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 final 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.
Can you talk about your years serving in China?
There was one-on-one mentoring and some trainings. I always enjoyed it; basically, it was good.
After a few years the Public Security Bureau came for me. At that time it was for me, not my husband, because I was the haigui [an idiom meaning “sea turtle” used for Chinese who have studied abroad and then returned to the mainland]. That was horrendous; I ended up burning documents in our wok. That was an intense week or two. But I never really processed it. When it stopped, it just stopped. I pushed it to the back of my mind.
Did they invite you to tea? [an euphemism referring to interviews/interrogations]
They came to my house and said, “Can we talk to you?” I’m glad my husband was there that first time. I remember shaking most of the time. From then on, security things were always in the back of my mind. Every time I went to the U.S., I felt relief. Every time we went back to China I felt, “Oh, I am going to the battlefield.”
But after that, they didn’t come for us for nearly a decade. The next time lasted about two years and was with my husband.
What were you afraid of in that season?
We both have American citizenship, and there is always the threat of deportation hanging over us. We talked about whether we should voluntarily leave the country. But we decided to stay, to see what the worst they could do was. We thought maybe we could give a little protection to some of the Chinese full-time workers.
I lived in that mentality, and every time they called, I thought, “Is this the time they say we need to leave in two days?”
You were always on edge.
I started to wear a big cross, almost as an act of defiance, because I thought, “I don’t care anymore. They already know, I might as well tell the whole world.”
I think much of my later PTSD probably relates to the fact that for those two years I was trying so hard not to let it affect me, not really dealing with it or sharing my fears. I was determined we were going to stay and see what the worst they could do was. I was going to be brave. I was actually okay during that period of time. I thought about it, but most of the time I pushed it aside.
It wasn’t until we went back to the States for half a year that I fell apart: anxiety, depression, I couldn’t do a lot. I thought that time would refresh me, but I realized it wasn’t, and I was starting to fear returning to China. When I thought about our city, I would cry. My husband was so excited to go back, but I would cry. I felt overwhelmed by the environment in China. That was when I realized I couldn’t return to that city.
In your marriage, how did you resolve that decision together?
It was really hard for my husband. It was like a bomb dropped on him in those last two months; all his plans were gone. We avoided talking about it: what would happen when we returned, if the police would continue to bother us, etc.
Then I got a diagnosis from a psychiatrist who seriously doubted if it was a good time for us to go back to China. She told me, “You see other people getting in trouble and Chinese pastors going to prison. It may be normal for you, and you expect yourselves to be able to handle it. But it’s actually, humanly speaking, not normal. It’s a lot of stress on a person.”
I felt so weak, like a failure. My faith was so weak. “Why am I such a weak person? Why can’t I rejoice like Paul? Why am I so cowardly?” The psychiatrist told me that actually my reaction, my PTSD, was a normal response to an abnormal situation.
I told my husband we couldn’t return to the same city. It was really hard. He had already seen how badly I was doing, but we didn’t know what it was. We thought about staying in the States and working with Chinese there, but it was too sudden. We decided to give it another try in China, but find a place with good counseling available, with a less stressful environment. We’ve been in this city about two years.
After a few years here, now you’re going back to the States.
All my Christian life, I have always struggled when facing decisions. Struggled with, “Lord, is it me, trying to prove my faith? Am I pushing further than what you have for me? Or is it really you, calling me to go by faith? Maybe I should accept my limitations, admit you made me this way somehow, and I’ll operate according to how you made me and what my needs are?”
I have always been driven to perform, to try to prove I am strong. Sometimes it works, but at the end I crash.
When you look to the future, about what are you most hopeful?
I hope that, in my own personal life with the Lord, I will continue to grow. Even though he has healed a lot of things and broken down a lot of barriers in my life, I still feel a lot of times the old man dragging and blocking my intimacy with him. I would like to continue to be led into a more intimate relationship with him.
My son only has a few years left at home. My biggest desire for him is that during this time he will have a really firm foundation for his own personal relationship with God. I pray God will give him a firm foundation before he goes to college.
Do you feel like you are leaving China burned out and disillusioned?
The other day my son said, “Mom. It’s hard for me to admit, but I will miss China.” It’s the same for me. China has been our home. When I came here to get married it was hard to move to China, and now it’s hard to move back, to think about leaving China and the people here. Somehow, I have the sense that this is the front line, I could contribute so much here. It’s hard to leave.
As for being burned out, I think I’m on the recovering slope. I haven’t totally recovered, but I have recovered a lot.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
The turning point of my Christian life was experiencing God’s grace, personally experiencing God ministering to my heart. God has done a great work in me to heal some of my childhood wounds.
My passion is to walk with other people and be an instrument of healing for other people. Maybe not as a counselor, per se, but offering spiritual guidance, because I know most Chinese have similar family wounds. That affects their relationship with their spouse, with God, with their children, all of it. I expect God to use it—somewhere.
1) As this woman shared about the government pressure their family faced, she said she was determined to be brave. She talks of feeling weak and cowardly when she realized how much she was struggling. If you were sharing a meal with her, what would you say to her?
2) She closes her story by saying that she expects God to use her story. Do you expect God to use your experiences? How?