In 1855, the fifth year of the Xianfeng Dynasty, the “Third Plague Pandemic” broke out, killing 12 million people throughout China and India.
Qingda Yuan was governor in a town outside of Canton, China. He was known to socialize every day in the markets, connecting people to others who had what they needed, or to new collaborators. For he loved seeing his people unite to do great things. He was a hub for the community, and already being the highest position in the town, he was unswayed by power or influence. He just loved his people.
So when the “third bubonic plague” broke out all his advisors had to beg him to stay out of the markets and prohibited him from helping the people he loved.
Even so, when the fatality count hit 3000 he defied all of them and went to help the needy.
When others were running from the plague, isolating themselves from the infected, and he of all people had reason and property to do the same, he went toward the plague. He went into the streets to help the dying.
There he saw mothers coughing blood out with their last bits of life, laying by gutters as their toddlers looked on crying. He saw carts loading up lifeless bodies. Medical workers dragged themselves through the streets, completely exhausted and discouraged that everything they tried failed.
Qingda went to all these people and asked them what they needed. He spent himself tirelessly to try and get them the resources or to contact the relatives they needed, or find them the food they needed, to at least not be starving as they died.
So it was not a surprise when Qingda came down with a fever and started coughing.
His family and advisors made him stay in the governor’s house where he had the best doctors.
The only way they could keep him away from his family and his people was to say it was for their safety. But his family and cabinet could all hear his coughing and vomiting getting worse and worse from outside his door.
Then one night all became silent behind those doors. The doctors were strangely and avoidantly quiet; all the doctors told them was that he was sleeping.
In the morning, out of desperation, Quingda’s wife had to know if her husband had died, like they all expected. She was surprised to find the door unmanned. This concerned her. Had they already taken his body away to prepare it? She pushed the door open.
She saw the main doctor asleep at his desk by Qingda’s bedside, but Qingda was not there. The bed was empty. This did not look good.
She approached the doctor and held her hand over her mouth. “Where have they taken him?”
The doctor slowly opened his eyes and found his bearings. He looked up at her. His eyes said he was exhausted from a hard night. “He's not here, anymore.”
She covered her eyes, struggling to hold back her tears. Her husband was truly gone; he was no longer with them.
“No, my lady," the doctor smiled. "It is a good thing. We begged him to stay and get some rest, but he has gone out to help his people again.”
She caught her breath in hope, but then her eyes were fretful.
“But do not worry." The doctor continued. "He is one of the only ones that can now do what he can do. He has defeated Black Death and is now immune to it. It can no longer touch him so he can help all of them unhindered.”
I was in a house church in which we were talking about God's presence and I asked God for a scripture. John 20 came to mind. In it Mary and the disciples come to the tomb to find Jesus was no longer there. I thought about when it seems like God just does not feel present. Why can't we have him physically with us when we feel so alone?
They did not fully realize how good it was that Jesus was not present in the tomb. For it meant that not only had Jesus defeated death, but now his spirit could go to far more people than one limited body could do.
But then, also, Mary turned around and asked who she thought was the gardener, "Where have they taken him?”
He said her name, “Mary.” And she suddenly realized it was him. Maybe Jesus is physically around us. But it's just in a form in which we do not recognize him. Maybe he chooses to appear to us physically in all the people around us.