TITLE: A Coded Prayer 7-19-13
By Bonnie Rose Hudson
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Rachel dove behind the wooden outbuilding, forcing herself not to cry out when her knees hit the hard ground. Her eyes darted back and forth. Had anyone seen her? The mob that had surrounded the mission station was getting louder. People were beginning to throw rocks. She thought this had all ended.
A few years ago, when the Boxer Rebellion had torn across China, driving foreigners and missionaries like her family from its borders, she didn’t know if she would ever again see the precious land alongside the Bei Jiang River she had learned to call home.
But, three years ago, in the fall of 1902, she and her family had returned, to serve at the mission with Dr. Eleanor Chestnut and several others. Her father, a retired Navy doctor, had left last evening to treat a sick man in a neighboring village.
Suddenly, she heard a sound, like someone knocking lightly on a door. She froze. Where had the sound come from?
There it was again, tapping. “.-. .- -.-. ….” Where was it coming from?
She listened. The outbuilding! Someone was tapping her a message in Morse code on the wall of the outbuilding. That could only be one person—her sister Regina.
She quickly tapped back her reply. “I’m here. I’m scared. Are you O.K.”
She held her breath as she waited for the answer to come back.
“-.-- . …” Y-E-S “- - . - - - - - - -” M-e t-o-o.
She tapped back. “I was just on my way back from the field. What happened?” Never had she been so glad that their father had taught them Morse code.
She listened as her sister told her the story. Some Buddhist priests had had a disagreement earlier in the day with one of the doctors. But, they were getting it all worked out. There was no need for any alarm. Then, a crowd had begun to gather, probably curious to see what agreement the priests and the doctor would reach. After they settled everything, Regina thought everyone would just go home. She came up the slight hill to the outbuilding. That’s when she had heard it. Someone in the crowd began to yell terrible things about the foreigners who were working in China. Terrible, hateful things, things Regina thought had ended with the Boxer Rebellion. But, the crowd got upset. They began to listen to the hate and the lies. And, they became a mob. One of the priests told the missionaries to run for safety. That’s when Regina had closed the door and decided to hide where she was, hoping and praying no one would find her.
Regina tapped an urgent question. “What is happening now?”
Rachel’s mind raced. Dare she peek around the corner of the building to see what was happening? What if someone saw her? Before she could decide, a terrible burning smell filled her nostrils. Fire!
She looked around the corner of the building and saw the mission building on fire. Had all of the missionaries escaped? Oh, how she wished her father were here with her now.
A sick feeling twisted her stomach into a knot. What if her father were here? He would probably be down at the mission. No, she was glad he was not here.
A quick tapping drew her focus back to her sister, hiding just on the other side of the wall. She repeated her question. “What is happening now?”
Rachel tapped four short letters. “. .-. .. .-. .” F-I-R-E.
There was a long pause. Then, her sister began to tap again. “Pray with me. John 11:25-26. ‘Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life.”
Rachel tapped the next few phrases. “‘he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.’”
Regina finished the phrase. “‘Believest thou this?”
Tears began to stream down Rachel’s face. That was their verse, their prayer. It was the one their father had taught them when they first left England to come on this missionary journey. Friends and family told them they were crazy, that they were risking their lives for a wild notion. Her father’s response had always been the same. What did risking this life matter if they could help someone find the eternal life that Jesus offered? Then, he would tell them John 11:25-26. Real life and real death went beyond what we can see. He would do everything he could to help mend people’s bodies. But, in the end, all that mattered was that they let God mend their hearts.
Rachel closed her eyes and prayed, prayed for the mob to stop, prayed for the missionaries trapped at the mission, prayed for those who were able to flee to safety. And, she prayed for her father to come home when it was safe.
After what felt like hours, Rachel realized she didn’t hear the noise of the crowd any more. She cautiously peeked out around the tiny building. The crowd was gone. The mission station had been burned. She ran to the door of the outbuilding and flung it open. She hugged her sister for the longest time.
Then, together, they started down the hill to the mission.
Author’s note: Rachel and Regina’s characters in this story are fictional. However, Dr. Eleanor Chestnut and what happened at the mission is not. She was a real missionary doctor, who served for years in rural China, giving endlessly of herself in order to serve the people God had called her to. On October 28, 1905, the mission was burned by a mob. Several doctors and missionaries died in the attack, including Dr. Eleanor Chestnut.
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