“And now let us pray.” Pastor Han Sheng and his small congregation of five all bowed their heads.
Sheng might have been annoyed at the interruption if it hadn’t sent the adrenaline of fear coursing through his veins. “Wait here,” he told the others, rising from his hard, wooden seat.
The knocking was becoming more insistent. It only stopped when Sheng cracked the door open.
“Can I help you?”
“You will want to.” The young man outside the apartment shouldered his way past the humble pastor and took stock of his surroundings with a practiced eye. Despite the plain clothes he wore, his whole demeanor proclaimed him to be a policeman.
He made his way to the room where five of his fellow Chinamen gathered. Slowly, he recited their names. “Chen Biao, Li Gan, Li Mei, Wang Yi Cheng, Wu Yan Nan…” He glanced back at the pastor. “…and Han Sheng. I am here to warn you that certain members of the government feel threatened by your secret meetings here. I may be able to convince them that there is nothing to fear.” For a price, of course. It was always for a price.
“Yes, of course.” The pastor reached into the offertory jar- or “the jar of bribe money”- and withdrew several wads of bills. “This is to show our gratitude.” He bowed to the policeman. “Thank you.”
“No, thank you.” The bills quickly disappeared into the policeman’s jacket pocket. “Such unexpected generosity.” With a satisfied smile, he exited the apartment.
The members of the “secret” house-church had barely prepared to pick up where they left off when they heard another visitor knock on the door.
“It must be another department,” Li Gan sighed.
His young wife squeezed his hand encouragingly. “We’ll just have to tithe double this week.”
“Yes, of course. Answer the door, Pastor. We’ll fill the jar.”
This was the usual plan, and the Pastor followed it with familiarity. He let the second policeman in with one predominating thought- 'How much will this man cost my flock?'
As his hand dipped into the jar, he had his answer. Though it saddened him, he was proud of their generosity all the same. “This is for your generosity,” he said mechanically. “Thank you.”
The man was gone as quickly as he came.
“Your rent money?” Sheng asked Wang Yi Cheng. He nodded. “Then we will have to put in a special request to the One who paid a bigger price for our freedom than we ever will.”
Finally, uninterrupted, they all began to pray.
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