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 fourth 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.
God brought a seventy-year-old Chinese lady, from China, to the Christian college. I had by then finished grad school and gone back to that small college to teach. I became friends with this lady; she had been a Christian for many decades. She came to the Christian college because she wanted a bachelor’s in theology. She was a sweet, gentle soul.
One Christmas she invited me to go to a Christian student conference. I went, and at first, I was disappointed because it was in Chinese. I couldn’t find the books in the Bible in Chinese, I didn’t know how to pray in Chinese. I was uncomfortable. There were about 12 people there. We learned how to share the gospel in Chinese from a booklet, and I thought, “This is so dumb. I’m teaching in the university, and here I am, following this. This is not the way to do it, it’s too mechanical.” I was really resistant.
But at the end of the conference, we went to somebody’s home. They had Chinese students from a nearby university there. I shared with a girl from Sichuan who was a doctoral student. I just read the booklet, and at the end, she said yes! She wanted to do the prayer! And I was going, “Really?!” It was amazing!
How did that experience affect you?
I realized it is all the Spirit’s work, it has nothing to do with me. But how exciting to be the person, to be the tool, in the middle of this process. I thought, “I can share the gospel with people. God can use me, and it doesn’t have to be too complicated.”
There was another student conference nearby, and we [Chinese students] joined them. In front of a thousand people, I raised my hand to share, and the mic came to me. I was so excited to let everybody know about the girl I had shared with, what had happened the night before. A woman who worked in full-time ministry came and talked to me. She said, “I think God has his hand on you. I think you should do full-time ministry.” I was like: “What?”
Crazy. But I said, “This is my heart right now. I would love to spend my life sharing the good news, but this was really not my original path.”
She said, “Why don’t you interview right now?” So, I interviewed. Now, thinking back, it’s crazy. At the interview someone asked me, “Are you sure God has called you to this?” I said, “No, I’m not sure at all!!”
Besides the shock, the biggest thing I was concerned with was the financial side of things. But I started praying about it. At that time, I was thinking of applying for a job with Microsoft, or going back to get my Ph.D. I was thinking of changing directions. I asked my department chair what he thought about my future. He said, “I don’t know what God’s plan for you is. But I see that your heart is not into computers anymore.” I spoke with the theology professor whose wife had studied with me; they were my mentors. They said, “We see that God has given you a gift for evangelism.” They asked me what my motivation for going to Microsoft would be. Did I feel like God was calling me there? In my heart I knew I wanted to go to Microsoft because that was my major, and also that was the way to get rich, to have financial security—not because God had called me to it. I was really conflicted.
I read a book called Hind’s Feet on High Places. There’s a girl in the book named Much Afraid. I felt like that little girl. Seeing all the obstacles, all the mountains I needed to climb, I was so afraid. But as I read about her journey, how Christ led her and she became stronger and became a blessing to other people, I finally decided, “Okay. I’m telling people God loves them and has good plans for them: do I really believe it?”
After a whole year—I’m a slow decision-maker—I said, “I’m going to be like Abraham, and sacrifice the most precious thing in my life, which is my aspiration for a career and for financial security. If God doesn’t take it, great! But if he takes it, I’ll go with it.” In my mind I was committing for just a few years. I thought if I couldn’t raise the support I needed, then that meant I could come back; God didn’t want to take my sacrifice, he didn’t want me.
You saw a possible exit ramp.
I was not committed for life! I called my parents and told them my decision. Of course, they were totally shocked, although they knew I was a Christian.
When was this?
In the early 90s. A few years before my mom had come to visit me for half a year, and she became a Christian at that time. She went back and led her mother to Christ, so they supported me being a Christian. But this was different. My dad said, “You are going to become a beggar! You have a master’s in computer science, and now you are going to beg money from people.” My dad told me later on that my mom actually went to the hospital for a week. She couldn’t breathe, her heart pumped irregularly, she felt faint.
I started to feel guilty, like I couldn’t put this on my parents. They had sacrificed so much for me. I told God, “I don’t expect them to support me, but make them okay. Don’t let them suffer because of me.” I prayed for about half a year, and after that they came around.
They said, “Whatever makes you happy. If you really, really want to do this, we can’t stop you.” My dad told me, “We don’t need your support; we don’t need you to care for us.” That meant they didn’t think they could depend on me in their old age anymore. That hurt.
All this time I was thinking I wasn’t sure if I would raise the support I needed, because I just had one church, one community that knew me. But it was miraculous; total strangers supported me, Chinese churches I didn’t even know before. God raised up all my support in just five weeks.
There were times throughout the years we have been financially tight. I have become discouraged, but I always think back to the miraculous way God brought me to do full-time work, the process of raising support, and how all these people believed God had called me. That has kept me going when I’m doubting.
So, you were working with Chinese students at this time, and you came on a trip to China?
Yes. I met Tim and the next year came back on a summer trip and got engaged. The next year I came back and got married and then we lived in China, working with students.
I imagine moving back to China was a turn you never thought your life would take.
To this day, I still say that if God had not called me, I would not have come back to China. It would have been easier to go to Africa than to come back to China. I hated China, I just did not like China.
Why did you hate China?
I’m still figuring that out. I think it’s all stuff that happened in my early childhood. I don’t know the exact reason, but I’ve always felt a kind of oppression. I think maybe some of it comes from fear of how much control the government has, how powerful they are. There is always fear they could do anything to you. Which is true, people disappear all the time. When Tiananmen Square happened, I wasn’t surprised, it was just expected. I wasn’t shocked, because I was never optimistic. Even now, I am kind of bothered by my deep resentment toward China.
In daily life, in ministry, there is no problem, because I deal with individuals. But with China, it’s different. My husband has an emotional bond with China, while I identify with the U.S. I know there are bad things there, but I think maybe it’s because the U.S. is the first country in which I experienced love. I am not sure.
1) God called this woman to make a radical shift to her life plan in order to work in full-time ministry. Do you think God often calls his followers to make these types of revolutionary shifts in their way of life?
2) Her career change to full-time ministry impacted not just this woman, but her entire family, as her parents had sacrificed so much for her career. How might this sort of communal mindset make it difficult to find people willing to serve the church in China?