Pastor Chen spent 18 years in a prison work camp in China. Because he came from a background of moderate wealth and opportunity, the guards at the camp worked hard to break his spirit and indoctrinate him. He was so hungry at times that he was tempted to eat toothpaste. He was separated from his wife and his young church. While he was in prison, his wife died.
One of his greatest hardships was that he had no privacy to worship, pray, read, or memorize the Scripture. He was under constant surveillance. Frequently, he prayed that God would allow him a place of privacy so he could enjoy fellowship with God.
Soon the prison officials gave him a new assignment. In order to break his spirit and indoctrinate him further they gave him the most difficult work assignment in the camp. They assigned him to the camp cesspool.
The sewer pit where he worked served 60,000 prisoners. His assignment was to scoop out human waste to be used for fertilizer. No one else wanted the job because it was lonely and repulsive and they feared deadly diseases.
His heart was broken when he went to work on his new assignment. Day after day working in the foul pit he wondered if his prayers were heard. To withstand the hardship, he would sing, pray, and quote Scripture aloud. One day it occurred to him that his assignment was a specific answer to prayer.
Because he worked in such a foul hole none of the guards would get anywhere near him. He worked completely alone. He could pray, sing, and quote Scripture as loud as he wanted! He began to thank God and rejoice. There was no one there to hear him but his faithful God. His cesspool assignment lasted six years, and miraculously he never contracted a disease from it.
When he was released, the church for which he had labored and prayed had exploded in growth and vitality. He traveled to poor villages where he saw the hand of God at work. He represented the cause of the suffering church in China around the world.
Speaking before a huge missionary conference years later, he told the story of God’s faithfulness to him in prison. With bright eyes he spoke of the fellowship that he enjoyed with the Lord in the prison cesspool. Standing before the huge crowd, the small Chinese pastor began to sing the song that he used to sing in the prison sewer.
I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses …
And He walks with me and he talks with me
And He tells me I am His own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known.
Pastor Chen had learned that the secret to rejoicing is not perfect circumstances, but a consciousness of the presence of the Lord Jesus. “… In his presence is fullness of joy …” (Psalm 16:11).
When you are discouraged by difficult circumstances, misunderstanding, pressures, responsibilities, or outright persecution, rejoice! The presence of Jesus can turn a cesspool into a garden.
Ken Pierpont has been married to his wife Lois since 1979. They have eight children, four sons and four daughters. Ken has been a pastor for over 20 years.