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 second 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 the first installment here:
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.
Would You Pray With Us Today?
When I went to college, I went to the city where my grandfather taught. The Cultural Revolution was over, and he had been reinstated as a professor. He was actually well known internationally. He had gotten his doctorate overseas, and came back to China to join the “building of the new China.” Then he was persecuted. I remember being in my dorm, and my grandpa came to visit me. He saw the custodian and greeted her, because they had worked together when he was a janitor.
Although I could have gone to any school in China, I went to his city because I knew I was going to go abroad. Growing up, I always wanted to be like my grandfather, going abroad, accomplishing great academic pursuits. All through middle and high school, Marie Curie was my idol. I wanted to do something so the world would remember me. I thought, “Life is short, I will be gone someday.” I wanted to leave a mark. So I went to my grandfather’s university because, at that time, they didn’t let people go abroad on their own. The school sent students out. We wanted to use my grandfather, because he would have some pull when the time came.
What did you study?
Computers. That was the beginning, not many schools had that department. I had initially wanted to study nuclear physics, but they told me I would be stuck in the desert, making atom bombs for the military, marrying somebody who was assigned to me, and I thought, “No way.” I decided that computers were a new thing, that they would be the future.
When I got to university, I found out I wasn’t the top anymore. That was a huge blow to my ego. Others came from good schools, and their university entrance exam scores were better than mine. That crushed my dream of being a famous scientist. I tried hard, but was still in the middle. I felt disillusioned; I had lost the purpose for my life. I realized I wasn’t the genius I thought I was. I thought, “What do I live for now?” During those years, I really was searching.
There was a student a few years older than me who told me she was a Christian. That was it. I knew my grandfather and my step-grandmother were Christians. I brought it up, and he said, “Yeah, I believe in God.” But they didn’t tell me what it meant. I knew it was about God and Jesus; that was it.
As I was searching for my life, I took philosophy classes as an elective. We studied modern philosophy, and they all said there is no purpose to the universe; you must make your own purpose. That depressed me even more. I was seeking, really, for eternal life.
If I had met you then, what would you have said you were seeking?
I would say, somehow, to live beyond my death. After I die, I don’t want it to just be finished.
At that time, I was a firm atheist. I knew I would die and become nothing, but I wanted to continue living through my achievements, for people to remember me. I realized I would have maybe seventy years in this world, and I wasn’t smart enough to leave any long-term imprint. I was really depressed.
I decided, “OK, I’ll just live for this life.” While the original motivation for me to go abroad was in order accomplish a great deal, it changed to being able to seek the American dream. I would have a good degree, of course a Ph.D., and then I would have a good life.
You wanted to immigrate?
Yes. I always told my roommates, “I’m not coming back, for sure.” I was going to marry a white guy, because I thought most Chinese men were either weak or chauvinistic, not gentlemen. I wanted to marry a white guy who would be protective of his wife, who was strong, courteous, and not bullying of his wife. That was my impression.
So I left China. My parents borrowed money from relatives and sold some of the things in their house to pay for a one-way ticket to the United States. When I went abroad, I had $200 on me. That was it.
I enrolled in a private Christian university that had given me some scholarships. Before I left, my grandfather gave me a crash course on Christianity. He said, “You need to know this, you need to fit in.” He took me once to a Three-Self church, told me I needed to experience it. He also told me I needed to memorize the Lord’s Prayer, that it was used everywhere. That was all I knew about Christianity.
I went abroad at the end of August, and a few months later it was my birthday. I felt really lonely; nobody knew about my birthday. I took out a postcard from my hometown, and gave it to the department chair. He said, “What’s the occasion?” I told him it was my birthday. Twenty minutes later he came back and told me to come to the receptionist’s office. So I went. There was a big birthday cake, and some professors were there, and they sang “Happy Birthday” to me. It affected me deeply.
Who am I? A poor little insignificant student. But my professors bought a birthday cake for me. It totally didn’t fit my usual relationship grid. I knew all my professors were Christians—all the faculty were—it was kind of weird. I thought, “These people might as well be from another planet. I don’t understand.”
Another professor would drive a van and take students to church. I went with them and got plugged into a young professionals Sunday school. At first, I just wanted to see what was going on, and thought I would use it to practice my English. But people kindly took me in and treated me as a little sister. That really became my home. They helped me a lot, if they went somewhere as a group, someone always gave me a ride.
One day I asked them, “Why are you guys so good to me? I’m no use to you.” They said, “It’s because God loves us, and we’re just passing that love on to you. You don’t have to repay us.” I said, “I can see Christians are different. You guys are full of love. When you run into difficulty, you rely on God. You are not totally shaken, you have peace.” I said, “I wish I was a Christian. I want your life.” They asked, “Why don’t you become one?” But I said, “I am an atheist. Just a small problem: I don’t believe God exists.
1) What does it mean to seek for eternal life? What did it mean in this woman’s story? What does it mean in your story?
2) A turning point in this woman’s story was when her professors went out of their way to make a big deal of her birthday. She did not understand the reason for this love, but it was deeply attractive to her. How does human love prepare people to receive God’s love?