The Christians of Chengdu

By: 
By Brad Molnar
Special to the Outlook

As America prepares for another Christmas season based in no small part on giving gifts procured with newly acquired debt and feasting till gym memberships become new year acquisitions, halfway around the world Christians are climbing mountains daily to deliver food from baskets carried on their backs, educating impoverished children, and providing lame beggars with food, shelter and job training. This is often financed through their own funds and under the constant specter of prosecution. This is the story of one of these women. Stories of two others will follow.
Xia, whose name translates to “Summer,” (she said I could use her name and location as she would not hide from prosecution. But I am using only her first name and omitting the name of her village) was a primary school teacher in a semi-autonomous region about four hours drive through the mountains southwest of Chengdu near the Myanmar and Vietnam borders. This region is populated by a sect known as Yi mountain people and considered part of the Golden Triangle because heroin is smuggled through the area and drug lords act as an alternative government.
After two years as a teacher, Xia was called before the new Communist leader of the area. She was informed that she was “unfit to teach children,” which is a finding normally reserved for prostitutes and drug addicts. She was told it was, “Because you are a Christian. So you are a threat to our stability.” She is the only Christian in the region.
Xia then set up a school in a four floor walk up apartment. It has a small library and she teaches the children math, English, Chinese, the classics, and science, all on the weekends. The children must work in the fields on week days from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. She also tutors public school children, and prepares graduates for university admittance tests.
The area is very poor and public school above grade 6 is not free. Her school is free and children often walk for miles to get there.
As a small child Xia had tuberculosis and was bedridden for six months. Her mother was a Christian and often went to church to pray for Xia, performing elaborate prayer sessions for her daughter’s healing. One day, while her mother was in church, Xia asked God to heal her. She forced herself out of bed, and stood, for the first time in six months. She now states, “I do not feel called to be a wife. I do not feel called to be a mother. I feel called to tell people that God answers simple prayers and watches over children.”
On week days Xia walks mountain paths delivering school supplies and food to various families. These hikes are from 10 to 15 miles each. Her services and supplies are free. Her living expenses and supplies are paid for by Christians in Chengdu.
After an earthquake leveled a high mountain village, Xia set up a canvas tent in three feet of snow and taught school. She is still known as the “Volunteer Teacher,” by the Yi people.
When not teaching Xia studies theology with a double major in Yi sociology and the Yi language. She hopes this will allow her to be hired as a Yi high school teacher.
Asked if she thought the same government that had fired her for being a Christian would now hire her back though she is now a Christian missionary she responded, “I believe God will open that door.”
(Editor’s note: The second part of this series will appear next week.)

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