Mrs. Yang and Mr. Li (Part 2)

Mr LiMrs. Yang came rushing up to where we were sitting. She thought that we had left for Kunming without saying goodbye. She was dressed up, wearing beautiful embroidered slippers, a silk blouse, a little makeup on her cheeks, and a radiant smile on her face. She sat with LeeAnne and Jamie, our team members from Concordia International School, Shanghai and talked. During the conversation, Mrs. Yang, told the story, with a shy giggle, on how she had wooed her husband many years ago by getting dressed in her finest clothes, walking to where he was working on a road crew, and serenading him with a traditional Chinese love song. It worked. And then, without hesitation, she sang it. It was priceless.

A small number of people began to arrive from the planting day in the fields, gathering for the 2:00 worship service. LeeAnne invited Mrs. Yang to join us – this time she hesitated. In all the years of living in this little village where the largest building in town was the church, Mrs. Yang had never gone. But God was at work – just the way He always is. As we walked upstairs to the sanctuary, she followed, sat down in the first row, right in front of the pulpit, (that alone tells you she’d never been in church before!) and next to a neighbor who helped her through the service. The young pastor was awesome. He told me later that, after seeing Mrs. Yang, he pitched his planned sermon, turned to John 3:16, (“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”) and preached his heart out.

Mrs Yang - shawlWomen from our congregation had made over 70 hand-crocheted shawls for us to give as Mother’s Day gifts to the women of the village. That afternoon we selected a shawl for Mrs. Yang and headed to her home to present it.  It turned out that it was also Mrs. Yang’s birthday. Shortly after our entire team had settled in their living room they received a phone call from their daughter to wish her Mom a Happy Birthday. The way Mr. Li answered the call cracked us up! “We can’t talk to you right now. We have a house full of Americans.” We could just imagine his daughter’s response, “Dad, how much Baijiu have you had to drink today?”

As Mrs. Yang sat in the opposite corner of the living room, wrapped in a new shawl and a big smile, Mr. Li sat down next to me, held my hand, looked me in the eyes, and started talking. He had decided that he was my best friend. The conversation was amazing.

Watch for Part 3 in the next “Stories of Faith” posting.

Mrs. Yang and Mr. Li

Mrs Yang and Mr Li“You can come to my house.”

She was bright-eyed with a confident and beautiful smile. Behind her neck rode a farmer’s rod, smooth and shiny from years of being held by her hands and the friction of her shoulders. At each end swung buckets from which she had carefully ladled water at the base of each plant growing in her field. On her head rested a cap of camouflaged fabric with matching shoes and knotted laces on her feet.

We had spent the last two days in a small Yunnan Province village located in a rural area of southwestern China. It was community of 140 people; a blending of Han and Miao people living side by side in a village with a name that means “unity.” The community had been created a couple of decades earlier when the government moved several groups of isolated people, living high in the mountains, to a place where services and utilities were more readily available.  It was, frankly, easier to create a new village than it was to cut roads and string utilities.

Our time in the village was in support of a health advocacy project with our longtime China partners. We were conducting door to door interviews in hopes of acquiring a baseline understanding of the village’s health awareness with the goal that the project’s future steps would help to improve their quality of life, reduce the devastation of childhood dysentery, and minimize the negative impact of improperly handled agricultural pesticides.

Our recent attempt to interview an old woman, blinded by the shiny yellow-gray cataracts in her eyes, had been declined and, as we stood at the gate in front of her house discussing where to go next, up walked Mrs. Yang.

“You can come to my house.”

We followed her through the narrow streets to a house on the perimeter of the village, overlooking a small canyon through which heavy trucks rumbled in and out of a coal mine. As barking dogs announced our arrival an elderly man appeared, surprised to see a small group of Americans trailing his wife into the courtyard.  After putting the buckets away, she confidently invited strangers into her home with the usual Yunnan hospitality that included tea, nuts, and fruit. She was proud of her home and excited that it was full of Americans. It was clean and tidy, in contrast to many of the places we had visited in the village. Upon sitting down on the sofa, the first thing I notice was a combination refrigerator freezer that sat proudly in the space between the living room and the kitchen – something I had never seen before in a village.

We were introduced to her husband, Mr. Li. (Chinese women don’t take their husband’s name in marriage.) Mrs. Yang and Mr. Li had been married for over 50 years and had raised three daughters who were married and now lived outside of the village with their own families and their husbands’ parents. As part of our interview we learned that Mr. Li had gone to school through 5th grade while Mrs. Yang was illiterate; she could not read or write. While they planted and maintained a field to grow what they needed to eat, they made their living off of a small herd of 40 goats.

When the interview concluded, we thanked the couple, shook hands, posed for photos, and headed back to our base. Little did we know that this simple conversation had just set the stage for something wonderful that God was about to do.

Watch for Part 2 of Mrs. Yang and Mr. Li in next week’s post.

A Special Announcement – Part 2

Earlier this week I announced that one of the short stories I wrote for “23” and Other Stories of Faith has been accepted for publication in the September issue of the Lutheran Witness (the magazine periodical of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod).  The story is called “Herb and Vi” and was originally posted on this blog back in March.  I am excited that thousands more will soon be blessed by the wonderful story of this humble couple’s faith and trust in God!  Please share this good news with others!

On Monday, May 28th I reposted Part 1 of Herb and Vi.  Here, now, is Part 2.

Herb and Vi (Part 2)

Herb and Vi were able to sleep in their own bed almost to the end, even though it was on the second floor of their home.  They had installed a stair lift when Vi started having trouble getting around.  A baby monitor provided the connection between the bedroom and their caregiver’s base of operations downstairs at the kitchen table.  Each night the monitor witnessed to the caregiver of Herb and Vi’s faith, their confidence that God would walk with them through their final valley.  As they had done every night for 69 years of marriage – before they went to sleep – they held hands and prayed together Psalm 23.

Herb completed his journey ahead of Vi.  We got the call on a Wednesday night about 8:30.  My pastor partner, Glenn got there before me.  He was already upstairs with Vi and family when the caregiver welcomed me with a hug.  Herb’s body was in the hospice bed in the family room but his soul was already in Heaven.  Vi was dressed in her flannel nightgown, in bed and propped up with pillows, eyes full of tears.  We mourned with her the way Christians do – with hope, the confidence of eternity, and the certainty of reunions in heaven.  Together we lived out St. Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 4:13: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”

As Vi lay in her bed, Glenn and I each took a hand and declared with her the faith that she and Herb confessed every night of their marriage.  We had done this together many times over the last months.  Tonight it was different.  As Vi spoke the psalm and emerged on the other side of the valley, an incredible thing happened.  She dropped our hands and reached her arms out toward the heavens as if directing a chorus of unseen angels.  As she repeated the phrase over and over again, “And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever,” her fists punctuated the heavens.  With each word bony hands and arms were thrust into the sky.  Words were declared with a volume that we had never heard from this gentle woman.  “AND I . . . WILL DWELL . . . IN THE HOUSE . . . OF THE LORD . . . FOREVER.  FOREVER!  FOREVER!!  Her right hand hung in the air until the ringing of her words died.  And with that, this valley-walker lay back against the pillow and closed her eyes.

The silence that followed echoed across all of creation. None of us could speak as tears choked us.  It was the holiest of holy moments that I have yet to experience.  Vi’s Herb was in Heaven.  She knew it with all her heart and she knew that she would soon follow him.  She did.  Viola Wilhelmina Theiss made her final journey through the valley on July 25th at 97 years old – five months and eight days after Herb.  Oh, how I would have loved to be there for that heavenly reunion.

“And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever!”