No, Thank You -16-

(continuation)

With the back of the van filled with boxes, we hit the road again next morning. The church in that village was a room connected to multiple other rooms for the people who lived there. The dirt floor had a handmade long rug between the two rows of pews. It looked immaculate, sign that it was used only for out of the ordinary days like that. Elderly men and women with wrinkled sunburned faces were waiting for us in the heat of the day. The sweet connection of love was overwhelming. The ladies surrounded us, and held our hands or hanged themselves to our arms. They smiled and chuckled while talking to us and giving us hugs. One had brought her little granddaughter with her and was so proud. We took tens of pictures with everybody, and the celebration of the Bibles was beyond expectations.

 

The lady pastor took us to show us the entire building. It was more of a shack made of mud bricks with the main room converted to the gathering place, and four-five other rooms for families who lived there, one little chamber per family. The woman in charge showed us the vegetable garden, very well kept, and we found out that it was the main source of food for that little community. They canned fruit and vegetables for winter. The only source of water came from a rudimentary fountain by the garden. It was peaceful. A few chickens were digging in the dirt. The outhouse was a hole in the ground covered with a roof made of sticks. In spite of the extreme poverty, these elderly people of God had such a joy in their hearts. It looked like the heavy hand of the communist government with restricted laws and regulations for churches didn’t touch them. That day was a day of great encouragement, a sign that God didn’t forget them. Holding their Bibles with both hands, they prayed for us.

 

The interpreter told us that we were invited to have dinner with the governor of the region that night. It was a great honor for us to spend time with one of the most powerful people in China. “The protocol is that we can’t refuse any trait of his hospitability,” the Chinese interpreter continued. “He will offer us alcohol and we can’t say ‘no’.” At this point we just looked at each other. “We can drink coffee and soft drinks with him, ” one of us suggested. “It’s not the same,” the young man said. After pondering over this and how not to let the authorities feel offended by our refusal, he made his mind. “I will tell the government agents who shadow us that it is against your principles to drink alcohol, and that I will drink with him.” We agreed. He called the men and spoke to them right away. About a half hour later he received a phone call that the governor was pleased with our team’s decision and was looking to eat dinner with us.

 

After distributing the last share of Bibles for that day, we came back to the city to get ready for the dinner protocol. We put on our best outfits and were taken to one of the best restaurants in the region. The richness welcomed us from the door. The crystal windows and chandeliers sparkled under hundred of lights. Every chair was like a throne, elaborately carved in expensive wood. We were introduced in a private room with a huge oval table set for 12. I felt I was in a museum. The paintings on the wall looked as veritable pieces of art, presenting mysterious landscapes, the Great Wall, and of course, the picture of the Chinese Communist leader. Light blue velvet curtains in fine Chinese embroidery covered the windows.

 

The four of us were seated first and the servers swarmed around us offering us drinks, and making sure we were comfortable. I could see our interpreter was pretty tensioned. He had never been in the presence of the governor. One thing to go wrong, and his future would have been sealed forever.

We, the Americans, were jovial and enjoyed the exquisite atmosphere that reminded us of a royal palace. All of a sudden, the long line of waiters lined up by the wall and froze. “He is coming,” the interpreter whispered. The door opened and we stood on our feet to honor our host.

The governor entered the room, followed by two of his counselors. Thin, in his late fifties, the man wearing a suit was nothing exceptional in the way he appeared. Sharp eyes and a ceremonial smile, we could easily discern the shrewd side of his personality. He inclined his head towards us and greeted, “Welcome to China!”

-to be continued-

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