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 first 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.
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.
Where did you grow up? When were you born?
I was born around the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, in a small town. At that time there was infighting, almost a civil war. My parents were afraid for my safety, as one of their friends had been shot just being a passerby. My mom took me to a nearby large city to my paternal grandmother, but then they found out my grandmother was being persecuted, because she was the head of a preschool. She couldn’t take care of me. In the end my mom took me to another province, where her parents and younger siblings were.
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This was when you were an infant?
I was two months old. She left me there until I was two years old and things calmed down.
What did your parents do?
My father was a doctor. He got a degree in the city, and then was sent down to the countryside. My mom’s major was agriculture, so she was doing stuff in the mountains. When the Cultural Revolution started, my father was persecuted and sent to a re-education farm, where he would carry manure every day.
When I was born, my dad got permission for a two-hour visit with my mom. My mom said she cried and cried. There was nobody around [to help] her, so she didn’t have any milk. It was really hard to get milk powder, so I was starving for a few days until somebody got her milk powder.
I spent two years in another province with my maternal grandparents, uncles, and aunts. They really loved me. One of my aunts was my primary caretaker. I considered her to be my mom, because I didn’t know better, and she was the closest person to me. When my mom and dad came to get me after two years, they were like strangers to me. I didn’t know them and called them “uncle” and “auntie.”
I still remember leaving on the train with them. I was really excited in the daytime, but when night came, I said, “I want to go home.” Gradually I realized I was not going to go home; the train just kept going. I still remember that desperate feeling, the dim yellow light on the train, the stuffy smell, the smoke. I was crying and crying.
That played a huge part later on, even in my relationship with God. As a result, I never felt really close to my parents. Gradually I forgot about my aunt, and after a few years I didn’t feel close to her, either.
When I was four, my parents sent me to a large eastern city to visit my paternal grandfather. He used to be a professor at a university there, but at that time he was a janitor. (My grandparents were divorced, which was really rare then.) After a few weeks, when it was time for me to come back, I threw a tantrum in the train station, so my grandfather kept me with him for about half a year.
When I was six, it was time for me to go to school. My parents were worried about my paternal grandmother, who was still persecuted and was losing hope. They decided to send me to her, to keep her company, so she had someone to take care of.
What was she doing?
She was still a preschool teacher at that time, but she was really looked down on. She was a very severe person; she hardly smiled. I can imagine that when she was the head of the preschool, she was really severe to the staff, so that is why they hated her so much. She didn’t have friends and she didn’t want me to have friends; she was afraid other kids would bully me. But I didn’t feel other kids bully me. I was relatively happy, but afraid of my grandma.
Once I went to school, I figured out I was really good at school. The teachers liked me, and the students looked up to me. That gave me a purpose. At the end of each semester I could report to my family, and everybody would praise me. I thought I was the star of the family. That was how I got attention.
Did you often see your parents?
Once or twice a year. My mom was really sentimental. She would cry when she saw me, and then a couple days later, start crying again when she thought about leaving so soon.
That really bothered me. It made me uncomfortable, it made me sad to think about them leaving. When I was eight or nine, I found the solution. I said to myself: “I don’t need them. It’s better not to visit. I am not going to cry. I am not going to be like my mom, because that is really painful.”
Did you feel she was weak?
[I felt] that her weakness made me weak. Their visits stirred up my emotions and brought me pain. I decided I did not care whether they visited or not; I would not cry. From that point on, I never cried when leaving someone, not even when I eventually went to the States. It’s not until years later, after I came to the Lord and after much healing, that I’m now able to cry at separating from people. That is one of the ways God has healed some of the wounds in me.
My childhood was a pattern of trying to bond with someone, then separating again: it was a series of separations. I later recognized it was a felt abandonment over and over again.
When I was in junior high, my parents finally were able to move to the city where I was. At that point it was really hard to change jobs; you had to know somebody. The downside was that my parents’ marriage wasn’t going well. Living with my parents, seeing their turbulent marriage, made me swear to myself I was not going to grow up to be emotional, like my mom.
My mom was an idealist. She was very sensitive, and her emotional needs were very high. My father served her physically—with cooking and housework, my father was a model husband. But looking back, I can see he was emotionally distant and would withdraw. I think that is the reason why, a lot of times, she would cry. She felt she was the victim and my father didn’t love her.
Now I can much better understand her, but at that time I just felt she was unreasonable. A good friend who often acted as a reconciler for them told me, “Don’t grow up to be like your mom; look at all the havoc she’s wreaking.” My mom would also say, “Daughter, I’m so glad you’re not like me. You are much stronger. You never cry, you don’t care about these little things that would hurt me.”
What a tough exterior you built.
Yeah. I think I really believed it. Except for fearing my mom would blow up, I didn’t feel a lot of emotion. Again, it affected my adult life, and my relationship with God, and intimacy.
1) This woman decided that emotions made her weak and vulnerable, so she decided to shut down that part of herself. Have you ever tried to shut down a part of yourself that made you uncomfortable?
2) How does denying emotion lead to difficulty in finding intimacy with God and others?