A few months ago, I received a free book entitled Clay In the Potter’s Hand, courtesy of Christian Aid. This book details the life of Dorothy Sun, a Chinese Christian in Communist China during the reign of Mao Tzedong. It chronicles her life before, during, and after the Communist takeover of China. I found Dorothy’s autobiography to be a remarkable account of what life is like for Christians in China – then, and now.
The book is divided into three parts. In Part one, entitled “Chosen,” Dorothy talks about how God chose her and how her parents influenced her. Dorothy was born to devout Christians David Chang and Miriam Nieh. Her father served in various diplomatic capacities; initiated a Christian newspaper; and founded Self-Governing, Self-Supporting, and Self-Propagating Indigenous Evangelism in China (also known as Three-Self), enabling him to be involved in the indigenous house church movement in China. He also wrote a book on the Christian meanings of the Chinese characters. He used to set little Dorothy on his knee and excitedly tell her his latest findings. Her mother, Miriam, was a giver; she gave all that she could to the support her church and family, and was on the board of trustees at the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) in China, which was, at the time, very committed to serving others in the name of Christ. Miriam would often take Dorothy along with her to evangelistic conferences, parades, concerts, fundraisers, and other meetings. Dorothy was so enthusiastic about all of this that she earned the nickname “little enthusiastic co-worker.” These godly skills learned from her parents would help Dorothy later on in life when the Communists took over China.
Dorothy also told about her family’s stance against the Communists. When the Communists took over, David refused to compromise his Three-Self church and newspaper to the Communists and was sentenced to a labor camp as a result. The Communists also wanted the YWCA for their use; but Miriam said, “No Jesus Christ, No Miriam Nieh” – she would not serve on the YWCA if Christ was not at its center. In Part two, which Dorothy calls “Molding and Shaping,” she continues by telling how, like her parents, she stood up to the Communists (in defense of her father) – a risk which sent her to a labor camp for six years. She then spent another fourteen years working in a factory for twelve hours a day, six days a week, even though the Communists could find no charges against her. Describing life for her in a labor camp, her subsequent “release” to work at the factory, and all the hardships she endured, Dorothy explains how God used each and every experience to prepare her heart for what was to come and to spare her family. She also includes the ways in which the Lord helped her through – a series of three visions, all of which greatly encouraged her in those perilous times. This part of the book was quite impressive, accurately portraying the Chinese history of the time; Dorothy accurately depicts life for Chinese Christians and how they dealt with their circumstances, from the rise of Mao Tzedong and his Communist agenda to the Red Guards’ ransacking the streets.
Her hardships, her family life, and her eventual release are the subjects of Part three. Dorothy starts this section off by continuing to describe life in the factory. Life was not easy in the factory, though Dorothy was able to live with her family when she was not working. First the Communists, then the Red Guards, harassed her family. Her mother’s health failed upon the arrest of her father. Soon, her father’s health deteriorated, as well, causing his status to change to house arrest. Dorothy also suffered several physical repercussions from the hard labor. Her husband lived in another city, miles away; he was arrested several times, and both of their children were without father and mother for a time since Dorothy could not visit them while working in the factory. All of these burdens were placed on Dorothy’s shoulders. It was during these times, too, that Dorothy had to rely solely on the Lord to guide her through. Eventually, after twenty hard years of labor, Dorothy was given a notice stating that she was arrested unjustly, and her case was officially “corrected”; she was released by a miraculous set of circumstances! And with the help of the Lord, Dorothy forgave the man who had imprisoned her twenty years before. Later, she traveled to the US on a “business” trip– without her family, who would follow later in a happy reunion. Today, Dorothy serves as the co-director of the China Division of Christian Aid, a ministry dedicated to indigenous missions, enabling her to preach the Word of God to her countrymen and to encourage those who are training to be indigenous pastors. In fact, just recently, Dorothy returned from her nine-week mission trip to China! Of the 30 provinces in China, Christian Aid has established Bible schools in 26 provinces; Dorothy and her husband visited all of them, as well as orphanages, music schools, farms, and house churches, strengthening the believers. She has come full circle; her father was involved in the indigenous house churches, and her mother was involved in evangelistic outreaches. But this was not the only thing which shaped her into who she is today; the trials which Dorothy and her family endured have also prepared her for this moment; she would not be who she is today nor do what she does today where it not for those sufferings. As James 1:2-4 says, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
Overall, the book Clay In the Potter’s Hand was a great read, depicting the life of Dorothy Sun. The historical accuracy intertwined with the main story make for an interesting read, giving the reader a complete picture of what life in China is like for Christians. The only flaw, in the opinion of this reviewer, is that the reader is left in some instances with the sense that the author believes that everything that happens is God’s will. However, this is quickly righted when Dorothy proceeds to show how each bad thing that the devil meant for evil, God used for good. In fact, this is reflected in Dorothy’s favorite Scripture, Jeremiah 18:4: “And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.” About this Scripture Dorothy stated, “These words from the Bible have become my only source of joy and hope. Because He never threw me away, I am confident that I will be ever in God’s hand. The gentle Potter will never grow weary or impatient with His creation, but continuously work to complete the good work He started in each one of us.” This is the story of Dorothy Sun, a broken vessel of clay in the Potter’s hand, whom the Lord molded and shaped into a whole vessel “useful to the Master for every good work.” (2 Timothy 2:21)