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A Bowl of Deep love From “a True Mother”

I couldn’t fully understand why St. Paul called Timothy “my own son” the first time I read his epistle. Until 2012, I met an elderly in my hometown church, who made me realize that truly Timothy was St. Paul’s “true son” nurtured by the gospel. This elder, like St. Paul, has been nourishing my life with the love of the gospel, resembling “a true mother” to love and influence me. She is nanny Du Gaicao from Jiaocun Church, Lingbao City, Henan Province.

Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

A bowl of water: to open a church from scratch

In the 1980s, the church in my hometown was like the new-born lying in the manger of an inn with no place to lay its head, so a cave dwelling became her resting place. Inside the shabby cave dwelling there were barely any objects, except the uneven ground covered by yellow soil and a pulpit piled with earth. Believers had to sit on the ground during congregational activities, or simply sat on one of their shoes, or a piece of self-woven cotton pad. After the service, the first thing they had to do when they got up was to dust themselves off. Life was hard at that period of time, and the first offering of more than 40 believers was merely 3.7 yuan (0.53 dollars).

Later, nanny Du heard that there were some discarded bricks and tiles in the deep ditch near a brick factory located in another village, so she and several believers went to pick them up and put them together as “cushions”. Even though the bicycle at that time had already become one of the “three major things”, it was still a prohibitive item for the majority of the families living in the rural village. They normally had to walk a long way for the service. Nanny Du then planned to prepare some bowls to provide water for them. So she bought a few dozens of bowls and carried them in a bag to the dwelling cave. She’s very thin and not tall, so it was not easy for her to walk such a long distance with those heavy loads. She found herself becoming too weary to carry that heavy bag of bowls after walking a short distance. When she took a rest, she came up with an idea. That was to move half of the bowls in the bag a few meters ahead and then return for the rest. She repeated this process numerous times and walked more than 20 miles to arrive at the dwelling cave with all bowls safely as well as her bountiful love.

Until the 1990s, for safety concerns, the church was moved out of that dwelling cave and temporarily relocated to a wheat field in another village. Every time before the worship service, the congregation used several white cloths to pitch a “tent”, and they took it down afterwards. Some believers donated some hand-made cushions, which were stuffed with corn leaves, wheat straws and green bean shells, and wrapped in old clothes and woven bags. At that time, nanny Du, as the breadwinner of her family, had to labor from morning until night. Corn fields then became her only place to prepare sermons.

Even if I never saw that scene with my own eyes, it seemed that I could “see” her sitting under the corn stalks, with two bowls in her hands -- one for feeding her children, and the other for feeding church members. The bowls filled with food were then handed over to those who waited to be fed. Since nanny Du saw the growth of life far more important than any other things, she never minded her double workload.

A bowl of noodles: fearless to build a church

Until 1997, nanny Du led all to buy an old tile-roofed house. Although there were many broken holes in the roof, the church in my hometown finally settled down. In 1999, church members planned to build a new church since the old cottage had to be demolished for a couple of reasons. However, a total of merely 10, 000 yuan they had was far from enough to buy bricks, cements and sand. That was also the period of time when nanny Du felt the most vulnerable. In spite of this, the Lord led her in an amazing manner, enabling her to believe in the real Jehovah-Jireh. So she wiped away her tears and began to pray earnestly with restored faith. Nanny Du made an offering first and raised the fund, followed by voluntary participation of other church members. The church even received donations from strangers. Built on faith, the construction work of the new church had never been disrupted by a shortage of money. At that time, nanny Du needed to go out and buy construction materials, and more often than not, she skipped her meals only to save money to buy one more piece of brick for the church instead of a bowl of noodles for herself. From that February to October, it took half a year to finally finish a new church equipped with wooden benches. But for nanny Du’s own room, its roof still leaked on rainy days.

That year in September, nanny Du began her journey of studying theology. In the following two years, she was generous to herself only once, when she went to an eatery with Aunt Zhuanning from the church and spent 2.5 yuan (0.36 dollars) for a bowl of noodles. The reason why she could recall in such detail is simply because that’s an exception that she made -- to splurge a little on a meal the day she was sick. Otherwise, how could a person like her, who hardly bought herself new clothes and only used expired ink, pay that “high price” to buy a bowl of noodles?

Afterwards, young people in the hometown church started to study theology. Every time before a new semester kicked off, nanny Du often secretly gave pocket money to the seminarians in need. In her words, she had gone through the difficult times of being as a seminarian. I thought she must have saved that money for quite a long time. She has always been such a person who thinks less of herself and more of others. Many years ago, even though there were not much flour and pickled vegetables she got, she still gave a bowl of food to the orphan and widow in the village. I don’t think that nanny Du has ever believed that she had a bowl full of hardships and bitterness, for she always filled it with abundance and blessings for those in need.

A bowl of soup: care the younger generation with a bowl of deep love

In 2005, I embarked on my own journey to theology. A year later, one day I rode a scooter and nanny Du was with me. We were on the way to serve in a church when the bitter wind revealed how freezing cold that winter day was. Actually she didn’t need to endure the coldness with me, but I knew she insisted on it and was concerned for my first service. Like a mother always watching over her kid’s first step in life, she stood by me and gave me words of exhortation. That day I served with peace and strength.

On our way back, nanny Du suggested that we shall have a bowl of hot soup on such a cold day. So we walked into a beef restaurant and she ordered two big bowls of beef soup as well as several hot baked rolls. The moment I turned around to get the chilly source on the back table, she silently put the beef in her bowl into mine. I turned back and just saw that when she was doing so. I then urgently tried to stop her, but with a smile, she said that beef was too hard to digest for her and she loved the soup. Looking at the bowl in front of me, I felt deeply touched and that story occurred to me -- because of her deep love, a mother always gave the fish body to her kid while eating fish head herself and claiming that she loved fish heads. After the meal, nanny Du took away the remaining half baked roll. She said, even if I lived a better life now, I still could not waste food, nor the grace of the Lord, like picking up broken pieces of the five loaves and two fish that were left over. I can remember that bowl of beef soup until today. Although I have had beef soups from other different places, none of them is a patch on that bowl of soup, a soup filled with love and teaching.

Now it has been seven years since I began to study theology. The path is inundated with nanny Du’s guidance, encouragement, care, love, and prayers. Her words, her experience of being called by the Lord since 1978, as well as all the hardships that my hometown church has gone through, are always on my mind. I have seen the goodness of those countless testimonies. I have felt the power of walking in love. All of these become the ingredients that nourish my spiritual life and allow me to grow up.

This year happens to be the tenth year since I met nanny Du in the Lord. Two years ago, I just knew that she was seriously ill and that nearly took her life in 2008. It was a miracle that she recovered from that illness later. It occurs to me that the stories between us might never unfold if her life ended that year. But the Lord makes her alive, through which the story of love never ends.

Filled with the deep love of nanny Du, a bowl of water, a bowl of noodles, and a bowl of soup, all have been witnesses to the inheritance of faith. By blood, we are not related. By age, she belongs to my grandmother’s generation. Nevertheless, I hold the belief she is my “true mother”, like the father-son relationship between Paul and Timothy, which could surpass blood ties and age in love.

Author: Wang Qiongyao

Translator: Bei Feng