A Chinese Farmers’ rule: “Stand with your arm outstretched, turn slowly around in a circle, and pray for everything you see through your fingers.”
That was what Lo, a semi-illiterate farmer, did every evening while standing on the dam around his rice field. With a hoe over one shoulder, he stretched out an arm, spread his fingers and turned slowly on the spot. He looked rather strange, bare-footed, wearing a dirty shirt and trousers rolled up to his knees, and his neighbours originally assumed he was performing some sort of Qi-gong exercise - until a group of young boys crept close and heard him praying.
He prayed for everything that he saw through his spread fingers. He saw his neighbour’s fields, and prayed “Lord, bless my neighbour and give him a bountiful harvest.” He saw his friend’s water buffalo, and prayed “Lord, please keep the animal healthy and strong, because it is so important for my friend.” He saw clouds of smoke rising from the quarry in the distance, and prayed “Lord, protect the people there with so much dynamite. Let every stone from the ground you made become part of a house.” He turned further, and saw the broken windows in the glass factory: “Lord, protect the women in the factory, and let them experience you during their work.” He prayed for everything which he saw: inhabitants of a house, the owner of a field, an animal, trees or dams - he prayed that they would blossom and remain strong.
Lo was the only Christian in the area, and his neighbours considered his prayers strange. They knew, though, that he was not very bright, so they thought he was just a little crazy.
Lo died of a heart attack at 51, with no family. One by one, accidents and disasters started to happen in the area: four men were killed by an explosion in the quarry; a young woman lost her arm in an accident in the glass factory; a water buffalo ran amok, destroying important irrigation channels. Finally, the villagers gathered and said “The accidents are happening because Lo is no longer here to pray for us. We know from our children that nobody was hurt and the harvest was always good while he prayed.” They discussed until late at night, and decided to find out which God he had been praying to, regretting not having been more interested in his faith while he was alive. In order to find the answer, they lit joss-sticks on a local altar. Strangely, the statue of a warrior on the altar fell down every night, its face lying in the mud.
Finally, they had an idea: “The god always falls in the same direction.” It was pointing to Lo’s old house. They went to the house, now occupied by a family, and started to search. After some time, someone called “I’ve found something,” and pulled a small book from under the eaves. They brought the book to the statue, lit more joss-sticks, and wondered what would happen next.
That day, a young evangelist arrived in the area, and started to preach in the fields: “Let me tell you about Jesus Christ, brother,” he began, but didn’t get any further, because a group of men seized his arms and legs, saying “What are you doing, bringing your idolatry here?” As they dragged him past the altar, they heard a loud bang and a scream. They dropped the evangelist, and ran to the altar, where they discovered that the statue had again fallen down, this time on a young woman’s leg.
While they worked to free the woman, the evangelist approached. He recognised Lo’s book on the altar, picked it up and asked “That’s a Bible - where did you get it?” The others stared at him and asked if he knew the book. “Of course, it’s the book about Jesus Christ, the greatest God, who answers prayer like no other.”
Those were the words the villagers had been waiting to hear. “The book belonged to a local farmer,” they said. “We thought he was crazy, but we can see that his prayers were very effective. Please tell us about this God!”
The evangelist patted the dust from his clothes and began to speak. He noticed that his thumb was still marking a particular page, at which the Bible had opened when he picked it up. When he looked, he was amazed: 1 Samuel 5, telling the story of the Philistine god Dagon falling on its face in front of the Ark of the Covenant. “I have never had a better text for a sermon,” he says, grinning.
The villagers, who are now all Christians, add “Our harvests have improved, and the number of accidents has dropped.” The nicest thing, though, is that Lo’s inheritance lives on: every evening, some ten or fifteen people stand on the dams, stretch out one arm, spread their fingers and turn slowly on the spot, praying quietly. And everyone carries a hoe on one shoulder, in Lo’s honour.
Source: Friday Fax 2002 Issue 1, 4 January; original source: Open Doors