Pai Kuo village is located off a narrow and rutted road about an hour and a half’s drive from Yi Yang city in China’s Hunan Province. It is set in peaceful surroundings and blessed with an abundance of lakes and streams. Its residents are mostly farmers who spend their days working in the paddy fields that are scattered in and around the village.
Pai Kuo has a special story – a story that began with a mentally ill woman. Cheng Hualun, 48, grew up in the village and shares what happened:
“There was a woman in my village who everyone knew as ‘the madwoman’. She would run around shouting, sometimes without any clothes on. Then one day, in the 1980s, she suddenly disappeared. Nobody knew where she had gone and we only found out some weeks later what had happened.
“For no apparent reason, she had run and walked all the way to Ning Xiang – a town 100 miles away that she had no links with whatsoever. On the way there she stopped to sleep in fields or in streets. Once she got to Ning Xiang, she went into the church, where a prayer meeting was underway.
Washed, fed and clothed her
“The women there asked her who she was but she did not make any sense. They washed, fed and clothed her, took her into their homes and prayed for her daily. About two weeks later she started speaking rationally and told them where her home village was.
“The church women travelled back to Pai Kou with her, taking with them some hand-copied Scriptures and hymns (there were no Bibles available at that time).
“The return of this woman was big news in the village because it was clear that she had been totally healed of her mental illness. Everyone came to see her to find out what had caused the big change in her. She told them that Jesus had healed her.
“My mother, Yang Yun Lian, was among the 10-20 villagers who became Christians through what happened. They started meeting regularly at my mother’s house to pray and sing the hymns that they were learning from the Ning Xiang church women. They in turn also started to hand copy Scriptures and hymnals.”
A church among the paddy fields
Today, that small group of Christians has grown into a 200-strong congregation with its own church building, which sits peacefully among the paddy fields. And the church has planted two other congregations in neighbouring villages, both of which have built their own churches.
Although they now have their own Bibles, both Mrs Cheng and her mother, Mrs Yang, still treasure the hand-copied Scriptures from all those years ago. They still sometimes open them together and sing the hymns that were lovingly written down. A hymn of Psalm 23 is a particular favourite.
And the mentally ill woman whose dramatic healing kick-started this whole story?
“She is in her 70s now and is still a committed Christian,” says Mrs Cheng. “She moved to another city to be near family and serves at the church there by cleaning and praying for others.”