“Ming-hoa, how can you remain calm after all you’ve been through?” said Li through hot tears. “Each day these monsters torture another of our brothers. I am so afraid.”
“Young Li, I too fear, but God gives strength when it is our time to suffer.” The older man stared in the direction of the light from the small window, his eyes blank. “His grace is sufficient.”
“Yet, though they stole your sight and beat you near to the point of death,” said Li, “you feel peace. How?”
Ming-hoa raised a crooked arm, using his hand to feel along the cement wall until he reached his friend. Standing together, they both fell silent as the hot breath of summer sucked the last bit of moisture from the cell. The air was thick with the stench of unwashed bodies and rotting food. “God is good,” Ming-hoa whispered.
Outside the window, guards dragged another prisoner across the courtyard, his blood painting the pavement with red stains. The screams had ceased and Li wondered if any life remained in the mangled body. If not, the man was faithful until death, refusing to renounce his Savior.
Li slumped against the wall. “I know God is good,” he said, “that is why I tremble. I am terrified of my weakness. What if I deny him and dishonor his name?”
Ming-hoa reached out, his hand clasping Li’s shoulder. With his other hand, he stroked his gray beard. “Have I ever told you the story of the kind Emperor?”
Li shook his head then realized the old man couldn’t see him. “No,” he said.
Ming-hoa cleared his throat. “Once, there was an ancient dynasty led by a powerful Emperor. As well as being kind, this Emperor was very prosperous. Each day he sent his servants with a daily allowance of grain for all of his subjects, replenishing it daily so there was never a want of food.”
“Is there a lesson here?” Li said.
“Patience, young Li.” The old man shifted his weight than went on. “There was one subject, a man, whose heart was faint, fearing that the grain would run out and he would be in need. So, each day he put half of his allotment in a sack hidden in a small closet. Months went by, and due to his meager diet, the man grew increasingly weaker until his bones could not hide beneath his skin.”
Li’s eyes drank in the gauntness of the old man but he said nothing as Ming-hoa continued.
“A servant reported this to the Emperor and he paid the man a visit. Upon arriving, he was grieved at the man’s condition. ‘What have you done with the grain,’ he asked. The man confessed that he had feared for tomorrow’s provision but assured his master that he had stored it away. He went to his closet and lifted his sack. What little grain remained sifted through a hole chewed in the bottom by a rat. It was wormy and covered with mold.”
“So, you are saying that I need to trust God for tomorrow’s grace.”
Ming-hoa nodded and smiled. “Not only that, young Li. God has given you his provision for today, as well. It is meant to strengthen you for tomorrow’s trials. When tomorrow comes, his food will be enough.”
Comforted, Li prayed through the night, feeding on the words he remembered from his bible. That precious book was itself a distant memory, destroyed when the rebels burned his house to the ground. He rubbed his eyes. How blessed he was that for all of his sixteen years his mother had insisted that he memorize the sacred words.
Daylight progressed by inches, creeping through the narrow slit that was his only view of the outside world. He jumped when the guard’s voice startled him. “Li Heng, come with me.”
Li met the guard’s stare and rose to his feet.
Grasping Li’s arm, Ming-hoa struggled to stand. “Take me,” he begged the guard. “He is but a boy.”
“You had your turn, old man. Maybe this one will save his skin if he offers the right answer.” The guard grimaced when Li embraced his friend. Weeping, they clung together until he wrenched them apart.
As the jailer prodded Li to move forward, Ming-hoa called out, “Has the Emperor provided today’s grain?”
Li glanced over his shoulder. He hoped his smile was evident in his voice. “He has supplied abundantly, my brother; my sack is overflowing.”
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