The sign leaning against the boxes says the books inside are free. The boy glances around to see if anyone will help him. The Southern Cross Project volunteers, however, are busy setting up their Chinese Bible distribution spot for the night. They handed out more than 13,500 Bibles during Chinese New Year celebrations throughout Asia, but no one notices the little boy, who reaches his pudgy arms into the box and pulls out a Bible and red packet of literature.
The satisfied smile on his round face is quickly wiped away, however, when his grandfather grabs him by the arm and demands he put the items back in the box. The boy refuses to let go of the Bible, engaging in an all out tug-of-war. Through clenched teeth, he stubbornly tells the older man the book is his because it's free.
"No one gets anything for free," the older Chinese man says sharply, wrestling the Bible and packet from the boy's hands. "People don't do things for free. They expect something in return."
The man hands the items to the volunteers, who try to explain the gifts really are free. The man shakes his head and herds the boy into the restaurant, chiding him along the way.
Volunteers from First Baptist Church in Thomasville, Ga., watch the scuffle in dismay. Nina Hubbard, a six-time Southern Cross project veteran, knows what to do. She bows her head and prays.
"God, bring that boy back and let him get a Bible," Hubbard prays. She also prays for the man, asking God to change his heart and bring him back as well.
The moment she says "amen," the boy, followed by his grandmother, emerges from the restaurant. He walks triumphantly to Hubbard and holds out his hands to receive a Bible. Dumbstruck, she hands it to him. His face beams as he walks back into the restaurant, holding the packet as if it were more precious than gold.
"That was awesome. I've got chill bumps -- I mean, glory bumps -- just thinking about it," Hubbard says. "That was a quick answer to prayer."
Before Hubbard can even finish her thought, the grandfather emerges from the restaurant and approaches the volunteer team.
"I want one," he says, beckoning to the Bibles.
Stunned, another Southern Cross volunteer hands him the Bible.
The grandfather slowly walks through the parking lot, reading the Bible on the way to his tour bus. A Taiwanese volunteer falls in step with him, explaining about the ultimate free gift -- eternal life through Christ. The man listens intently, holding the Bible in his wrinkled hands and looking at the pages as she talks.
"OK," the grandfather says, his face crinkling into a smile. "I will read it. Thank you for this free gift."
Ivy O'Neil lives and writes from Southeast Asia. Susie Rain contributed to this article. For more information about Southern Cross Chinese Bible distribution ministry, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www. mreport.org, which followed more than 50 volunteers during one week of the traditional two-week Chinese New Year's celebrations.
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