On August 16, 2005, Alan Yuan passed into the presence of the Lord. During his life, he had spent twenty-one years and eight months in Chinese jails because he refused to comply with rules the government imposed on churches. He told many of his visitors that during the long years in jail, two songs continued to encourage him. One was Psalm 27 set to music and the other was “The Old Rugged Cross.” The prisoners worked nine hours a day with only one break, but during that break Alan Yuan stood outside and sang those two songs over and over again. “I found the Chinese version of ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ better than the English one,” he later told a friend. “In Chinese it tells us to be faithful servants and to follow the cross, which was what I wanted to do.”
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suffering and shame;
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it some day for a crown.
O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
Has a wondrous attraction for me;
For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above
To bear it to dark Calvary.
In the old rugged cross stained with blood so divine,
A wondrous beauty I see;
For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died
To pardon and sanctify me.
To the old rugged cross I will ever be true,
Its shame and reproach gladly bear;
Then He’ll call me some day to my home far away,
Where His glory forever I’ll share.
George Bennard (1873–1958)
One of our Open Doors colleagues, Ron Boyd-MacMillan, has traveled extensively in China. One day he met a believer named Mrs. Yang, one of many female evangelists who play a vital role in the enormous growth of China’s church. Her simple lifestyle and Christian zeal intrigued Ron.
At that time people often walked into the hills to have their morning devotions. One day, when Ron was spending time in prayer in the hills, he saw Mrs. Yang a short distance away. He noticed that she began her day with about twenty minutes on her knees in prayer. Then she got up from the damp, rocky ground and started to walk around, singing as she went. Then she read her Bible, making notes, evidently planning the day’s sermons. Finally, once again before she returned home, she sang for another half hour.
As she walked back toward the village, Ron caught up with her. “Mrs. Yang,” he said. “I hope you don’t mind, but I saw you as you had your quiet time this morning. May I ask you something?”
She tilted her head to look up at him. “Of course. What do you want to know?”
“Why do you sing so exuberantly when you are by yourself?”
Mrs. Yang tried to answer his question as best as she could. “My father once taught me that one of the sweet things about the Christian life is that believers do things simply because they are commanded to. Singing is a command. In the Psalms we’re constantly exhorted to sing praises to our God.”
Making mental notes of her words, Ron quietly walked beside the slightly stooped lady, who went on, “I didn’t really understand the power of worshiping God and singing His praises until I was arrested and sent to prison. There I prayed and read Scripture, but nothing raised my spirits like singing. Maybe it’s because singing somehow concentrates the whole body on the praise of God. I have found it essential in my Christian life. To keep a positive spirit, I need to sing.”
Ron could sense that she wanted to say more, but she seemed hesitant to go on. “Were you about to say something else?” he asked.
“Well, it’s just that an old lady once told me something that really sums up the main reason I sing. She said, ‘Our spirits are like flowers, and song is the sun. Just as flowers open only when the sun shines, so our spirits blossom only when we sing.’ I believe that is true. Since my prison cell, I cannot do without song. As God’s Word says, ‘And in the night his song shall be with me’” (Ps. 42:8 KJV).
“Thank you, Mrs.Yang,” Ron said. “That really is an important lesson.”
But Mrs. Yang wasn’t finished. As they neared the village, she went on to tell Ron about her fears for the future of China’s Christians as the country opened up and the churches got more organized. “I fear that the day will come when we’re going to leave the singing to the professionals. I think that would be terrible. The only way a Christian can have a full blossoming spirit is to sing to the Lord.”
Before he left China the following day, Ron saw a vivid example of the power of worship and song in the lives of Mrs. Yang and of Chinese Christians.
A discouraged and downcast woman, who was another full-time preacher, came to visit Mrs. Yang. She wanted to buy a tape player for her ministry, but she had no money. Mrs. Yang listened as her friend unburdened her heart; then she began to sing to her. Her elderly voice was deep and scratchy, but although the tune was barely discernable, the words were simple and lovely:
I am a wanderer, my home is heaven.
Life is fleeting.
Our home is in heaven.
In this world we have many trials,
And sadness and sickness.
True happiness is not in this world.
But in heaven.
Mrs. Yang seemed to be singing to the Lord. Every word poured out from her heart with total conviction. Tears rolled down her cheeks, one hand was clenched in the air, and she beat time on her hip with the other. Soon the visiting preacher joined in the song. Ron watched in amazement as they sang the hymn together, smiles wreathing their faces. The preacher left, still with no money for her longed-for tape player, but refreshed and encouraged nonetheless.