The rocks are slippery in the dark. I slide, catch myself, and notice with my dimming flashlight that I’m at the edge of a cliff. The footpath gets steeper and even rockier. I come to streams and choose stepping stones carefully. I and half-a-dozen others press on down the mountainside, and I just follow the leader. It’s late and getting very cold. We crash through bushes and inch along, carefully keeping our balance as the trail gets narrow. The ground rises comfortingly on our right, but disappears into blackness on our left.
“It’s just ahead!” I’m told. “Only another half-mile! We’ll be right there!” On we go. I can’t picture our surroundings at all. My feet are cracking and hurting, even with good hiking shoes. We cross more streams and balance on more sharp rocks. I’m carrying a camera bag and just trying not to get hurt. There would be no medical help if I did.
Finally, hours into the night, the path levels into a small clearing. Tall bamboo trees arc overhead. There’s a hut of some kind before us, with a dim light. We hear shouts of excitement. They’ve heard us coming and run out to meet us. We get led through a low doorway into a courtyard, and then there are hugs, greetings and bows all around. Everyone is grinning hugely. These people have been waiting years for this day. H. A. Baker’s grandson has arrived!
I feel like I have reached the ends of the earth. I’m deep inside China, high up in an incredibly remote mountain valley among a nearly forgotten minority tribe. And I have come to my grandfather’s home of fourteen years, his beloved Ka Do land. Not since the communists forced him to leave more than fifty years ago has anyone seen a foreigner here. My father was never able to make the trip. Now that government restrictions have lifted, I have come to taste and see for myself the world of my grandfather’s books, accounts of God at work among the poor, meek and lowly of the earth.
I started this trip from Africa, where I was meeting with our famine-stricken Malawi pastors. I flew my plane back to central Mozambique, then to our home in Maputo to the south, and on to Nelspruit in South Africa. After a commuter flight to Johannesburg, I endured an eighteen-hour leg to Atlanta, and then continued to Pennsylvania where Heidi and I met and participated in a conference. She went her way, and after stops in Chicago, Los Angeles, Tokyo and Hong Kong, I arrived in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province in southwest China, and the place of my birth.
It took most of a day in a rented van to reach Mojiang, the first main town into the mountains from Kunming. There I connected with an old man, Li Shu Yi, eighty-three years old. He’s the only one left of all the orphans written about in “Visions Beyond the Veil,” my grandfather’s account of an intensely wonderful outpouring of the Holy Spirit in his orphanage back in Kunming. Li Shu Yi’s parents died when he was little, and he was adopted by his rich uncle and aunt who had no children of their own. But they were cruel to him. One day when he was only six his aunt lost her temper and fiercely beat him until her stick broke, his clothes were torn and he lost his body functions. He escaped to the streets, lost, afraid and crying his heart out. In the night he was robbed of his clothes and left with the filthy, smelly rags of a beggar. My grandfather took him in. My grandmother gave him a bath and changed his clothes, bursting into tears when she saw his bruises and wounds.
Li Shu Yi became a devoted son to my grandparents, never leaving them all their days in China. In 1926 when he was nine the Holy Spirit fell on the orphans, and as they described what they were seeing while in visions, Li Shu Yi translated their local dialect for my grandfather, who wrote down all that he heard for his book. This went on for months, a time of rare and privileged revelation that has enriched the faith of believers all over the world who have read the story.
In 1929 my grandfather began making long, arduous journeys into the mountains to preach to the Ka Do minority tribe. There were no roads or buses in those days, and my grandfather would be gone for months, climbing the ridges and descending into the valleys every day on foot. The mountain people were wild and rough. Many were thieves and bandits. He wore their coarse peasant clothes, ate their simple, meager food, and walked in their thin cotton shoes, whatever the terrain. And always, wherever he went, there was Li Shu Yi with him, his constant walking companion, translator and helper.
In 1935 my grandparents moved to a beautiful valley deep in Ka Dao land, where I am today. The journey from Kunming took seventeen days. From here my grandfather itinerated in all directions, preaching the Gospel to poor villages clinging to terraced mountainsides. He might walk twenty miles a day, each day in a different village, and he bore great fruit. Thousands all over his own valley came to Jesus, and in time he was regularly traveling a circuit of forty churches. The Holy Spirit fell on these simple people, written about in another of my grandfather’s many books, “God in Ka Do Land.” Later I would listen to my grandfather tell endless stories of those days. He opened up to me a supernatural reality filled with angels, demons, the power of the Spirit and the presence of Jesus.
Tonight I am in Li Shu Yi’s house, which my grandfather helped to build right next to his own. It’s a typical mountain peasant hut, nearly bare, built around a small courtyard. The stars overhead are clear. The night gets colder, and we pull rough wooden benches up to a pot of hot coals to keep warm. And we talk of years gone by, when the suffering and endurance of one foreigner was used by God to bring mercy and hope to faraway lost sheep in an entire region. The village administrator joins us, along with the village’s several teachers. Are they Christians? No, they would lose their government jobs if they were. Later, later. But they want to hear more about this Jesus. My friend Ken Zhao from Shanghai is with me on this trip, and together we give out the Good News. We read John 3:16. Jesus is worth everything. We live and move by His Spirit, and in Him we inherit all things. One teacher has never read the Bible at all, and we give him a copy. He is excited. We tell stories of what God has done for us. Everyone is concentrating intently on our words. Li Shu Yi fervently affirms us.
It is late and our guests have to leave. They are moved, and if they choose Jesus, they may pay a very high price in this persecuted society. China’s cultural revolution and communist repression put out free expression of Christian worship. Even now most believers remain careful and low-key, treasuring what they know quietly in their hearts. The intense revival my grandfather saw is subdued after two generations. But Li Shu Yi prays his heart out for his people and land, grief-stricken at the blindness of China’s new and materialistic society. He has suffered in prison for his faith and his service to my grandfather, and threatened with execution. Unafraid of death, he kept insisting on leading my grandfather’s churches after 1949. The government tried hard to bring accusations against him, but could find no evidence of wrongdoing. He has been allowed to register his churches legally. Today these forty churches have come eighty, and Li Shu Yi is still their spiritual father. Other revival movements in China prefer to remain unregistered and suffer the consequences, but we must be grateful for what Li Shu Yi has been able to accomplish.
I sleep on Li Shu Yi’s own bed, a short, hard straw mattress. Even under a thick quilt and fully dressed, I am so cold. The household is up before dawn and soon I emerge to find a fire blazing in the courtyard. We have noodles, peanuts and fruit for breakfast. Li Shu Yi’s son and family keep the house now, and they spare no effort to honor my visit. Ken and I are taken around the hillside and shown what my grandfather planted and built. We walk his paths and stand in his gardens. We see his prayer mountain, a high peak overlooking his valley where he took hundreds of believers at a time to fast and pray. In the far-off haze among the rice paddies and vegetable gardens we spot the villages in which every family came to know Jesus. All around the valley stand more peaks that complete the physical grandeur of this rich, fruitful field of mission.
Li Shu Yi talks as we walk. His eyes fill with tears over and over as he remembers my grandfather’s sufferings. He is so moved by God’s grace working through the love of this foreigner for the Ka Do mountain people. He tells me how my grandfather would lean on his stick against the hillside when he was sick and in pain, always pressing on, always praying for healing, always trusting God for everything. And Jesus would be with him and carry him forward. During World War II no support could come from America, so Li Shu Yi and my grandfather planted peppers in their garden and traded them for food. Li Shu Yi made hats with my grandmother’s sewing machine and sold those. My grandmother wrote many letters, and everywhere my grandfather traveled, he was somehow writing more books, true treasures of spirituality.
It’s late in the morning and time to go. I have a conference back in Africa. Ken and I start the climb out of the valley, accompanied by Li Shu Yi and his grandson and granddaughter. This old man still walks everywhere, just like my grandfather did until he was ninety. We finally make it to a little town high on the ridge, rocky, windswept and so far away from all that we know. It’s market day, and the little streets and alleys are jammed with goods in stalls and on the ground, all carried in by great effort over long distances across the mountains. We climb into our tiny hired van, made in China, and then for hours struggle, bounce and lurch over a fiercely rough dirt road. Rocks, ditches and mud hinder us all the way. Often we get out and push. We get to a tar road, but it is torn up and winds so tightly that it still takes us three hours to travel forty miles. Eventually that night we arrive in Mojiang and we say good-bye to Li Shu Yi. His churches and people need help. We must return. Jesus will not forget them.
A seven-hour bus journey the next morning brings us back to Kunming. I cannot comprehend how my grandfather made that trip on foot over and over, year after year. How could a foreigner endure that much isolation and deprivation? No other missionary wanted to join him. And only Li Shu Yi stayed with him every step of the way. Today I have my grandfather’s hardwood walking stick, carved by Li Shu Yi and worn down many inches. It is a testament in my hands of what our King and Lord will do with one willing servant lover.
Now I am back in Africa among people even more poverty-stricken than Chinese country peasants. Only a few years ago Mozambique was also repressed terribly by a communist regime. Today it cries out in desperation for Jesus and the Gospel, and only a small band of missionaries are trying to pull in a harvest of millions of souls. Conditions in most of the country are primitive beyond Western imagination, but we have freedom to preach. “Who will endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3)? Who will say with Paul, “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me — the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24)?
God used my grandfather’s life to inspire and encourage my father and mother in their lives of missionary service, and now He continues to do the same with Heidi and me. I doubt that I would ever have considered working with orphans and the poor in forgotten, nonstrategic corners of the world without my grandfather’s example. But in his life I see the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11). May such glory invade all our lives until we see His face and are safely home with Him in His heavenly Kingdom.
In His great love,