By Harold Sala
Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. Hebrews 13:5
It is said that behind every great man is a great woman. Unquestionably, that was true of Wang Ming Dao. The woman, Deborah Wang, a frail but vibrant saint, endured what no woman should ever have to face. Her husband, Wang Ming Dao, was one of the unofficial architects of the house church movement in China, and when her husband was sentenced to prison for what the Chinese government termed “anti-revolutionary” activities, his wife followed.
For 20 years, this saintly woman was in prison, facing the bitter cold of northern Chinese winters with thin clothes and insufficient food, but she never complained.
In 1989 I met the Wangs for the first time. I’ll never forget the afternoon I sat in the humble little apartment in Shanghai and listened to them recount their experiences. While I deeply admired and venerated Wang Ming Dao, I was drawn to the strength of this saintly woman whose smile came from her heart. As she talked about the years of imprisonment, I asked, “Did you ever lose hope?” (After all, 20 years of separation, with very little news and few letters from the one you loved so deeply, is a long time.) Her eyes spoke far more than her answer as she said, “No, never!”
After the Wangs were released from prison, their home became a refuge for those who needed encouragement and counsel. God only knows how many cups of tea Auntie Wang (as her friends called her) served to weary men and women who traipsed up the stairs to their flat for encouragement and help.
What a woman! Two weeks after her husband passed away, at the age of 91, I again visited Auntie Wang. The ashes of her late husband were in an urn on the table near the chair which Brother Wang had used as a pulpit to share the Word. My son-in-law and I sought to comfort her, quoting some of my favorite passages of Scripture. But it was Auntie Wang who really comforted us. She was in her mid-eighties. Successful surgery a few months before had removed one of the cataracts from her eyes, and few details escaped her. When a small piece of paper fell from my lap, it was she who quickly leaned over to pick it up.
“Auntie Wang,” I said, “I will pray that you will not be lonely.” Pausing for just a moment she spoke with a clear and resolute tone of voice, “I will not be lonely; I was not lonely before.” It was what she didn’t say that spoke the loudest. On a previous visit, she told me that she had seen her husband but three times during the twenty years of imprisonment. That one word, “before,” said so much. I knew what she was thinking.
Those words rang in my ears when a close friend told how Deborah Wang had developed pneumonia and was taken to a Shanghai hospital. With no rooms available, she was given a temporary bed in a hallway, and there in the early hours of the morning on April 18, 1992, she met Him who had been her stay and companion for so many years. As the leaves of the trees were budding, following the cold of a Shanghai winter, Deborah Wang made her entrance into the presence of the Lord, where a faithful and devoted husband awaited her.
The saddest part to me was that she couldn’t be surrounded by friends and flowers when the angel sweetly took her hand and escorted her across the threshold of death. But I am sure of one fact: While she was alone, she was not lonely. She had the promise of her Lord who said, “And surely I am with you, always….” (Matthew 28:20). Deborah Wang experienced that, both in life and in death.
Resource reading: Hebrews 13:1-5