In 1900 the Boxer Rebellion erupted in China. Westerners gathered in Shanghai, Peking and provincial capitals to seek asylum. There were daily reports of missionaries and faithful Chinese Christians brutally murdered by the Boxers.
Then came the blackest day of all. Between 46 and 100 missionaries had sought refuge in the courtyard of the Shansi governor, not knowing he was a leader in the Boxer uprising. All were executed.
The question “Why?” trembled on the lips of more than one missionary. The need had been so great, and now this waste.
In the grim stillness following, one missionary returned to his home 300 miles north.
Soon, a stranger visited him. The stranger, with his hard face and authoritative bearing, asked, “Do you remember the foreigners who sought protection from the governor of Shansi Province?”
“I have heard.”
The stranger sat silent a few minutes, then said, “I am captain of the bodyguard. I was in charge.”
“You were responsible?” The missionary could have lashed out at the captain. But something in the captain’s face stopped him.
The captain continued, “To me, it was nothing. I am accustomed to killing. The governor does not like foreigners. When they gathered at his door asking for protection, he replied, ‘I can protect you only by putting you in the prison.’
“So he put them in prison. For several days his hatred grew. Then he gave me my orders. We led them out into the prison courtyard and lined them up. The governor told them they were all to be killed.” The captain paused.
Scarcely breathing, the missionary urged, “What happened next?”
The captain replied: “The strangest sight I have ever witnessed. Husbands and wives turned and kissed one another. The parents, smiling, spoke to their children of ‘Yesu,’ and pointed toward Heaven. There was no fear.
“They faced their executioners and began singing. And singing they died.
“When I saw how they faced death,” the captain continued, “I knew that this ‘Yesu’ of whom they spoke truly must be God.
“Can God forgive my so-great sin? Is there nothing I might do to atone for my wrong?”
The missionary thought of his close friend who had been among those killed, and he reached for his worn Chinese Bible.
“Our God, Whom we serve, is a merciful God. Your sin is great. But God’s mercy is greater. This Jesus is His Son. He came to earth to die for sinners like you. I, too, am a sinner. Because Jesus died for you, God can forgive you.”
The captain listened closely. Strange words these, to a mind schooled to hate, to kill: “Love … Forgive … Life.” What he understood, he accepted.
It was late when the missionary escorted the captain to the gate. For a long time the missionary sat thinking. Fresh in his mind were hundreds of new graves strewn across China.
But no more asking the anguished, “Lord, why this great waste?” The harvest had begun.