What is it like for Chinese Christians to engage in cross-cultural missions outside of China? An increasing number of Chinese Christians have the opportunity to serve short-term abroad. Their experiences abroad offer valuable lessons for future indigenous mission efforts by the Chinese church.
In this interview, translated from Territory, the author testifies to God's hand in the "twists and turns" of his life. He describes his spiritual struggles of living in the flesh amid social pressures in China. Despite his doubts as a believer, he accepts a missionary call to Nepal that deepens his understanding and faith in God.
His testimony gives a look into the heart and mind of a Chinese Christian and the spiritual renewal and transformation he undergoes while living, serving, and sharing the gospel abroad. Due to the length of the article, we will publish it in two parts. This is part one.
From the Dream of an Elite to a Missionary in Nepal—A Post 90s Choice
Mom put me through school with her street stall, but I was embarrassed to bring her a meal—I was afraid my classmates might see how miserable and shabby she was. I’ve been through many family changes since I was a child—and so I longed for and yet feared marriage. The money and marriage I had wanted for myself—I entrusted to God. After Nepal suffered an earthquake, I took two Christian brothers to the disaster relief areas. After we returned home, I lost a chance to marry. The Lord used that lost marriage opportunity and working for the Lord to prepare me for the future.
Poverty Left Me Feeling Deeply Inferior
I was born in 1990. From when I was a child until I was an adult, I went through three families. My life took many twists and turns. Because I had many family-related misfortunes at a young age, my life was not easy at all. We were always quite poor, so when I was young all I wanted to do was study hard, excel among my peers, and become an elite and wealthy person.
In 2002, our entire family heard the gospel. But we were very ignorant of the gospel and had very little understanding when we accepted the Lord. And so we began our church life and participated in fellowship every Friday and Sunday. Every day I was under the teaching/guidance of elder brothers and sisters. I was strongly motivated to read the Bible in order to win the annual Christmas Bible competition. Even though I had read much of the Bible, I was in fact utterly ignorant of spiritual things. This was the kind of life I carried on into university. Although I was baptized in 2009, my spiritual life basically moved forward under the passive control of my mother.
Because our family was poor, I struggled with my self-esteem. I was also, by God's grace, relatively intelligent. I often earned academic scholarships in school. Every time my teachers graded exam papers, they would pick out mine first so that they would know what would be the highest score for the whole grade. And so I thrived at school. Even after fighting with classmates, and everyone's chairs were confiscated, the teacher still gave me a chair to sit on. When I squabbled with my Chinese teacher and was called in to the office for punishment, other teachers still offered me tea while I was waiting. I didn't feel the least bit of pressure. When I was in school, I thought I was the most amazing thing in the whole world.
Not until later when I looked back on it, did I realize that all of this came from a very profound sense of low self-esteem. I thought that poverty meant we in essence were one grade below other people. And for this reason, I rarely brought classmates home while I was growing up. Nor did I ever date anyone. Every time the school had a parents’ meeting, I attended all the meetings representing my parents by myself with my classmates’ parents. Every time the school invited parents to attend an awards ceremony, I went alone to accept the award. I didn't want my mother to show up at the school in her impoverished state and detract from my image.
Not only that, but every time I went home for holidays during college, my mother would be setting up her stall on the street to make money so I could go to school, but I was embarrassed to bring her lunch. As soon as I dropped off the food, I would hurriedly scramble away on my bicycle returning home for fear that I would run into one of my former classmates.
This was me: An “old believer” who had spent many years reading the Bible, but still had not repented.
First Love Exposed My Corruption and Spiritual Division
After starting at university, life wasn't as busy as it used to be—full of books and exams. There were plenty of campus activities and a refreshing fellowship life. It felt as if classrooms and books should not exist. At the same time it was this environment that caused me to connect more with, and to more profoundly understand what I believed. I personally was truly reborn during my university years. That's when my faith began to have a deep effect on me. I need to explain this by talking about how it started with my first love.
During my first year in university, I met a sister at church. She was a student at the Normal University next door. Later, we started to date and I fell in love with her. But, the good times didn't last long—it only lasted for two months. She couldn't help herself and so talked about our relationship with her parents. In the end, her mother strongly opposed our relationship. She thought I was too young and I had nothing to offer. Her daughter was also too young and she hoped she would not marry an outsider. So that was it and we broke up.
I felt that I had just fallen in love, and a basin of cold water was thrown in my face. It was like being shocked awake from a dream. I especially couldn't understand it when it first happened. My life reached a new level of dejection. I had never smoked before, but I started to smoke at that time. At church fellowships, I still shared deeply about the Bible, but in my heart, I was blaming her mother. She was an evangelist, and I wondered how she could treat others like that. I even felt an urge to write her a letter and have a serious discussion with her about it.
This was my life for nearly half a semester. Every night I laid in bed, especially on nights after church fellowship when I was back in the dormitory, and I deeply wondered how I, as a Christian, could be a person with such a split personality. I acted one way in the church, but another at school and in the dorm. The only difference was on the surface when I was at fellowship, praying, or occasionally reading the Bible. During that time my whole inner being was incredibly hurt and desperate. I lacked the motivation to do anything, even though my heart continuously reminded me that I was a fake Christian, too watered down.
Thank God for allowing me to experience such twists and turns. Due to the fact that I experienced so many changes in my family during my childhood, I was both desperate for marriage and at the same time also very afraid of marriage. The end result of that first love gave me a shocking blow, and it made me realize what kind of person I was. It also allowed me to discover the idols in my life. After God's hand touched the hidden idols in my life, my life went out of control.
At that time, God's hand was on me. He made me see when I was reading the Bible that Adam didn't find Eve on his own. Rather, it was God who brought Eve to Adam. Maybe it wasn't my time yet. She wasn't the one for me. At the same time, God let me see that even though her mother is an evangelist, evangelists are still human. To say nothing of the fact that her mother just wanted her daughter to have a comfortable life, which is reasonable. Nevertheless, it was difficult for me to accept my losses.
That was how God shined the light on me so I could discover my own brokenness. God also led me to see how evil it was for me to treat my mother the way I did. I didn't even meet the very minimum for filial piety. I was extremely selfish, and I only thought about myself and never about others, even those closest to me. Just like that, God made me see my own filth and corruption. There was no way for me to escape it.
So, once when I was at the Friday Bible study, I decided not to share from Scripture like normally I did. Instead, I talked about my heart's journey. I was really fidgety at the time because there was another girl in our fellowship who I really liked. I didn't know what she would think of me after I shared this.
But, leaning on God's prodding, I shared for nearly two hours. It was the first time that I shared in front of a group of people about my past, my family, my dating experience, and my corruption. My heart was very sad. I thought maybe after I shared all these things that I should leave the fellowship and that participate again in such a sacred group.
But, after sharing I felt so relieved. Not only did the brothers and sisters not despise me, they were extremely encouraged. Thank the Lord that what they saw was God's glory and grace at work in a sinner.
Helped Me Close off All Roads to Jobs
I'd been a believer for over ten years and never heard anyone talk about the Great Commission, not to mention ever hearing a specialized term like "missions propaganda." But, when I was about to graduate from university, my pastor told me of an opportunity to serve abroad for two years. He told me I should consider it. To be honest, at the time I was not excited about it. My head was full of thoughts about living the dream life. I was thinking that after graduation that I needed to hurry up to get a job interview, land a good job, buy an apartment, buy a car, find a bride, have a successful career, a successful marriage, and then reach the peak of life.
But, I was happy to serve God and I hoped to follow God's will for my whole life, so I was very hesitant when confronted with this choice. I repeatedly sought out my pastor and the elders for their opinions. I remember the pastor saying at that time that we often don't know what is God’s will for our lives, but we don't have to worry. When we follow the Lord step by step, God will gradually let us see clearly his will for us. This kind of answer at that time, to me, was just like no answer at all.
So, I went back to school and gave all of these things over to God in constant prayer. In my prayers, I told God that I would try my best to prepare for a variety of interviews. But, that if God’s will was to send me out for missions, then he would need to close off all roads to job prospects because I don't have enough wisdom to discern what is God’s will. What followed next was a series of very interesting events. Every time I had an interview, other people said that I would definitely pass and that I was very promising. But, in the end I didn't get any replies at all. It was all just like a stone that sinks in the sea, never to be heard from again.
At the very last one, after passing through four rounds of interviews and defeating almost every challenger, I rose above close to 1,000 candidates to pull ahead of the competition. But, in the final interview I was betrayed by a classmate who took the credit and I lost. I was incredibly angry. But, later I remembered what I prayed to God, then I slowly strengthened my heart for God to lead me for missions.
Right at that time I had just read two verses, one from Ecclesiastes 9:11, "The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all." The other verse was from Jeremiah 45:5, "And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not, for behold, I am bringing disaster upon all flesh, declares the Lord. But I will give you your life as a prize of war in all places to which you may go.” There was also a hymn that really encouraged me, called "Follow the Footsteps of the Lord.” The hymn says, "Would you be willing to follow me, if I called your name? Are you willing to travel far from home? To let the Lord change your life? Let my love use you for honor, let my name be exalted, my life molded within you, are you hidden in the Lord? . . ."
I felt God was using Scriptures and hymns to call me to follow him. My life was turned around by him. That was how I came to accept a call to missions in Nepal.
Turn over the Sovereignty of Marriage and Money to God
Before I left, I happened to meet a mother and daughter on the train who were believers. They really liked me and got my contact information. Not long after, the mother even brought up that her daughter and I could get engaged first, and then I could head out to serve.
But, I thought if this is the good pleasure of God, then two years later when I return to China we would still be together. I didn't meet her until I decided to go to serve. Back then I was worried about getting married, but after that encounter I wasn't worried anymore. I believe it was God's doing. So, I had no reason to give up serving the Lord because of getting married. So, I declined the engagement offer for the moment.
While I was abroad, we intentionally developed our relationship towards the goal of marriage. However, we both lacked a sense of security since we lived in different places. One time when we were talking on the phone, her mother said to me that if there was someone suitable out there that I should consider her. Another time, she said after I got back to China she could introduce me to a pretty and rich girl. We had this kind of conversation several times. I thought she was either testing me, or she was tactfully turning me down. It made me really irritated and depressed. I felt down in the dumps all day and didn't want to do anything.
One evening, a brother and I talked about one of the churches where we serving. This church was dedicated to serving the poor and the sick, but the church didn't have enough beds for them. They planned to buy several more beds, but they didn't have enough money, so they asked us to pray about it.
When I heard this news, I thought of the past miracles God had done in my life and the grace he had given. When I was poor and exhausted, he always prepared enough money and supplies for me. Even now everything is God's grace; nothing comes which is dependent on me. Because of that, my heart was extremely touched. So, I donated the money that I had saved up for over the past half year, just keeping a little for paying my transportation and telephone costs for the month. In the evening, God liberated me through such an opportunity to serve.
The next day, after I ate an early breakfast I left the house for language class. On the way, again I recalled the grace that God had shown me, as well as my recent emotional struggles. I cried all the way to school, because I felt so liberated and my heart was so joyful. I didn't stop crying until I reached the door of the classroom; I didn't want to disturb the class.
My life was highly forged by this event. By turning over the money completely to God, I also turned more of myself over to God. I even turned my emotions over to the sovereignty of God. Because of my background and experience, it’s not something I could do on my own. The circumstances and experiences of my upbringing and especially of having not yet paid back one cent of my university student loans, made me very anxious about money and marriage. Whenever I couldn't obtain something I wanted on my own, God turns me back to him and I am relieved and content. He makes me concentrate the focus of my life on him.
Just as Psalm 16:4 says, "The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply." And as Habakkuk 3:17-18 says, "Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation." Looking back on myself from the past, if I did not follow the Lord's footsteps to serve abroad, it would have been very difficult to have this opportunity to grow in my life.
I remember hearing a story once about how someone said, "I really cannot imagine what kind of change a person would have in their life when they gave themselves completely over to God." To which George Muller immediately replied, "I will be that person." Many times, on the one hand, we ask God to work in us and to change our lives. But, on the other hand, we are not willing to give the sovereignty of our lives over to God and let him guide every step of our lives.
Original article: 从精英梦到尼泊尔宣教士——一个90后的选择 (Territory)
Edited and adapted with permission.
Image credit: by albedo, via Flickr.
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