The story of the bamboo

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Appendix 1 of A Missionary’s Love Story.

Benjamin E. Newcombe has taken this fact as a basis for a parable. On the hillside in the Kucheng District of China, the most valuable trees are often marked with the owner’s name. A common way of conveying water from the mountain springs down to the villages is in channels made of lengths of bamboo fitted one to the other. Some of these bamboos are four or five inches in diameter.

A beautiful tree stood among scores of others on a lovely hillside, its stem dark and glossy, its beautiful feathery branches gently quivering in the evening breeze. As we admired it, it seemed to say: “You admire my tall stem and graceful branches, but I have nothing to boast of. All I have I owe to the loving care of my Master. It was he who planted me here in this fruitful hill, where my roots, reaching down to hidden springs, and continually drinking of their life-giving waters, receive nourishment, beauty and strength for my whole being.

“Do you see those trees to one side, how parched they are? Their roots have not reached the living springs. Since I found the hidden waters I have lacked nothing.

“You observe those characters on my stem? Look closely—they are cut into my very being. The cutting process was painful—I wondered at the time why I had to suffer— but it was my Master’s own hand that used the knife. When the work was finished, with unutterable joy I recognized it was his own name he had cut on my stem. Then I knew beyond doubt that he loved me and prized me, and wanted all the world to know that I belonged to him. I may well make it my boast that I have such a Master.”

Even as the tree was telling us of its Master, we looked around and lo! the Master himself stood there. He was looking with love on the tree. In his hand he held a sharp axe.

“I have need of thee,” he said. “Art thou willing to give thyself to me?”

“Master,” replied the tree, “I am all thine own—but what cause can such as I be to thee?”

“I need thee,” said the Master, “to take my living water to some dry, parched places where there is none.”

“But, Master, how can I do this? I can dwell in the living springs, and imbibe their waters for my own nourishment. I can stretch up my arms to heaven, and drink their refreshing showers, and grow strong and beautiful, and rejoice that strength and beauty alike are all from thee. I can proclaim to all what a good Master thou art. But how can I give water to others? I but drink what suffices for my own food. What have I to give to others?”

The Master’s voice grew wondrously tender as he answered, “I can use thee if thou art willing. I would cut thee down and lop off  all thy branches, leaving thee naked and bare. Then I would take thee away from this, thy happy home, and carry thee out alone on the far hillside, where there will be only grass and a tangled growth of briers and weeds. Yes, and I would still use the painful knife, for all those barriers within thy heart should be cut away one by one, till there was a free passage for my living water through thee.

“Thou wilt die, thou sayest; yes, thou wilt die, but my water of life will flow freely through thee. Thy beauty will be gone indeed. Henceforth, no one will look on thee and admire thy freshness and grace, but many will stoop and drink of the life-giving stream which will reach them through thee. They may give no thought to thee, but will they not bless thy Master who hast given them his water through thee? Art thou willing for this,—to die?” I held my breath to hear what the answer would be.

“My Master, all I have and am is from thee. If thou indeed hast need of me, then I willingly give my life to thee. If only through my sacrifice thou canst bring thy living water to others, I yield myself to thee. Take and use me as thou wilt, my Master.”

And the Master’s face grew still more tender. But he took the sharp axe, and with repeated blows brought the beautiful tree to the ground. It rebelled not, but yielded to each stroke saying softly: “My Master, as thou wilt.” And still the Master held the axe and continued to strike until the stem was severed again, and the glory of the tree, its wondrous crown of feathery branches, was lost to it forever.

Now, indeed, it was naked and bare—but the love-light in the Master’s face deepened as he took what remained of the tree on his shoulders, and bore it away—far over the mountains.

Arriving at a lonely and desolate place, the Master paused, and again his hand took a cruel looking weapon, with sharp-pointed blade, and this time thrust it right into the very heart of the tree—for he would make a channel for his living waters, and only through the broken heart of the tree could they flow unhindered to the thirsty land.

Yet, the tree repined not, but whispered with breaking heart, “My Master, thy will be done.”

So the Master, with the heart of love and the face of tenderest pity, dealt the blows, and spared not,—and the keen-edged steel did its work, till every barrier had been cut away, and the heart of the tree lay open from end to end.

Then again he raised it, and gently bore it to where a spring of living water, clear as crystal, was bubbling up. There he laid it down—one end just within the healing waters. And the stream of life flowed in, right down the heart of the tree from end to end, along all the road made by the cruel wounds—a gentle current, to go on flowing noiselessly, flowing in, flowing through, flowing out, never ceasing. And the Master smiled and was satisfied.

Again the Master went, and sought for more trees. Some shrank back and feared the pain but others gave themselves to him with full consent, saying, “Master, we trust thee. Do with us what thou wilt!”

Then he brought them, one by one, by the same painful road, and laid them down end to end, and as each tree was placed in position, the living stream poured in, fresh and clear from the fountain and, till through its wounded heart the line growing longer and longer, till at last it reached to the little children, who had thirsted, came and drank, and hastened to carry the tidings to others: “The water has come at last—the long, long famine is over; come and drink.” And they came and drank and revived. And the Master saw, and his heart was gladdened.

Then the Master returned to his tree and lovingly asked, “Dost thou regret the loneliness and suffering? Was the price too dear—the price for giving the living water to the world?” And the tree replied.

“My Master, no; had I ten thousand lives, how willingly would I give them all to thee for the bliss of knowing, as today I know, that I have helped to make thee glad.”