Chinese Church Voices

One Who Waited for “Godot” but Found God

From the series Stories of Faith from Chinese University Alumni

Chinese Church Voices is an occasional column of the ChinaSource Blog providing translations of original writing by Christians in China. The views represented are entirely those of the original author; inclusion in Chinese Church Voices does not imply or equal an endorsement by ChinaSource.

This is the ninth in our series of testimonies from alumni of Tsinghua University and Peking University. These testimonies are translations of selected chapters from books published by ReFrame MinistriesThe Reason for You II: Tsinghua Testimonies and three volumes of Peking University Testimonies. In each case we post an excerpt from a testimony and include a link to the full testimony in downloadable form. Watch for more in the coming months.

For more information about these testimonies, see “Capturing Chinese Stories.”

From 1+0=0 to 1+1=∞

By An Li (Peking University, Geography, Class of 1985)

When I was young, my family subscribed to Selected Fiction and Fiction Monthly, and I often read the short stories in Dangdai Bimonthly and October Literary Journal. I remember one short story titled “When the Evening Glow Disappears.” The author spoke through the mouth of a Buddhist teacher, saying, “Science seeks truth, religion seeks goodness, and art seeks beauty.” At the time I thought that was such deep insight!

My father was a writer and very kind and easy-going. He once told me a story related to religion: In the early fifties, my father was in high school, and often went to a local Catholic church in his spare time, to talk with the priest there. My father asked, “Is your god greater, or is our Chairman Mao greater?” The priest answered this way, “Chairman Mao is great, and he is a man. God is great, and he is God.”

Not long afterwards, the church was forced to close, and the missionaries were sent back to their home countries. I was surprised at the priest’s wise answer, but also felt that the matters of the supernatural were too mysterious and strange. I believed that Confucius was right when he said, “Confucius speaks not of the bizarre, the violent, the rebellious, or the supernatural.”

Therefore, my life started on a path towards “truth” (science).

Searching for Godot

My father had high hopes for me, and from the time I was in junior high, he demanded that I pursue Peking and Tsinghua Universities. But my college entrance exam did not go smoothly, and I attended a school in Harbin. I felt very despondent in my heart, not having met my father’s hopes. Therefore, after one semester of school, I dropped out, returned to a high school near my hometown, and I studied again to prepare to re-take the entrance exam the following year.

The next year went as hoped. I entered Peking University, and my father’s dreams were fulfilled. But the excitement was short-lived. Very quickly, my heart was restless again: What should my next step be? Take classes, join student organizations, make friends. . .  My heart felt hollow. My heart was also waiting for Godot, like the main character in Waiting for Godot, the tragicomedy in two acts by modernist Irish playwright Samuel Beckett. And “Godot” never showed up. I really did not know who my “Godot” would be: my childhood dreams, or the God my father once enquired about? As I waited and waited, I graduated from university. As I waited and waited, I finished graduate school. . .  And I still did not know who my “Godot” might be, or where to find him.

The trend in the early nineties was to enter the business world and make money. I also believed that “making the best of time can create great waves,” so I began to pursue a different “Godot” (wealth and power) and entered a large state-owned enterprise.

But after working in this state-owned enterprise for several years, I felt that there were too many unspoken rules or shady dealings, and I did not fit well there. Therefore, I realized that money and power were not my “Godot.” In the midst of my uncertainty, my father became seriously ill. I took care of him; I watched him suffer and pass away, but there was nothing I could do. In my sorrow, I went to Guiyuan Temple in Wuhan and Baiyun Temple in Beijing, donating money and hoping that my father would go to a good place—that I could do one good deed for him as a son. But afterwards, I felt like I was simply fooling myself and others. Donating money would do no good. Though religion looked like “goodness,” it could not save anyone.

So, I felt that religion was not my “Godot” either.

In 1998 I came to America to study. It seemed that “truth” (science) had once again become the “Godot” I was waiting for. I put all my energy into studying. In addition to working on a PhD, I also studied for a master’s in mathematical statistics, and took computer classes at a local community college. Often, I would busy myself until there was nothing else to do before going to sleep, but in my heart, I felt sleep was a waste of time. I felt like I ought to take hold of every minute, to read one more article, write one more lecture, write one more piece of program, do one more PowerPoint, write one more influential paper, attend one more meeting, meet one more famous person. . .

Week in and week out, I was just so busy. My busyness served as a numbing agent, so that I did not think about life’s fundamental and philosophical questions.

“Jesus Save Me!”

But in the end, I was merely human. I went to a local Chinese church and, although I thought they were too religious, they were friendly. It wouldn’t hurt to go, relax a bit, and enjoy the food. It wasn’t like I would believe their religion. One time after I had had a bit to drink, I attended their Bible study. I practically exploded at what the leader said to me, thinking to myself, “I’ve managed to avoid accusing you of low intelligence, yet you dare say that I’m a fool for not believing in Jesus!” Because of the alcohol I’d had, I caused a little bit of trouble with my protest!

But over time, I found that Jesus had said a few things ahead of his time, such as: “I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left” (Luke 17:34–36). At that time, people did not yet know that the earth was round. How could Jesus say that when he returned, some places would be in the night, and at the same time other places would be in the day? The Bible is full of such examples, and this caused me to believe that the Bible was not only full of “goodness,” but also full of “truth.” Many of its sayings match the science of 2,000 years later.

Jesus possessed shocking goodness and beauty. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30). I was completely someone who “labors and is heavy laden.” The pressures I felt were as great as a mountain, and my heart was full of anxiety and competitiveness. For a time, I often dreamed that I was swimming in the sky with all my limbs straining as if I were doing the breaststroke. When I looked down, the mountains and forests below were very clear, but I worried about falling! So, I swam harder, but ended up more tired and more worried about falling.

Another common dream I had was being chased by a killer, my life hanging by a thread. One time I thought, since the people at church all say Jesus is so powerful, maybe I should give him a try. Later on, when I again dreamed about being chased, I cried out, “Jesus, save me!” Miraculously, the person chasing me disappeared, and the scene

disappeared, and everything was calm and peaceful. Similar events happened a few more times, and every time I shouted, “Jesus, save me,” it worked.

Is there really a God? And is Jesus really God’s son?

This is an excerpt from an English translation of the original testimony in Chinese which is available for download. The original Chinese testimony is found on pages 49–55 of 《从未名湖到生命泉(一):百名北大学子的信仰之旅》(Peking University Testimonies 1) available from ReFrame Ministries.

Read the full English testimony to find out the answer to An Li’s questions.

More about the Author

An Li was born in Hubei. He studied geography as an undergrad at Peking University from 1985 to 1989. He was then a master’s student at Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences from 1989–1992 followed by PhD studies at Michigan State University from 1998 to 2003. Currently An Li lives in California. He became a believer in 2000 and was baptized in Michigan at the Lansing Chinese Christian Church. Currently he is involved in serving students and scholars on campus.

An Li’s favorite Bible verse is: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29).

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Image credit: Zhu Liang on Unsplash.
ChinaSource Team

ChinaSource Team

Written, translated, or edited by members of the ChinaSource staff.          View Full Bio

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