‘Happiness Village’ (its true name) is stirring. The weak sun filters through the smoke and early morning fog, creeping through curtainless windows. The dusty red ‘good wishes’ pasted around doorways become visible in the dim light, as does the bright yellow corn that is laid out to dry on one flat grey roof. Other roofs boast pots, wood and a little shed. These, like the bare trees – one per courtyard - are still barely discernible in the early morning haze.
Standing at the window of my comfortable fifth floor apartment, looking down over Happiness Village, I wonder how long these homes will last. Progress is inevitable. Progress is reflected in tall buildings with indoor plumbing and centralized heating. I live in a ‘progressive building’ right here on the edge of the urban village.
People emerge sleepily from their homes. A father empties the chamber pot into an outside bathroom, returning with a red plastic basin of water for the family ablutions. A woman emerges, making her way into the external kitchen to get the fire going.
I sip my coffee, standing in the warmth and comfort of my apartment. This is ‘the good life’.
A movement over on the hill catches my attention. A middle-aged man emerges from his home, climbing out onto the roof. Like me, he stands and soaks in the view. Unlike me, he must be cold out there. Thank God for progress! He walks across his flat roof to the bird aviary, and opens the door.
One by one, the brown and grey pigeons hop out and congregate on the edge of the roof. As if orchestrated by a conductor, they soar up, climbing higher, higher into the grey sky. Soaring, swooping, rising, they fly effortlessly. The cool morning air reverberates under their wings, creating a happy whirr. They joyfully perform aerobatic feats, not for the pleasure of their owner standing on his roof, nor for my pleasure watching from the window, but simply for the sheer enjoyment of life.
Perhaps the pigeons are the only residents of ‘Happiness Village’ who are truly free. They have no concerns about food, clothing, shelter, protection or even bird ‘flu. They willingly return each day to their pigeon pen, confident that their owner will have cleaned up, laid out fresh food and water, and that he’ll close the door at night to protect them from marauding cats or other enemies. This is ‘the good life’!
People emerge from their houses. Adults climb onto motorbikes or bicycles and head to work. Children emerge in their blue school uniforms, the little children held firmly by the hand of a parent or grandparent. The people are free to come and go as they please. But are they truly free?
Where is the church in Happiness Village? Their physical needs are provided, but spiritually, where can people go to receive protection, warmth, food and water? In a world full of the perils of progress, with the uncertainties of tomorrow, where can the residents go for eternal security and stability? Are these people truly free?
Mrs Zhu lives up on the hill there, near the pigeon raiser. Twice divorced and without children, she worries about the years ahead. In only two years time, she’ll retire, and then what? Sit at home alone and stoke the fire?
Mr Wang is an old shepherd, despised by many village residents for his lack of education and the shame that comes with having him lead his motley half dozen sheep to search for food by the edges of the roads in the city. Soon he will be too old to wander all day with his sheep. Then what?
There is a church in a nearby districts. There are places of refuge, warmth, safety, hope and ultimate freedom. But there is none in Happiness Village. And the further one travels from the city, the further it is to reach a community of believers. Many people, including most residents of Happiness Village, have never heard the good news of eternal happiness available through Christ.
The pigeons swoop down in a carefree arc, reminding me again of their happiness, freedom, and joy in life. True freedom doesn’t mean being independent. True freedom means belonging to one who can provide for all your needs. Like these pigeons.
Almighty God, as these pigeons are free and happy, please set free the residents of Happiness Village. As that man on his roof has provided a haven for his pigeons, won’t you provide a haven for these people? As that man experiences such joy watching his pigeons soar and make music with the wind whooshing under their wings, won’t you choose for yourself this community of people, and take joy in their freedom, happiness and music? As the pigeons have no fear of danger in this danger-ridden world, won’t you lead these people to know true freedom from fear in this world of rapid progress?
A new day has begun in Happiness Village. The sun is shining. May the day quickly come when your Son’s Light also shines strongly. May you establish for yourself a place of refuge in the centre of Happiness Village.
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Suz, what a wonderful, visual description of the world beneath you awakening for a day with one major missing ingredient- knowledge of the one who Loves them. Light a fire in their hearts, Lord. Your heart for these lost people shines through every phrase. Yeggy
Amen Suz - and praying along with you. I felt like I was there with you observing and wondering about this precious village and the people who have lived there for generations with no established church of Refuge and Freedom. This is so beautiful it should be submitted somewhere. Love, Pat