CHENGDU — A pastor said at a recent memorial service for the first victim of the coronavirus in China’s Sichuan Province that he was able to share the gospel with the woman before she died.
A translation of the message from Peng Qiang, pastor of Chengdu’s Enfu Reformed Gospel Church, was posted this month on the websites Thirst and China Partnership. He presented the service via a teleconferencing call as most were confined to their homes. Audio is also posted online via WeChat.
Zhang Ruzhen was known as Mama Xue to her friends and family, and her son, Xue Ximing, attends Qiang’s church.
In January, Ruzhen traveled to Chengdu to be with her son for the Chinese New Year. But during that time, she fell ill and had to be hospitalized. It was confirmed that she had the coronavirus. At times, she was unconscious.
Qiang told Ximing that he wanted to share the gospel with his mother and asked if she might be willing to speak with him. The next day, Ruzhen was awake, so her son contacted the pastor to advise that he could speak to her then, but that he didn’t know how long she would be responsive.
Ximing says that he asked her if she would be willing to talk to the minister, and her gentle reply was, “I am willing.”
Qiang quickly picked up the phone, and after telling the woman that his church was praying for her, he cut to the chase and outlined the message as succinctly as he could.
“We were created by God. But we didn’t trust and obey God, and we rejected Him,” he said, according to his recollection at the memorial service. “Despite that, He sent His one and only Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for our sins so that we may live. Jesus died, but He rose again. We only need to believe in Jesus. Our sins will be forgiven, and we will no longer be separated from God but enjoy eternal life. In Him, there is no fear of death.”
“After I shared this with her, I asked her if she wanted to believe and receive Christ. She said yes,” Qiang said. “By God’s grace, He prepared this window of consciousness in her coma for her to hear the gospel message and come to know Him.”
A few days later, a woman from the church, Jiang Li, brought an audio Bible to play in Ruzhen’s hospital room, and wrote Scripture on cards, asking the hospital to share them with the woman.
She succumbed to the coronavirus the following day.
“Sister Zhong Jin, Mama Xue’s daughter-in-law, [said that] Mama Xue was in the presence of worship songs and the audible Word of God until her last breath,” Qiang shared. “We will never know exactly how close Mama Xue was with God in her last moments. But we believe in a God who is faithful. Even if your faith is like a grain of mustard seed, God knows. And He remembers.”
During Ruzhen’s memorial service, Qiang told the approximately 100 people listening to his words that in the midst of national calamity, repentance is paramount.
“Without turning back to God, there is no help. To turn back means we have gone astray,” he said. “We need to repent not just for ourselves, but also on behalf of our land. We repent for the violence, lies, deceit, the fearlessness towards God and the disregard for lives in this land.”
“In suffering, we know God more. In suffering, we turn back to God,” Qiang stated. “Our hearts are softened and humbled. In suffering we are molded to be more like Jesus in our character. Dear brothers and sisters, I pray that God — through even the suffering of the novel coronavirus outbreak — will turn us back to Him.”
He also expressed to Ruzhen’s family that he hoped this time would likewise lead them to Christ, so that in years to come, they could look back and say, “[I]t was through her death that we turned back to God and came to know of His truth.”
According to World Magazine, several of Ruzhen’s friends have since come to profess Christ, and members of Qiang’s church sense a greater burden to share the message of salvation with their family members.