Sorry, Mrs. Cranford, I'm an atheist but I know you did your best
January 10, 2009 7:54 AM   Subscribe

When I was a kid, I was taught a miracle story of a Chinese Christian lady who was saved from a firing squad by a holy light. Later, this actual person visited our school. Were you ever taught any version of this story? Did this lady, whose name I know only as Pearl, visit your church or school?

Our school music teacher told us a good deal of Christian stories, along with the music we had to sing (half secular at least, but always closing with the Lord's Prayer). One of her favorite stories was of a Chinese Christian who was saved by God. Communists are evil, she said, and in Communist China you can be killed for just being a Christian. There were secret Christian churches and secret Christians anyway. One of these Christians was a blind girl, not much older than we were, she told us. The Communists caught her, and she was put in front of a firing squad, to be executed for being a Christian.

As she stood in front of the firing squad, she prayed and prayed. Then she was surrounded by a white, holy light. The soldiers fired and fired, but they couldn't hit her. None of the bullets could come near her. The Lord saved her that day. Through some other adventures that I can't recall, she escaped through China in hiding, a long and dangerous trip.

One day, a year or so after we heard the story, this actual lady came and visited our class. Her name was Pearl -- what her Chinese name was, I couldn't say, if we were ever told. So far as one can tell, she was certainly a young Chinese person who was blind, and who was devout. She played the piano for us, and typed a little copy of every kid's name for them on a small Braille typewriter. I don't believe she addressed the firing squad incident.

This comment reminded me of Pearl's story for the first time in a while. I can see shadows of actual historical conditions in it. And it's not unbelievable that a blind Chinese Christian refugee should become a missionary and visit schools and churches in the US. Were you ever taught something like this in Sunday school? I can easily see the story of the firing squad having an entirely separate genesis and life of its own. Did Pearl come and visit you?
posted by Countess Elena to Religion & Philosophy (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Where did you grow up? Might be relevant.
posted by pearlybob at 7:57 AM on January 10, 2009

Response by poster: Greenville, Mississippi
posted by Countess Elena at 7:59 AM on January 10, 2009

Best answer: I think the story you were told was the movie China Cry. The Chinese woman faces a firing squad, and a miracle thunderstorm saves her.

But, the movie was based on a story by Nora Lamb (not Pearl).

It seems you can watch the movie here.
posted by Houstonian at 8:11 AM on January 10, 2009

Her story might be something like this guy's story, which was just posted about in an FPP in the blue- in which case the story might be suspect: there could have been more than one of her for all we know.
posted by dunkadunc at 8:12 AM on January 10, 2009

Response by poster: Houstonian, that's a great idea. Although we were told the story around 1988, earlier than the movie came out, it seems Nora Lam was active in ministry for many years before that, once she fled the Cultural Revolution. It definitely seems like a likely way for my teacher to have picked up that story.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:19 AM on January 10, 2009

Is it possible you, your teacher, or someone else conflated her story with Pearl S. Buck's name, perhaps?
posted by EarBucket at 8:22 AM on January 10, 2009

In the link to the movie, the firing squad scene starts at about 53 minutes.
posted by Houstonian at 8:25 AM on January 10, 2009

Haven't heard your story in particular, but as a child going to church, I heard a number of similar stories. Varying miracles such as guns misfiring, last minute pardons, etc. One story told of a Christian man who was to be hung. Soldiers put a noose around his neck, and left him standing on the platform. He stood as long as he could, for days, but finally seccumbed to exhaustion. At the moment his legs failed him, lightning struck the rope, saving him from hanging.

I sometimes wondered why God (the assumed benefactor) went to so much trouble to keep the people alive, preserving them for a life of continued persecution. As a child in the church I thought death sounded pretty convenient. Maybe I was naive. Don't know yet.

Countess Elena: When you were a child, did you believe Pearl?
posted by Galen at 8:43 AM on January 10, 2009

My grandmother and grandfather were in China during the Second Sino-Japanese War. At one point, a drunk Japanese soldier first threatened and then shot my grandfather. Had his rifle not jammed, my grandfather would have died prior to my mother's conception, meaning neither she nor yours truly would've existed. In both my grandfather's and grandmother's words.
posted by WCityMike at 9:25 AM on January 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Galen, I'm not actually sure. I think I couldn't decide whether to believe her. When I was that age, it seemed the world was full of terrible powers, and God was only the biggest one. If I did believe her, it didn't take; my family wasn't religious and encouraged my lifelong interest in science. (But the public schools were bad, and either a Catholic or nondenominational Protestant school was the best that you could do, in town.)

EarBucket, that's possible, I guess, but I didn't hear of Pearl S. Buck until I was assigned her work in middle school. (I still enjoy it, in fact, and have several old editions.) I think that was her English name, anyway. Memories of childhood are so plastic that I may have confused two stories that the teacher was telling us. Maybe she never actually told us that Pearl herself was the woman who was saved from the firing squad, even though I feel sure she had. Stranger memories have been invented.

WCityMike -- wow. I need to check out your grandmother's book.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:17 PM on January 10, 2009

Elena, glad you're interested. It went public domain a year or two ago and was OCR'd by the Internet Archive: you can thus get it for free in PDF and text format free of charge.

Supposedly the book was briefly considered in Hollywood with Cary Grant playing my grandfather, but I'm not sure that's anything more than a family urban legend.
posted by WCityMike at 5:05 PM on January 10, 2009

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