The following article contains an imaginative reconstruction of the life of a Bible through the Bible’s eyes – pieced together from information found on the flyleaf of an actual Bible in China.
I came off my press in 1992 so by China’s standards, I was a fairly new Bible. However, since I did not come off an official press I had disadvantages. My paper was not very thin, so I was a thick book…nearly four inches thick. That immediately gave me away as an illegal Bible. Also my cover was cheap and made of paper, so whenever I traveled, it had to be clandestinely. My first trip was at the bottom of an old suitcase down among the socks and underwear. The owner did not dare to take me out and read me on the train journey. We arrived in the north of China and I was taken to a small house where there was a class of sixteen house church leaders. They were overjoyed to see me. It seemed I was the only Bible they had there. Perhaps because of that I was actually roped to the table, so that no one could steal me. Then the students would arrange to read me in two-hour blocs, even through the night. I was in constant use. They would read me with a grubby finger, often sounding the words aloud. I heard all their emotions as they read – puzzlement, anger, joy and peace.
A year of constant use began to take its toll and I had to be refurbished twice; once re-glued, and the other time re-covered. Every two months a few women from the house churches would come and spend hours with me copying my pages. The students used to get irritated at that time because they could not read me. The women copied me around the clock for a week each time. They were directed to certain books. One of them copied the prophet Isaiah in a week but mostly they copied the Gospels, Acts, Romans and Revelation.
Suddenly the school was raided. I was jerked out of my rope and carried off by a policeman. Two students ended in jail for possessing me.
I found myself in a dark cupboard in the policeman’s house. But I was not alone. He had a fifteen-year old daughter that used to creep downstairs at night and read me by candlelight right there in the cupboard. It was very cold for her. She was only in her night-shirt and her skin often turned blue. But she read me quietly, hardly daring to breathe as she turned the pages.
After a few months she actually smuggled me away from there in her school satchel. Perhaps she thought her father would never notice. Anyway I was passed into the hands of a young itinerant evangelist who treasured me as if I was a baby. He would wrap me in his luggage and cycle from village to village. He rarely had time to read me himself but when he would preach, he would turn to a few of his favorite passages, read me and then preach. He loved preaching from Romans Three and on the parables of Jesus. He would weep as he preached, his tears falling on my open pages in great drops, smudging the print.
But after a few months someone robbed him, stole me and I found myself in a house full of incense. It seems my new owner was a Taoist priest and for a while I lay on his altar to his ancestors, flanked by two oranges and a bag of nuts. But a visitor saw me and shrieked in horror warning the man what trouble he would be in if others saw me. This intrigued the priest so he began to leaf through me. But he could not read very well so he invited a local Christian to come and explain some passages.
A month later I saw them both on their knees, confessing their sins to God and trusting Jesus. The next thing I knew the altar had gone. Soon there were groups meeting in the house – mainly because I was there. I was read aloud and then they would sit and discuss the words until it was very late. Once they took me out to the fields and when they stopped planting rice they gathered everyone around and read me. But the leader of the work unit grew angry, grabbed me and began to stand on me, pressing me into the mud. To my surprise, the others rose up and threw him in the mud. But I was sodden and half-ruined. They took me back and tried to dry me out but it was too late.
After a conference they decided to burn the spoiled parts, then to split up the remaining books and sew each one with thread. So I became thirty-one books instead of just one. But that is when I lost my flyleaf and so my tale must end.