I am a shy person and have always been afraid of speaking in public, especially talking about myself. One reason is that I grew up in China, where any disclosure of personal belief or opinion would possibly land you in prison. However, recently I was invited to be a guest speaker at a regional campus of a well-known Christian university in Columbus, Ohio… and I accepted.
I shared my testimony about my journey from being a non-believer to becoming a follower of Jesus. Everyone has a unique journey to receive the gift of salvation, but mine started with three experiences – my first Christmas in China, my first Bible in life, and my first footprint in the United States (a country I view as a land blessed by God).
My audience included some faculty members of the Southeastern University Ohio Network Campus and students in their second or third year of college. Many students from this university will become missionaries one day. I respect and admire missionaries, for they spread the word of God and plant the seeds of Christian faith all over the world. In my life, the first time I heard the name Jesus and learned about Christmas was from an American missionary. Ms. Norris taught us English speaking when I was a freshman at Peking University, in Beijing.
So, although still nervous, I began telling my audience about my “Three Firsts.”
Without giving us any bible study or information about church, Ms. Norris, to our surprise, knocked on the door of our dorm at 6 o’clock Christmas morning. She invited us to go to church with her. Our first reaction was try to figure out the meaning of the English word “Church,” but there was no time to look it up in a dictionary. I immediately got up from bed and said, “Sure.” This short positive answer later changed my whole life. That morning, in a dark, shabby, nondescript church building, I learned that Jesus was born and died for us; the bread the pastor gave the congregation represented the flesh of Jesus, and the wine the pastor passed to them represented the blood of Jesus. I did not have that first communion there, because when the pastor asked me whether I had been baptized, I said, “No.”
Today, as I look back at my life in China, I’d like to say that when God chooses you He always has a way to change your life. In my second year in college, we had a “bold” young Chinese professor who asked us to read the Bible as a textbook for his course titled “English Extensive Reading.” Although the Communist Party had banned the Bible in China, the English Department of the university had miraculously stored 15 copies of the Good News Bible. An important reason was that the university (Peking University) was founded by missionaries in the late 19th century, and after Mao’s regime, some international missionaries risked their lives and “smuggled” Bibles into China. The 15 copies of the Good News Bible were locked in a small room. We, the students, had to pledge, formally, to use the Bible for learning English literature only. We had to sign our names before checking out a copy.
For most Chinese, English is a difficult language, as it is completely different from Chinese in every aspect. In the Chinese language, the spoken and written systems are totally separate. When learning English, we often treat it as when we learn Chinese, that is, we systematically memorize pronunciation and written words separately and then make a great effort to connect them again. I started to learn English at age nine, but after 10 years, I was still unable to read or understand English or even reach the fourth-grade level in the States. However, the day I opened the Bible and read the first chapter of Genesis, I was enlightened. I said to myself, “This is the best English book I have ever had.” Like a miracle, I understood everything in the book. At the end of that semester, when we had to return the Bible, I just thought I had to own a copy.
God uses people in a way that, many a time, we have no clue how things will work out. After consulting with many people secretly, I was told to try (and solicit a copy of the Bible from) the Three-Self Patriotic Association, a government-run religious organization. I went to their office and asked a clerk whether I could have a copy of the Bible. He stared at me and asked “What’s for?” “I am a college student taking English literature, and I want to read it to improve my understanding of English,” I replied. He abruptly responded, “We don’t give people Bibles. By the way, do you have a letter from the government saying you can have a copy?” He continued. I shook my head and decided to leave. At that moment, I heard what sounded like a whisper: “Can you write down your name and address here?”
Three months later, I received a letter informing me that somebody would meet with me near my address and deliver something to me. At the appointed time, I saw a man in a trench coat wearing a big hat covering most of his face. He handed me a paper bag, like a brown lunch bag in the States, and left quickly. Next thing I remember, I was in my room; I opened the bag and tore off the wrapped paper; it was a book with a dark, green colored cover, titled “International Studies.” Inside of the “International Studies” was a copy of the Old Testament and the New Testament in both English and Chinese. That was the first Bible in my life.
When I finished telling my audience my second “first” story, I can tell that my experiences sounded like fiction to them. This exactly inspired me to bravely speak in public, because with God, things that to us seem impossible are indeed possible. God’s grace was shown again when I visited the United States.
America is a country that many young Chinese dream of visiting. When I taught at a university in Beijing, I wanted so much to participate in a visiting scholar program in the United States! However, I refused to join the Communist Party, and my refusal caused me to be blacklisted as someone who was politically unreliable. People like me were often denied most opportunities related to promotions or going abroad for further on-the-job training. I applied to the program twice, and each time, I was told that I was not qualified, and that if I was sent to the United State, I would damage the image of the Chinese people. I gave up applying.
In 2007 as summer drew near, I found a small piece of paper on the information board outside the secretary’s office of the department where I was working. It said that there was still one vacancy for the visiting scholar program to the United States. I saw the secretary and joked with her, “If nobody wants to go to the program, I want to.” The next morning, the department chair called me on the phone and said that I could come to the United States. Three months later, I arrived in Marietta College in Ohio. That semester, Marietta College named me as the best visiting scholar since the beginning of the program.
Many Christians in Marietta took me to church and provided me with one-on-one Bible studies. Gradually, I realized that God had a plan for me. Ms. Norris, the young Chinese professor, the clerk working for the government-run religious organization, and all the fellow Christians I met in the United States were part of God’s plan. His plan is for me to follow Jesus, for whoever follows Jesus will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (John 8:12).
International missionaries have always been restricted in China. Today, Chinese law forbids foreign missionaries from sharing the Gospel with the Chinese people, and when they visit China, they must register at the police station and vow that they will not try to convert any Chinese to become a Christian. In the meantime, the Bible has been formally banned both at storefront and online bookstores in China. Chinese citizens could be put in jail if they accommodate international missionaries.
It is critical that we pray for all the international missionaries. They poke holes in the darkness and let the light shine in.
I encourage you to join me in praying for the Chinese government to stop persecuting missionaries and to open doors for missionaries from the United States and other countries.