Hours before sunrise Mr. Ma, his father, grandfather, and 4-year-old son, Ibrahim, all rise and get dressed. Winter has almost arrived so they pull on their warmest long underwear before slipping into their finest clothes. Mr. Ma slips on black dress pants, a new white shirt and a nice grey sports coat. His son has received new clothes for this special day. He has a new white outfit that resembles traditional Muslim clothing with a colorful prayer cap (skull cap). The Ma men leave their mud brick home and walk down to the local village mosque where they find a tour bus waiting.
Due to dire family circumstances, Mei En had to drop out of school in the 6th grade and begin working. Her brother and sisters all have had much better educational opportunities than she, but she never has a bitter word to say. She lovingly supports them in their endeavors and joyfully shares with others the difference that Jesus made in her family once her mother became a believer and led the rest of the family to Him.
Down a small dirt alley hidden in the middle of the city are old broken down apartment buildings with no running water, no toilets and no central heating or air. My friend, Li Hua, lives in one of these small studio apartments. Half of the apartment is taken up by a kang, a wooden box that is used as a bed as well as place to eat and sit. A small wood stove sits in the middle of the room surrounded by a few stools.
When Ma Ying’s six-year-old daughter came home from school one day saying she believed in Jesus, the reaction she received was of dismissal. “Who? What? No. We’re Hui. We’re Muslim,” she told her daughter. That was the first time she heard Jesus’ name. And thankfully, it wouldn’t be the last.
“I think that God just isn’t concerned about me,” Mei Li tells me as she sits at my dinner table and pushes food around her plate. Her sentiment is not unlike the feelings many believers have at one point in their life. Mei Li faces intense cultural pressure to be married by the time she’s 30. At 29 years old, her mother’s request for the past several years is that she marry a nice, preferably wealthy, Hui man, which is almost unheard of.