"Keep a low profile," I was warned before I entered China. So the last thing I expected was an invitation to visit a secret house church.
Sticking close to my guide and the translator, I followed in a dizzying dash along the city streets, ducking into alleyways and courtyards, until we finally eased through the back door of a simple two-room house. I followed through the closet-sized kitchen to a room furnished with a single table and two chairs. "Fifty people worship here on Sundays," the young woman told me.
Fifty crowded into so small a room!
"They come quietly, one at a time. They know how to gather without attracting attention." They whispered their prayers, the translator told me, and soundlessly mouthed the songs. Making a joyful noise was not a privilege afforded them.
A little gray-haired lady—the owner of the house—shuffled in and sat at the table. She pulled a folded paper from her pocket and carefully smoothed it out. Then she took out a pencil and looked at me with eager anticipation.
"What does she want?" I asked.
"She's waiting for you to recite chapters from the Bible," the translator said. "She will write out the words and we will memorize them. Then we can share them with other house churches."
"Chapters of the Bible?" I thought. Well, I did know some Psalms …
"Start with Romans," the translator encouraged. "We don't have any of Romans."
Recite chapters from Romans? She had to be kidding!
"I don't know any chapters from Romans," I admitted.
"Oh," the translator said. "You don't have it either?"
"Well … yes … I have it," I stammered. "I have several copies at my home. I have it on my computer too. I have it, but I don't know it …"
The translator stared at me, then she repeated what I'd said to the little old lady. The lady fixed me with a gaze of disdainful disbelief. She folded up her paper and put it and the pencil back into her pocket. Then she stood, turned her back to me, and walked out of the room.
My favorite chapter of the Bible is Romans 8. If I'd known that chapter by heart, imagine what it would have meant to those Chinese believers! To those who knew such persecution, I could have said:
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing
with the glory that will be revealed in us.
And I could have shared the encouragement:
We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,
who have been called according to his purpose.
I could have joyfully proclaimed:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? …
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,
Neither the present nor the future, nor any other power,
Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,
Will be able to separate us from the love of God
That is in Christ Jesus our Lord!
I couldn't say any of that, though, because I didn't memorize Romans 8 until I left China.
But I did make an important decision that day. Standing in that small house, I determined that never again would someone ask me to share Scripture with them only to have me mumble, "I have it, but I don't know it."
I got a black spiral-bound notebook, and in it I record all the passages I want to memorize. I have John 14 and John 15 written out, and Micah 6:6-12 and the Beatitudes from Matthew 5. Also Galatians 5, Ephesians 6, Isaiah 53, and Hebrews 11. Some passages I have memorized and some I'm working on. Some I memorized and then forgot, so I have to go back and learn them again. (It's easier the second time.)
Sometimes I start to recite a portion, and I stumble and make mistakes, but it doesn't matter. I'm not learning for performance. I'm learning so that the Holy Spirit can call the right Scripture to mind when I need it. He cannot bring back what I never knew. But what is hidden in my heart can never be erased.
Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women
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