Horace was once very much an alive and inquisitive large Chinese rat. As for having such a ridiculous English name, that was because he had the misfortune of spending his last days in a hotel room that two of our group of foreign English teachers used on a teaching trip one summer.
We’d seen and heard evidence of his life over the preceding days. He appeared to enjoy crumbs of foreign food. At night, he rustled about the room, sniffing this and that, once even running across the bed head while I lay there listening and cringing.
The day of Horace’s demise, we were sitting as a team, sharing, praying, all the while snacking on corn chips and drinking coffee. Outside, it was quiet, being the midday siesta, a time when all but mad dogs and Englishmen (and foreign English teachers and, of course, hungry rats) took to their beds or at least lay down under a tree somewhere. All was still in the desperately dry and impoverished county. All except in room 306 of the Baode County Government Hotel.
As the people slept, we prayed. We lifted before the throne of grace the 150,000 people of that county, an area covering 981 square kilometres, and with not one church. Not one.
There were Christians, we’d been told. Not many – just a few old ladies. We’d hoped to meet them, although figured out chances were negligible to none. Nevertheless, to our delight, one of the government officials who hosted our visit proudly told us that his mother was one of the ringleaders of this little group. “They call me Pastor,” he laughed, “simply because I can read and write, so I sometimes read the Bible to them.” Oh, praise God for little old ladies.
But I lose my thread. Horace and the curiosity which killed the rat is where I was up to in this tale.
Horace poked a pink nose out from under the bed. Praying with one eye open, I instinctively curled up into a ball on the chair. My friends opened their eyes with a start as Horace dived for the crumbs under the coffee table. Some screeched. Others, built of sterner stuff, grabbed anything at hand and started whacking the furniture.
Having sprinted into the bathroom on his four little legs, the poor creature realized he was stuck. My friend slammed the door shut and I, somehow freed from our paralysis which momentarily kept all limbs up off the floor, helped push furniture against the bathroom door.
First step – alert the hotel staff. To our dismay, the young girls who ‘guard’ the floor of the hotel in which we stayed were less than helpful once finally roused from their sleep. They called the maintenance man, who grouchily agreed to come and do something after his midday siesta.
What was there to do but to resume our prayer meeting? “Lord, have mercy on Baode. Have mercy on your creation. Actually, no, Lord. Not all of your creation. Please, on Horace, let there be no mercy.”
I kid you not. Right at that point of the prayer, from the bathroom, we heard an almighty splash. Then more splashing. Then less. And less. Then nothing.
What now? Some of our group were convinced that Horace had swum through the sewers to freedom. “It isn’t for nothing that they’re called ‘sewer rats’”, an experienced team member informed us.
We moved the furniture away from the bathroom door, then took our posts. My friend was determined to investigate. I promised to back her up. I stayed right back. Armed only with a pointed umbrella, my friend creaked open the door. One step. Two steps. The silence was deafening.
“Have you ever seen a drowned rat?” my friend finally laughed. With some trepidation, we all went in and had a good look. Poor little Horace, floating in the toilet, appeared half the size he had just an hour earlier.
The maintenance fellow arrived eventually. Armed with a pair of tongs and a plastic bag, he removed the corpse.
There is still no viable church in Baode. But God still loves His creation and yearns for those dear old ladies to be cared for, and for others to join the family, including perhaps the literate leaders of the area.
The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. No, God does not show mercy to rats. But on people who need the gospel, Lord, we beg you, show mercy.
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