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He was the sunniest of Mongolians. The Chinaman, under favorable conditions, is not without a sly sense of humor of his peculiar sort; but to American eyes there is nothing very pleasant in his angular and smileless features. The manner of his contact with many Californians is not calculated to evoke mirthfulness. The brickbat may be a good political argument in the hands of a hoodlum, but it does not make its target playful. To the Chinaman in America the situation is new and grave, and he looks sober and holds his peace. Even the funny-looking, be-cued little Chinese children wear a look of solemn inquisitiveness, as they toddle along the streets of San Francisco by the side of their queer-looking mothers. In his own land, overpopulated and misgoverned, the Chinaman has a hard fight for existence. In these United States his advent is regarded somewhat in the same spirit as that of the seventeen year locusts, or the cotton-worm. The history of a people may be read in their physiognomy. The monotony of Chinese life during these thousands of years is reflected in the dull, monotonous faces of Chinamen.
Ah Lee was an exception. His skin was almost fair, his features almost Caucasian in their regularity; his dark eye lighted up with a peculiar brightness, and there was a remarkable buoyancy and glow about him every way. He was about twenty years old. How long he had been in California I know not. When he came into my office to see me the first time, he rushed forward and impulsively grasped my hand, saying:
"My name Ah Lee - you Doctor Plitzjellie?"
That was the way my name sounded as he spoke it. I was glad to see him, and told him so.
"You makee Christian newspaper? You talkee Jesus? Mr. Taylor tellee me. Me Christian - me love Jesus."
Yes, Ah Lee was a Christian; there could be no doubt about that. I have seen many happy converts, but none happier than he. He was not merely happy - he was ecstatic.
The story of the mighty change was a simple one, but thrilling. Near Vacaville, the former seat of the Pacific Methodist College, in Solano county, lived the Rev. Iry Taylor, a member of the Pacific Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Mr. Taylor was a praying man, and he had a praying wife. Ah Lee was employed as a domestic in the family. His curiosity was first excited in regard to family prayers. He wanted to know what it all meant. The Taylor's explained. The old, old story took hold of Ah Lee. He was put to thinking and then to praying. The idea of the forgiveness of sins filled him with wonder and longing. He hung with breathless interest upon the word of the Lord, opening to him a world of new thought. The tide of feeling bore him on, and at the foot of the cross he found what he sought.
Ah Lee was converted - converted as Paul, as Augustine, as Wesley, were converted. He was born into a new life that was as real to him as his consciousness was real. This psychological change will be understood by some of my readers; others may regard it as they do any other inexplicable phenomenon in that mysterious inner world of the human soul, in which are lived the real lives of us all. In Ah Lee's heathen soul was wrought the gracious wonder that makes joy among the angels of God.
The young Chinese disciple, it is to be feared, got little sympathy outside the Taylor household and a few others. The right-hand of Christian fellowship was withheld by many, or extended in a cold, half-reluctant way. But it mattered not to Ah Lee; he had his own heaven. Coldness was wasted on him. The light within him brightened every thing without.
Ah Lee became a frequent visitor to our cottage on the hill. He always came and went rejoicing. The Gospel of John was his daily study and delight. To his ardent and receptive nature it was a diamond mine. Two things he wanted to do. He had a strong desire to translate his favorite Gospel into Chinese, and to lead his parents to Christ. When he spoke of his father and mother his voice would soften, his eyes moisten with tenderness.
"I go back to China and tellee my fader and mudder allee good news," he said, with beaming face.
This peculiar development of filial reverence and affection among the Chinese is a hopeful feature of their national life. It furnishes a solid basis for a strong Christian nation. The weakening of this sentiment weakens religious susceptibility; its destruction is spiritual death. The worship of ancestors is idolatry, but it is that form of it nearest akin to the worship of the Heavenly Father. The honoring of the father and mother on earth is the commandment with promise, and it is the promise of this life and of life everlasting.
There is an inter blending of human and divine loves; earth and heaven are unitary in companionship and destiny. The golden ladder rests on theearth and reaches up into the heavens.
About twice a week Ah Lee came to see us at North Beach. These visits subjected our courtesy and tact to a severe test. He loved little children, and at each visit he would bring with him a gayly-painted box filled with Chinese sweetmeats. Such sweetmeats! They were to strong for the palates of even young Californians. What cannot be relished and digested by a healthy California boy must be formidable indeed. Those sweetmeats were - but I give it up, they were indescribable! The boxes were pretty, and, after being emptied of their contents, they were kept.
Ah Lee's joy in his new experience did not abate. Under the touch of the Holy Spirit, his spiritual nature had suddenly blossomed into tropical luxuriance. To look at him made me think of the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. If I had had any lingering doubts of the transforming power of the gospel upon all human hearts, this conversion of Ah Lee would have settled the question forever. The bitter feeling against the Chinese that just then found expression in California, through so many channels, did not seem to affect him in the least. He had his Christianity warm from the heart of the Son of God, and no caricature of its features or perversion of its spirit could bewilder him for a moment. He knew whom he had believed. None of these things moved him. O blessed mystery of God's mercy, that turns the night of heathen darkness into day, and makes the desert soul bloom with the flowers of paradise! O cross of the Crucified! Lifted up, it shall draw all men to their Saviour! And O blind and slow of heart to believe! why could we not discern that this young Chinaman's conversion was our Lord's gracious challenge to our faith, and the pledge of success to the Church that will go into all the world with the news of salvation?
Ah Lee has vanished from my observation, but I have a persuasion that is like a burning prophecy that he will be heard from again. To me he types the blessedness of old China newborn in the life of the Lord, and in his luminous face I read the prophecy of the redemption of the millions who have so long bowed before the Great Red Dragon, but who now wait for the coming of the Deliverer.