeed, on this side of the manger, perhaps there may have been dry straw for Mary and Joseph to sleep on. On the other side of the manger, perhaps there were oxen or donkeys.
In that cold stable, amid the manure and the animals, the manger was the only clean place. The manger was above the wet, smelly stable floor and above the sleeping area on the ground, so no one could jostle the baby Jesus. The manger was the best place for the baby. It was on that night that the Lord Jesus came into this world and started His life as the Son of God, a servant of people, of whom Scripture says, “A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out.”
It was on that night, in that humble place, that our Lord Jesus was born, not too far from Golgotha, where 33 years later He was crucified on a tree.
On that night so long ago, there was no Santa Claus, no bright lights, no Christmas trees, no jingle bells, no family reunion … It was a cold, silent, holy night.
The author was imprisoned twice in China because of his own faith in Jesus. He is now working in the U.S.