Editor’s note: Zhang Ruzhen, known as Mama Xue to those close to her, died of novel coronavirus on January 29th in Chengdu, China. She was the first novel coronavirus fatality in Sichuan Province. Before she passed away, Mama Xue prayed to receive Christ via telephone with Pastor Peng Qiang, who ministers at the church her son attends.
As China and the world reel in fear of novel coronavirus and the suffering and death it brings, Christ is exalted as our only hope. While times are grim, the light of God shines even brighter as Christians show what it means to follow the footsteps of Jesus in the way of the cross.
The following article, excerpted from Mama Xue’s online memorial service, was originally posted on the WeChat account of Blessings Reformed Presbyterian Church in Chengdu. Thir.st translated and re-published the account in English. This piece is reproduced from Thir.st with their permission.
After Mama Xue’s death and the gospel was shared at her online service, many friends and family members of the Xue clan have professed faith in Jesus.
“Family members of Mama Xue, brothers and sisters of our church, greetings to you.
Would You Pray With Us Today?
The past week has been tumultuous for everyone. While we were distressed about what is happening in China and around the world, we were met with news of Brother Xue’s family situation regarding his mother.
Mama Xue travelled to Chengdu this Chinese New Year to be with her son. On January 20, she came down with a fever and was hospitalized. Later it was confirmed that she had the novel coronavirus. Mama Xue lay unconscious in the hospital.
On January 24, I sent a message to Brother Xue, telling him that I wanted to share the gospel with his mother. I asked him to check if she was willing to talk to me. The next afternoon, Brother Xue asked if I could talk to his mother then as she was awake, but he wasn’t sure for how long more.
I phoned him immediately, but there was no answer. Only on my third try did my call get connected. That call lasted for only eight minutes. I asked Mama Xue how she was doing, and I told her that the brothers and sisters in our church are praying for her.
Time was running out. There and then, I shared with her the gospel message simply and succinctly.
We were created by God. But we didn’t trust and obey God, and we rejected Him. 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. I prayed with her to receive Christ into her life. 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.
The day before Mama Xue passed on, Sister Jiang Li met with the doctor to hand her an audio Bible to play in Mama Xue’s room. Sister Jiang Li also wrote out some Bible verses and psalms on cards, and asked the medical staff to pass these on to Mama Xue. According to Sister Zhong Jin, Mama Xue’s daughter-in-law, Mama Xue was in the presence of worship songs and the audible Word of God until her last breath.
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.
So let us entrust Mama Xue’s soul to God’s hands with thankful hearts.”
At the online memorial service, Pastor Peng Qiang then preached from Psalm 80, aptly chosen as a “a community lament written during a time of great trial.”
He said that China is in similar trouble today, but he reminded the congregation that they could pray to God for strength when they know him personally as their shepherd.
“Only those who have a genuine and personal relationship with God can call out to God. God’s children are like sheep, and he is the Shepherd that protects, provides for and guides them,” he said.
Pastor Peng shared how they had prayed similarly for Mama Xue: “When Mama Xue was hospitalized and diagnosed (with the virus), we were praying: ‘O Lord, hear our prayer. Awaken your might, we pray that you heal Mama Xue.’
“However, Mama Xue passed away in the next few days. Does this mean that it was useless to trust in God? No! God simply didn’t answer us in the way we wanted him to. However, he had mercy and compassion for Mama Xue, and he continues to comfort us and strengthen our faith.”
Pastor Peng then reminded the congregation not to forget verse 3 of Psalm 80: “Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved!”
He continued: “This prayer helps us to take our eyes off the trouble that is around us and look beyond it. It helps us to seek a relationship with God rather than just praying for an escape route – a relationship that brings true reversal, revival and help.”
Pastor Peng also took the chance to address fear and anxiety: “A lot of people have been spending large amounts of time online to monitor all kinds of news about the coronavirus.
“Will the outbreak continue to worsen? How will this impact the economy? Will small businesses be forced to shut down as a result? A few days ago, the World Health Organization declared that the novel coronavirus outbreak is a public health emergency of international concern. What does this mean for our future?
“We are confronted by all kinds of news. O God! If you are real, come in your might to save us,” he exclaimed. Having made his point about fear and anxiety, he continued on: “But here’s the problem, if we only pray like that, we will become increasingly hopeless. Every day, you look at the world and you tell God, do this, do that – you will end up losing hope.
“We need to look at things from a God-given perspective. We need to pray unceasingly from this psalm: ‘Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.’ God, restore us. Only when we are restored can we see you and experience real help.”
Pastor Peng pressed that the most important thing in seeking God is repentance: “Without turning back to God, there is no help. To turn back means we have gone astray.” Citing three scriptures, he taught that turning back is a three-step process in walking away from evil, coming back to the truth, and relying on God instead of yourself.
Pastor Peng then urged repentance: “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… Help us not to rely on ourselves, but on you instead. Turn us from our evil ways, and guide us in your truth!”
Pastor Peng also encouraged the congregation with a few words on suffering: “In suffering, we know God more; in suffering, we turn back to God. 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.”
O God, stretch out your mighty hand and put a stop to the epidemic. Save us.
Then, turning to the family of Mama Xue, he blessed them and encouraged them to open their hearts and receive Jesus: “If Mama Xue’s sudden passing can lead you to Christ, then this day of mourning will also become the day your household is saved. Your days ahead will be guided by God’s truth, and you will one day reunite with Mama Xue in heaven.
“You and your future generations will look back and say, it was that year when our relative passed away in the epidemic – it was through her death that we turned back to God and came to know of his truth.”
Finally, Pastor Peng led the congregation in a moving closing prayer: “O God, we cry out to you, hear our prayer. We pray that Mama Xue rests in peace in your loving arms. O God, we pray that you bring comfort to Mama Xue’s family. Give them hope that is from Christ, that death is not the end.
“O God, we pray that you guide every single family member of Mama Xue’s back to you. We pray that you bless every single one of them and shine your face upon them. O God, we pray for your children. Turn us back to you. Give us a fresh start in your truth and light.
“O God, stretch out your mighty hand and put a stop to the epidemic. Save us. O God, turn the hearts of man back to you. We pray that in this time of darkness, your light will pierce through and lead more people to come to know you and receive real salvation from you.”