Meditating on God’s Word, a Verse at a Time: One Woman’s Hand-copied Bible
I wanted to share a recent message that came to me. A woman wrote:
Randy, here are pictures of my hand-copied Bible. This 9 plus year journey started when I read Safely Home. The main Chinese character’s mother hand copied the Bible. This struck me because I would always study and learn by recopying notes. Thus began my totally nonwestern world spiritual journey of recopying the Bible by hand, red letter edition no less. A mutual friend said I should send you pictures of it. The second part of the journey is where God takes this....it's all up to Him.
What a way to meditate on God’s word! (And don’t you love her handwriting?) I got the idea of including the passage in Safely Home about believers hand-copying Bibles from my research about persecuted Christians who do this very thing in parts of the world where printed Bibles aren’t accessible. In this scene from the novel, American Ben Fielding returns to the home of his Chinese friend Li Quan and finds several believers laboring to copy Scripture:
“Who is there?” came the voice from the inside.
“No— I’m with the Chinese joint chiefs of staff.”
Quan opened the door.
“What’s going on?” Ben asked.
“We have visitors.”
Ben walked in and saw what looked like two families of three. A man, woman, and teenage boy were on Quan’s bed. Another man, woman, and teenage girl were on Ben’s bed. Ming sat at the desk and Shen on the floor at her feet. All had two open books in front of them, and ballpoint pens in their hands.
“What are you doing?”
“Making copies of Shengjing. Those printed Bibles will soon be picked up by the donkey and passed on to others. But while they are here we can use them, can’t we? Shen and I are copying from my mother’s Bible.”
With a proud smile Shen held up his grandmother’s Bible to Ben. Then he picked up his own handwritten copy, handing it to Ben for inspection.
“Shen is a good scribe,” Ben said.
“Father checks my work,” he said, beaming.
“As we copy,” Quan said, “the words of Yesu are written on our hearts.”
Is this legal? Ben wondered. He remembered all the reassurances of religious freedom he’d been given over the years. But seeing these people huddled like this, it was obvious they were convinced it was illegal. But he didn’t want to hear the words. If something hit the fan, he wanted to maintain deniability with Martin and the Getz board.
Ben was about to go for a walk, anything to get him away from this, when he looked closely at Quan’s mother’s Bible. “It’s beautiful. The characters are so small but clear.”
“Mother copied it carefully. She would borrow a Bible whenever she could. She’d work for hours by candlelight, praying the words aloud as she copied. I wish I would have listened more closely. Often she would rest her head on Shengjing. Sometimes she would giggle with delight. It was a labor of love. Months, even a year, went by when she had no Bible to copy. It took her eight years to finish her whole Bible. Six months before she died, Mother finished copying Shengjing’s final book. A leather worker in church bound it for her.”
“And you kept it all these years?”
“No. She had loaned it to another woman who was copying it at the time. After I returned from Harvard, they heard I had become a Christian. The church gave it to me.”
Ben flipped through the pages. “It’s been out in the rain.”
“No. Always it was carefully covered. Mother bundled it up before going outside. We do the same.”
“But the words are smeared in many places,” Ben said.
“It was not rain that smeared the words.”