The love story of God for his world foreshadowed in the wedding at Cana begins (rather mysteriously): “On the third day…”.
What does this mean? Read the first chapter of the Gospel carefully and you discover that John is describing the opening week of Jesus’ ministry – the week when God launches the re-creation of his world. The “third day” is also symbolically the day of resurrection. Jesus was crucified on Good Friday and rose from the dead on the Sunday. Counting inclusively, Sunday is “the third day”.
The wedding at Cana is a foretaste – something like a movie trailer – of the gospel’s power to bring us back from the dead. Through Jesus, God brings hope in place of despair, life in place of death, transformation in place of failure.
For several years my son Nicholas and his wife Georgina were involved in Jackie Pullinger’s ministry with the poor in Hong Kong, in particular looking after discipleship houses of addicts and at-risk youth. What follows is one story of how they saw God at work. I will let Nicholas tell the story in his own words (some of the details have been changed to protect the anonymity of those concerned):
Ah Pang came from a poor family in China. He got into gangs and drugs at a young age and was in and out of prison from his teens. He was on and off heroin for about thirty years. He was deeply involved in the occult and demonic practices of Chinese religion. He left a trail of destruction behind him, including a number of children born to different women.
A few years ago, he and his girlfriend had a baby. One day, their one-year-old daughter ingested drugs that were lying around their flat and was taken into care by the government.
Ah Pang went to prison.
During that time, his girlfriend went to live in one of our houses for women in Hong Kong. She encountered Jesus, came off drugs and started to pray fervently for Ah Pang to come to know Him too.
While in prison, Ah Pang was given a copy of Jackie Pullinger’s book Chasing the Dragon in Chinese by a visiting pastor, which he read in his cell.
On getting out, he came to live with us. His initial motivations were to keep his girlfriend happy, and to satisfy the courts that he was making an effort at putting his life in order. But in the back of his mind was Jackie’s book, and the possibility that Jesus might be real.
He arrived in our house and was a complete nightmare; he was aggressive and disruptive. He mocked as we worshipped and shared communion and he antagonised the other men in the house. We wondered if he wouldn’t be around for long.
But as time went on, the Spirit began to fall on Ah Pang as he worshipped and read the Bible. For a number of months, almost every time he worshipped, he wept and wept as the pain and sin of decades of darkness was gently dealt with by Jesus. He was delivered and healed as he and those around him sang to the God who had saved them.
And gradually, through worship, and a desire to read the Bible in every free moment he had, Ah Pang started to change. He became softer, gentler and more present. Some of his patterns of old behaviour started to unravel. He made friends with guys who belonged to other gangs in their old lives. He began to break up fights rather than start them. He discovered depths of fresh understanding as he read Scripture. Discussing the Bible with him became a source of joy.
As other addicts came into the house, he started to tell them about Jesus, to pray for them as they came off drugs, and to fight for them when they were finding their first steps into new life tough.
Of course, it wasn’t plain sailing. The day before Ah Pang’s baptism, with his characteristic cunning and wit, he managed to get hold of half a pack of cigarettes from a workman who was on our land to do some building work. Ah Pang shared out his booty and smoked the cigarettes on the roof of our house. The following morning, when we confronted him, after a little resistance he broke down in tears and told the truth about what had happened. It was miraculous that his heart could have softened so much in just a few months. This was the perfect prelude to his baptism.
I remember one evening, when everyone else had gone up to bed, I found Ah Pang quietly sweeping up in the kitchen. No one had asked him to do it and it wasn’t his turn. I realised as I watched him sweep that this was his worship. It was a simple sacrificial act of praise to the Lord for saving his life. From that day, cleaning became a special part of Ah Pang’s worship.
Every other week, I would drive Ah Pang to see his daughter in a government orphanage in Hong Kong. It was a grim drive through heavy traffic to a depressing municipal concrete building.
We were ushered into a room with other parents who, for whatever reason, also couldn’t look after their children. For an hour, the children were put in front of us. Most looked shell-shocked and confused.
Ah Pang had no idea how to be a father. How could he? He would shout at his little toddler for not learning enough English, or stuff her with sweets. His daughter didn’t know how to relate to him and would avoid being touched or making eye contact. Each week the hour dragged by.
But as the months passed, the relationship began to soften. As Ah Pang was fathered by God, he began to learn how to be a father himself. Instead of scolding his daughter, he did his best to play with her and to be present.
About eighteen months later, Ah Pang married his girlfriend on the land where we lived. It was a triumphant day of celebrating what God had done. He was surrounded by his new family of brothers and sisters who had witnessed his transformation first-hand. His ushers were mainly other guys who’d come off drugs and met Jesus in our houses.
Ah Pang and his wife and daughter now live in Hong Kong where Ah Pang works. They are involved in our congregation and continue to reach out to other addicts who need to know the love of God. Ah Pang still comes into our houses to help pray people off drugs.
Things are far from straightforward, and it’ll be a long road, but theirs is already a great story of redemption.