At 9 a.m. at a dock in Canton, China, Wen Wei Chieh waited. After six long years imprisoned by the Communists for her public witness as a Christian, she had finally been granted a permit to travel to Hong Kong.
Only one thing stood between her and boarding the ship: the inspection of her baggage, in which was her Bible. When a fellow traveler urged her to toss it into the river, she answered, “If the Lord allows me to go, the Bible will cause no difficulty or trouble.”
A decade before, in a similar situation, she had persisted, “I must have [the Bible] with me. If it brings trouble, the Lord will take responsibility.” This was Wen Wei Chieh’s constant refrain: she belonged to God, so she was his responsibility.
This was Wen Wei Chieh’s constant refrain: she belonged to God, so she was his responsibility.
Lead Me to My Father
Wei Chieh was born in China in 1899. When she was just 6 years old, her father died of sickness, leaving behind a debt. Soon after, a creditor forced her mother’s fingerprint on a contract she couldn’t read, and dragged Wei Chieh’s little sister—a toddler—away from her mother.
When Wei Chieh became dangerously ill, she was brought to a mission hospital where Dr. Jean MacBurney treated her. Wei Chieh frequently had night terrors where she feverishly screamed for her dead father. Dr. MacBurney told her about a “heavenly Father” who loved her, and the girl begged the doctor to take her to him. “Only Jesus can lead you to him,” she said.
Upon hearing this, Wei Chieh cried out her first prayer: “O Jesus, lead me to the Father.” Dr. MacBurney preached the gospel to her, and Wei Chieh immediately believed. She then provided Wei Cheih’s mother shelter and a job while convincing the widow to send her daughter to the mission school.
Her Most Important Thing
At the age of 15, Wei Chieh’s education was halted when her mother commanded her to get married. Her marriage was not a happy one. Her mother-in-law severely mistreated her; her daughter died 18 days after her birth; she suffered a life-threatening illness; and then she found out her husband had been living with another woman.
After this, Wei Chieh’s little son floated back and forth between her and her husband. She wrote, “Looking into the past or trying to peer into the future, one could only weep.” Strangely, her broken marriage made it possible for her to attend Bible school and, later, become a missionary. The Lord lit a fire in her soul to “tell the good news.” This became her “most important thing.”
In 1949, when the American missionaries fled to Hong Kong, they gave Wei Chieh responsibility for the mission orphanage in her hometown, Tak Hing. Its foreign alliances would become the grounds for her arrests.
Wei Chieh was first arrested in 1949 when policemen arrived at a church service. At the police headquarters, she took out her Psalm book and began singing, stating: “While the Christians are worshiping at the church, I also wish to sing praises.”
The judge released Wei Chieh on the same day, but two years later 60 guards came to the orphanage and took the farm animals and supplies. The new managers wouldn’t allow the orphans to pray before meals. Nevertheless, Wei Chieh kept praying: “May thy will be done in me.”
The authorities arrested Wei Chieh again in January 1952. Her Bible was immediately confiscated, and she was often sick with fever and dysentery. The prisoners were left “always hungry, but not hungry enough to die.”
Then there was the brainwashing. For hundreds of hours, the guards used sleep deprivation and threats to coerce the prisoners to confess something––anything—that could be used against them.
Carrying the Bible to Her Coffin
Wei Chieh had been accused of three things––spying for the Americans, stealing from the orphanage, and killing 18 babies––but the authorities could prove none of them. She was released from prison in May 1953.
The first thing she did was retrieve her confiscated Bible. To an inquiring officer, she stated: “This Book is the compass for my life. . . . It tells us the way of life through Jesus the Son of God . . . I cannot be without it.”
“May you cherish it and carry it with you into your coffin,” the officer scoffed. She answered: “That satisfies my mind and heart, and I hope to carry it even to my coffin.”
This Book is the compass for my life. . . . It tells us the way of life through Jesus the Son of God . . . I cannot be without it.
Act of Worship
As Communist spies followed her for months, Wei Chieh proclaimed the gospel in public squares. When church leaders criticized her, she repeated: “God will take the responsibility.”
Some time later, she applied for a travel permit to Hong Kong. Thus, Wei Chieh stood at the dock in Canton for her inspection. When the guard took out her Bible, he asked why she insisted on being a Christian when so many people had abandoned their faith.
She replied, “I cannot refuse his love to me which is like the love of father and mother. . . . Because the Lord Jesus loved me and gave his own life for me, I cannot but love him and also tell others about God’s love for them.” Carrying that Bible was Wei Chieh’s act of worship.
Not in Vain
I was like a stranger passing through, but the final records of the church will show that it was not in vain.
The Lord gave Wei Chieh (later known as Jeannette Li) 12 more years of ministry in Hong Kong and in the United States, where she was reunited with her son. She suffered a stroke while translating the account of her cruel imprisonment.
Her life ended quietly, far from the people for whom she had poured out her life. As she reflected, “I was like a stranger passing through, but the final records of the Church will show that it was not in vain.”