Editor’s note: Grace transforms. In recent decades, millions of Chinese people have met Jesus and had their lives turned inside out. Their hopes, dreams, families, leisure, and (in some cases) occupations have changed because of Christ.
This is the third installment in a five-part interview series with a Chinese woman who came to Christ in the late 1980s as an international student studying in the United States. She later returned to China to do full-time ministry with university students. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity, and some identifying features have been altered to protect her identity.
Read earlier installments here:
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Our hope is that these interviews challenge and encourage Western believers to examine their own faith and remind them to pray for their brothers and sisters in China.
The wife of a professor at my college went to the church I was visiting. She started to study the book of John with me. We studied it for a year, because I asked so many questions. Every Saturday, we would sit and drink Russian tea. It was the happiest time. For the first time in my life, I felt genuine love from a group of people that had no agenda for me. Of course they wanted me to become a Christian. But they didn’t expect me to repay them in any way. It was the first time I experienced genuine love.
Later on, another couple from the church asked whether I would live with them. They took me in, not charging me a penny for room or board. They took me on vacation, and treated me as a daughter. Looking back, God lavished grace on me at a time when I didn’t know the concept of grace. In China, everything has an agenda. People’s relationships were very reciprocal; a favor for a favor. But I saw these people were really sincere. I envied their life, and wished I were a Christian, to be like them.
The wife of that professor gave me apologetics books. I gradually came to the realization that things weren’t just black-and-white atheist. I had heard only one side of the argument growing up; now I saw another side. Plus, all the science professors impressed me: they were Christians! So, Christianity wasn’t just a superstition.
[In] the marriage of the lady who studied with me, I had never seen such a display of affection and respect for each other.
I still remember that one day I went to church with them, and the husband was driving. It was beautiful, with fall leaves outside. He suddenly just said, “Lord, thank you for creating these beautiful leaves. I give you praise, they are so beautiful.” I was amazed at that intimacy, as if God was sitting next to him. When I think of somebody being Christ-like, they were that to me. From that time on, they prayed for me every day. Until now—they are still praying for me. It’s unbelievable.
People’s lives really witnessed to me, and the apologetics books didn’t hurt, either. After almost a year, I came to a decision point. Do I believe God exists, or not? The woman suggested that I should pray to God himself; they had helped me the best they could, but God had to work in my heart. So I would pray in bed, “God, if you really exist, I would really like to know you. Please let me know you exist, because I really would like to know you.”
Did you pray this often?
Many times. I would say, “God, I know you can’t just show up to my bed. I don’t know how you are going to let me know. But the Bible says, ‘When you ask you shall receive,’ so I guess you have your ways.”
One fall day, I was going through campus with the tall pine trees, the bright blue sky, and small yellow flowers around the trees. It was beautiful. And as I was walking through that, admiring, the beauty struck me – just an awe about life. Suddenly it hit me: this can’t be by accident. This amazing life must be created by God.
I said, “Oh! God! I know now you exist. Thank you for letting me know! I don’t doubt anymore.” Just like that.
It was miraculous. I think of Paul when he saw Jesus: he was blind, and then the scales fell from his eyes. It was totally the same for me. One minute I was doubting, couldn’t decide whether God was real. And the next minute, no more doubt! God touched my spirit and convinced me.
I went back to this lady and I said: “Okay! I’m sure God exists. But what about Jesus? What about his miracles? And then she said, “Well, if God exists, don’t you think his Son could do those things?” That was easy: of course.
She asked me whether I was ready to accept Jesus, and I said, “Let me think about it.” I believed everything, but I was afraid.
Mainly I was afraid that when or if I went back to China, I would be persecuted. I said, “I know I’m a coward. If the government asks me to denounce Christ, I’d probably do so. I’d better not bring shame to God. I might as well not become a Christian.” That was my logic.
A few weeks later the pastor of our church sat down with me. He said, “Are you a Christian?” I said, “About 90 percent.” To alleviate my fear, he explained to me that, once you become a child of God, God is responsible for you, and he will not let you go through things you cannot endure. He protects his children. Even if he lets you go through things, he will support you, and you will be able to go through. God will take care of it, he is responsible for you, you don’t have to worry about forsaking him.
After his explanation, it was a step of faith to decide not to worry about the future, about China. I thought, “God is the ruler of the universe, and he’ll protect me. Christ died for me on the cross. If I don’t receive that gift, that is the ultimate insult to him. How can I not love him?”
So I prayed with the pastor. When it was done, I opened my eyes, and the first sense I had was relief. A sense of being at home. Finally, I had found a home. I knew what my life was about now. I had a purpose; God had a purpose for me. I was not an orphan anymore. Up to that point, I thought everybody would abandon me. But then I thought, “Wow, my destiny is sealed. When I die, I’m going home. With God. I found my father.” The big things, the search for eternity, all fell into place. It was settled. I remember very clearly how I felt at that point.
I was very active in church, Sunday school, Bible study, choir. I enjoyed it tremendously. That church was really Word-oriented, and gave me a firm foundation. I thought the way to become a good Christian was to have more Bible knowledge, that the more you read the Bible, the more you changed.
In those years there was also a little thing about me having a non-believing boyfriend! He was a white guy, that was one of the attractions. He wasn’t impressed by my achievements and just treated me like a normal girl—at that time I was drawn to people who didn’t have expectations for me. It was not a good decision; it was messy.
I felt distance from God because I knew I was guilty. All my church friends told me I was playing with fire. He wanted to get married, but I couldn’t. Finally he said, “I cannot compete with your god.” Of course I was torn, but I couldn’t forsake God. So he broke up with me. That hurt so much, but I was relieved. I didn’t have the strength to break it off, so he did it for me. That was an answered prayer because in my struggle I had prayed, “God, I know what I should do but I can’t do it, so you have to do it for me.” I knew it was God’s doing.
There was a hard recovery, and at that time I really cried out to God. It was through that desperate time, being distant from God and then clinging to him in my pain, that I personally experienced God’s comfort, how close he was to me and how, through the Bible, he was so real to me. I also experienced his forgiveness. Even though I had purposefully sinned, he still accepted me back. I felt what David says, “You pulled me out of the mire and set my feet on the rock.”
From that process I became totally on fire for God. After that I started telling everyone, whoever I hung out with, about God. “God is so good! I’m so happy with him!” It was a spiritual high.
1) This woman wished she could become a Christian long before she believed in God’s existence. How do you think desire led to faith for her? Do you think this happens often?
2) She also speaks of being afraid to become a Christian because she was concerned she would dishonor God by eventually denying him. Do you think this fear of “shaming God” is unique to the Chinese experience, or is this a concern Westerners deal with? How might it look different depending on context? How might it look the same?