For 13 weeks, the Chinese government has blocked the 1,000 members of Beijing’s Shouwang Church from being able to meet for Sunday services. They are among an estimated 70 million to 150 million Chinese Christians who refuse to worship in the government-controlled Three-Self Patriotic Association, which bars children from attendance and whose government-paid pastors deliver government-approved sermons.
Eleven days after Shouwang Church held its first outdoor Sunday worship service following its most recent eviction from an indoor meeting site, the child of a Shouwang couple fell to her death from an upper-story window of her family’s apartment building. She was less than three weeks shy of her second birthday. Since her death, her father has written a series of letters to her. This is his eleventh letter to Leyi.
Leyi, are you missing Mommy and Daddy? Daddy thinks about you every day. Daddy thought of you especially this morning. A very exciting thing happened to Daddy this morning. So Daddy couldn’t resist writing another letter to you.
For three weeks in a row, some young men came every weekend to sit at our front door, not letting Daddy go out on Sundays. For the past three weeks, Daddy has been longing for when he can go out again. Daddy didn’t pray to God about this because it seemed like an extravagant request.
Today was Sunday again. At a little after 1 a.m., when Daddy got up, he casually opened the front door. To his surprise, there was no one outside.
Daddy didn’t sleep a wink after that. Though excited, Daddy tossed and turned in bed and then, because he started to miss you again, he had a good long cry.
Leyi, is Daddy overly emotional? After you left us, Daddy has these constant mood swings: excited one minute but in the next minute, Daddy will think of you and have tears pouring down his face.
At a little after 4 a.m., Daddy finished washing up and hurried out the door. Exiting the elevator and walking to the front door of the apartment building, Daddy saw a police car parked nearby to the right (it was there to keep an eye on Daddy). Daddy just walked out of the building. After walking about 10 meters [yards], Daddy heard the slam of a car door from behind, and out of the corner of his eye saw one of the young men coming after him. So Daddy ran as fast as the wind out onto the main road.
Daddy looked back and saw that that young man had not followed, so Daddy slowed down.
Daddy was now free. Free! Daddy was going to go to worship God freely in that place [designated by Shouwang Church for its Sunday outdoor worship services].
Daddy was feeling ecstatic, and without realizing it, started to hum a song: “This is the day, that the Lord has made. We will rejoice, and be glad in it.”
Daddy took the battery out of his cellphone, to prevent them tracking him by following the cellphone signal. Only when he needed to check the time did Daddy put the battery back in to the phone.
Daddy thought of you, remembered how every day, Mommy and Daddy would always be very worried, mainly because we were afraid you’d go down the stairs by yourself, which would have been very unsafe. Catching up to you, Daddy would scoop you up from behind and carry you, struggling, back to the sofa in our living room. It would take Mommy and Daddy great effort to get you dressed to go out, then to get your snacks and water ready, and then to put you into your stroller. Whenever we went out, you’d shrug your little shoulders and grin, and hum that little ditty you came up with yourself, “Put on my snow suit, carry the panda on my back.”
Leyi, for you, there was nothing that brought you more happiness than going out to play every day. That’s why Daddy thinks that in heaven you must have been able to feel the joy Daddy felt when he broke out of the cage in which he had been imprisoned.
Leyi, how Daddy envies you now! In the two years that you were on this earth, you were so carefree. Now, in heaven, you are surely even more free than when you were in this world. That’s because the God we believe in gives freedom to his people and liberates them from their bondage.
As Daddy walked that hot and muggy road, recalling these little tidbits from your life, Daddy felt compelled to do what you used to do and spread his arms into that damp haze, while tears started to roll silently down his face. Walking past a bus stop, Daddy had his arms in the air as three or four young people walked towards them. Acting as if no one was there, Daddy brushed past their shoulders, not bothered by the weird looks they gave him.
Sitting on the bus, Daddy looked out the window and saw flags of all different colors and remembered that whenever you were taking the bus, you’d get restless after a few stops. Then Mommy would take you out of the stroller and into her arms and had you look for the colored flags out the bus window.
“Colored flags!” you would shout in your baby voice, and you’d point them out to Mommy.
Daddy put the battery back in the cellphone to check the time. As soon as it was in, that Mr. Policeman called. Daddy hesitated but finally still took the call. That’s because Daddy had once promised them not to hang up on them when they called.
“Are you in the subway or on a bus?” the voice on the line asked anxiously.
“On a bus.”
“What bus number?” he asked.
“Sorry, I can’t tell you.”
“Where are you now? Don’t you know that we can go to that place where you are going and bring you right back?”
Daddy saw two police cars speeding past the bus outside.
“Sorry, I still can’t tell you. If you want to come, just go ahead. That place is very big; if you can find me there, then so be it.”
“OK, when you get there, be a good boy and call us, alright?” he spat these words at me and hung up.
Daddy thought angrily to himself, “I would never call you on my own initiative!” then turned off the cellphone and took the battery out.
Daddy looked out of the window and saw three other big Chinese characters: “Old Story Club.”
“Old Story Club” – what a familiar place! Mommy and Daddy’s church met there for more than a year. And last year, you and Mommy and Daddy went there many, many times.
Daddy also remembers the giant mulberry tree outside the restaurant. You’d bend down under that tree and pick mulberry fruit from the ground, one by one, and eat them. Time and again, Daddy would wash the dirt from your hands under the faucet near the tree. And Daddy sat with you on that wooden swing, swinging to and fro.
Today, that “Old Story Club” has been torn down and there is nothing but flat ground. Mommy and Daddy’s church is still wandering about outdoors. And that little security guard quit his job last year and is long gone back to his hometown. We don’t know if, in his far-away hometown, he knows that the cute little girl that he loved and that he used to hold in his arms while directing traffic left this world more than two months ago.
Thinking of all this, tears filled Daddy’s eyes again.
The bus slowly brought Daddy close to that place and Daddy got off at a bus stop.
Then Daddy began walking the perimeter of that place and, not knowing why, started to feel strangely nervous, and then a little terrified.
Walking to a certain spot, Daddy noticed that his foot seemed to be dragging a long, long shadow. Daddy suddenly remembered last year when we went to our church small group campout and you chased after Mommy’s shadow, laughing as you ran. You were so cute.
Leyi, at that moment, Daddy thought that you were there walking beside him, just like Daddy’s long shadow.
Thinking of this, Daddy smiled. And all the fears in his heart instantly vanished.
The air was still hazy, and it was still very muggy and very hot.
Daddy knew that in a little while the rays of the sun would disperse the humid haze. And with a heart leaping with joy, Daddy would climb up one step at a time to that place [the elevated plaza that Shouwang had designated as its outdoor worship site].
Our God is there.
Daddy’s comrades are there.
There is the place where we worship God together.
Your Daddy who loves you.