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 of a five-part interview series with “Tim,” a Chinese ministry leader. In this series, Tim shares his story of faith.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.
After Tiananmen you had several more years of university?
Yes. Then I graduated and found a job at a university as a teacher.
What happened then?
I started teaching in the fall. That winter I played basketball with some of the foreigners at my university. I slowly found out they were Christians. This was very slow! They were very careful; at that time the foreigners were watched.
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I visited one of the foreign missionaries from a neighboring country, and saw the Bible on her desk. That was the first time I saw a Bible. I took it up and tried to read it.
I had never read the Bible, just heard about it. I had seen churches and seen a cross, but I never knew a Christian, not even one. She saw my interest and told me she could lend me the Bible if I wanted to read it. I took it.
What was your impression of Christianity? Had you even thought about it?
In high school we studied world religions, and there was a portion of the book that talked about it. But we were deeply educated in a Marxist worldview that taught that religion is from the past, while socialism is advanced.
In some ways, I showed interest in Christianity. After I met those Christian friends, the foreigners, I saw they were very nice and polite. They seemed to have good character, but I didn’t know the connection between these two things. I just saw they were nice and easy to be friends with.
About a year later, the missionary I knew was planning to return to her country. She asked if I would be willing to meet another Christian who I could make friends with. At that time I met James, a missionary.
Why do you think you were showing interest in Christianity?
I was constantly seeking to find the meaning and purpose of life. I looked at myself, but I couldn’t satisfy my questions. I was a teacher at the university, which in some ways made me, my parents, and others proud of me. But I didn’t feel satisfaction or fulfillment.
You had attained success…
In some ways. But it did not change my heart.
Tell me about your friendship with James.
He invited me to meet his wife, and I had a meal with them and their kids. They were very polite, very friendly. It made me very comfortable. He invited me to study the Bible with him once a week in my teacher’s dormitory. I started studying with him, and studied and read the Bible more. I also talked to him—in my mind I still had many questions I could not answer, but slowly I saw that the Bible was giving me some of the clues.
The first thing was realizing that, by the teaching of the Bible, I am also a sinful person. Another changing point was learning about creation. My friend gave me a book that talked about how scientists feel about creation, proof that the world was created, not just evolved. In my mind, I was challenged from a scientific point of view: how could I answer this proof? After reading history books, I realized that famous scientists and leaders believed in God.
How did you decide that you were actually a sinful person?
I realized I have a tendency to try and please leaders because I wanted to receive the benefits from doing so. I looked down on people who are below me. I might try and see how to make friends with people or with colleagues, but it was not truly from my heart; it was pretend, a mask. I oftentimes felt I had a twist, that I was not truly representing who I was. I had on a mask.
With this intellectual challenge and the realization of your own sin, did you immediately become a Christian?
It took me half a year. I realized that the more I tried to depend on myself – my own thinking, my strengths – the more I felt hopeless and helpless. At that time I had some bad life habits, like drinking and smoking. I made friends who were private businesspeople, but when we had dinner together, they told me about how they had betrayed their wife or made money under the table. I could see that even money doesn’t satisfy.
Did you have a moment of conversion? Or was it more of a process?
One spring day in the early 90s I went to visit James in his home after I taught class. We watched a Christian movie about Jesus. I saw the cross, and saw that Jesus was willing to die for what he proclaimed. At that time, the Holy Spirit was moving in my heart. I said, “I need to give it a try.” I made the decision.
Chinese people are very pragmatic, they will say, “Let’s see if it works.” So I just said I was giving it a try. I told myself that if Jesus could really change my life, I wanted to follow him. A week later I went to visit my friends, and his wife was very happy to see me. She said, “Last week when you prayed and received Jesus Christ, my husband was very happy. He cried.”
I was kind of awed for a moment. I thought: “Why did he cry? Why is it that important for him?” I made myself a commitment, and said I really wanted to test it and see how true it is. I studied the Bible more diligently and met with him. Slowly, I was willing to meet other Christians. But only a little bit; there were very, very few other believers.
What was it like when you began to meet other Chinese Christians?
At the beginning it was a little awkward. My friend told me I needed to be careful. Somebody was watching him. When I went to visit him, I could sense that I needed to be careful.
Did you have any experiences that helped cement your faith?
I realized: wow. Before I made the decision, when I read the Bible I often felt like it was an ancient Chinese tale, and God was far away from me. Even if he was real, what was the relationship between him and me? But after I made the decision, I slowly realized it seemed the Bible was talking to me. Whenever I had a crisis or trouble, either I would read the Bible and the Bible would tell me how to receive guidance, or when I prayed I just received unexplained peace, hope, or strength. Also, my friend would pray for me. He told me he prayed for me every day! I slowly realized, “Oh. Prayer is powerful.” I tried to practice by myself, to pray by myself, to read the Bible, or to think about the things happening that might relate to God’s providence or God’s work.
After one year, I slowly found my life was changed. I didn’t feel the need to smoke, or have a desire to get drunk. When I felt lonely or stressed, I could go to God. At about this time, I started sharing my faith with other students and faculty. Some people believed, and we formed a Bible study. I used what I learned with James, the materials and time studying. James saw my excitement to share my faith with people and to connect to other Chinese believers.
I went to a training about how to share my faith with others. I used that and was able to share with my neighbor, who was also faculty at the university, and he believed. I shared with him just once, and he believed! Then we formed a teachers’ Bible study and grew together.
Was it hard to share? Or exciting?
It was hard. I needed to be careful because I was afraid I might get in trouble. I also didn’t know who would be interested.
What was your family’s response?
After about a year my sister became a believer through a missionary. She saw my change and knew I was a Christian, so she made her own decision. Slowly, we were able to tell our parents.
What did they say?
My parents gave us freedom. By then they did not believe in Communism anymore. They thought that having our own belief was good, so they didn’t do much.