I grew up in Beijing. I was born in the 80s, a proud 80后 (80 hou), you might say. None of my family are Christians; my grandma is a Buddhist. I didn’t know much about Christianity. I had attended a wedding at a Catholic church. I had also watched some movies with religious references. For example, my favorite movie is The Sound of Music. I thought churches and abbeys looked mysterious. Back then Santa Claus and celebrating Christmas hadn’t yet become a thing in China, so that was the extent of my knowledge of Christianity/Catholicism. I remember having questions about life but wasn’t sure where to find answers. One thing that was certain was that I wanted to study abroad, so I was always trying to learn and practice English.
When I was in my second year of high school, my parents felt that Australia would be a good choice for me as I had already made some Australian friends in school and my dad had a friend who lives in Australia. About nine months before I would venture into that move across the continents where I would find myself in a completely strange and far away land, in a place where everything would seem to be the opposite of everything I was used to—seasons in the wrong order, people are driving on the left (wrong) side of the road—I realized I had to improve my English.
One day as I approached the bus stop outside my school, I spotted a young foreigner there. In the 90s, you didn’t see many foreigners taking public transportation. I was surprised to see someone with red hair and blue eyes waiting at the bus stop—she kind of stood out. As I (and probably the others at the bus stop) stared at her, I thought she was smiling, and at me! So I thought to myself, “well, I want to practice English, here’s my chance.” I walked up to her and said, “Hello, do you need help?” That was the beginning of our friendship.
Her name was Erin and she was from America. A month later, Erin invited me to her Christmas party. I thought it’d be fun to go to a party. Chinese people don’t really have parties. Our families always gather for special occasions, but it’s not the same as an American party. So I thought it’d be fun to go. Her party was not exactly what I expected. She shared the nativity story with her guests. Honestly, I couldn’t fully understand everything she said as my English vocabulary was still limited. However, one thing did stick with me and I am grateful that it did because she closed the story by saying “Jesus loves you.” A seed was planted. After that, she and I would do Bible study together. She wanted to talk about the Bible and I wanted to practice English. It worked for both of us.
A few months passed and I finally got my visa for Australia. As I said goodbye to family and friends, and my new American friend Erin, I began my adventure “down under.” I made new friends at the first house where I stayed. One of them was a Christian girl, and I decided to follow her to church. I didn’t go because I was ready to put my faith in Jesus, but because I believed that Christians are like Erin, nice people. I started going to church and even joined a small group.
One day, my small group leaders offered to do a baptism class in their home, including a free lunch for those of us who had been going to church but not yet baptized. I didn’t care much about the first part, but the free lunch, “yeah, sign me up!” As a university student, when you hear free lunch, you sign up. (Just one of my tips for churches that do international student ministry.) During the baptism class, I felt the Spirit of God convicting me that I needed to become a true follower of Jesus. After that, I was baptized.
The Scriptures tell us that God searches for us and he knows us (Psalm 139:1). He is a God who pursues us with passion and patience. When we choose to accept God’s invitation, we get to be on an adventure with him. It is not always easy, but it is never boring and full of surprises. Rest assured that our steps are directed by him (Proverbs 20:24).
Image courtesy of the author.
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