Claribel always stopped at the post office on the walk home from her job at the five and ten, even though the letters were sporadic. John wrote regularly, but the mail from China was always slow. Today there were two letters. She tucked them into her bag to read at home.
When she looked at them, she wasn’t surprised that the first letter was dated two months ago. Sitting on the davenport, she slid a finger under the flap of the envelope. She was looking forward to reading more about the small churches he had helped plant. John wrote detailed letters that made her almost feel like she was there, helping him with God’s work. She smoothed the thin sheet and read the typewritten words.
“Shunte fu, China, April 2, 1928
You see I am home. 14 hours for an ordinary 8 hour run, pretty good. The war news out here continues slow. A Methodist lady missionary was killed down in Shantung recently. No details yet.”
Claribel closed her eyes for a moment. Then, without reading more, she rose and walked into the bedroom. She dropped to her knees by the bed and folded her hands on the white chenille coverlet and rested her forehead on them.
“Almighty God, even though this letter is old, You know where John is at this moment. I pray Your protection for my brother and Your other servants in China. I ask this in the Blessed Name of Jesus, Amen.”
She stood and returned to the sitting room. Picking up the letter again, she tried to enjoy his stories about the people. But almost before she finished it, she picked up the other letter.
“Peking, China, May 13, 1928”
He must have gone to Peking for safety, she thought.
“We have had no word from Shunte fu for 3 weeks. We do not know what is happening there.
We feel safe in Peking, as the city police are well trained and special means are being taken to defend the city against looting, especially defend the foreigners. Do not worry about me. I have no compunction of conscience about going to the Legation or moving to Tientsin if the American Minister tells us to.”
She let the letter drop to her lap. Her head bowed and she closed her eyes, but she had already prayed for his safety, so what more could she do?
I wish I were there. What good am I doing here?
She shook her head as if to dislodge the thought and rose to make tea. Their aging mother had needed her, especially at the end when her eyesight faded. John had not encouraged her to go with him, but had taught her to love the great land of China.
For weeks, there were no more letters, but Claribel knelt every night to pray for John’s safety. She scrutinized the newspaper for stories about China, but it seemed she was the only one who cared about that distant war. Finally, in July she read of an armistice between the two sides. Chiang Kai-shek was on his way to Peking.
That must be good. He’s a Christian. But she still prayed. And she still stopped at the post office every day. Eventually there would be more letters.
On a hot August day, a boy knocked at her open door. “Telegram for you ma’am,” he called through the screen. She came from the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron, even though they weren’t wet. Stopping to take a dime from her coin purse, she opened the door and let him put the folded paper into her hand.
“Thank you, ma’am,” he grinned as he dropped the coin into his pocket, but she didn’t smile. Her fingers traced the fold while she watched him skip down the steps to his bike. At length, she turned to the bedroom and sank to her knees before reading the message.
ARRIVING AUG 23 PORT WASHINGTON STOP SS DUCHESS OF BEDFORD STOP GOD IS GOOD
Her hands tightened on the telegram while her eyes filled with tears. He was safe. Port Washington was in Canada, but he could mail letters and the trains would bring him home soon enough. She smoothed the small piece of paper that had brought the good news and folded her hands on top of it. Resting her forehead on her hands, she paused for a moment in the familiar posture. Then she prayed.
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