This is the eleventh 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 Ministries, The 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 the final testimony in this series coming up next month..
For more information about these testimonies, see “Capturing Chinese Stories.”
When God Opened My Spiritual Eyes
By Yaohuan Xu (Tsinghua University, Department of Civil Engineering, Class of 1963)
It is nearly 30 years since I was baptized and converted to the Lord. It has been a journey from my own stupidity and stubbornness to experiencing God’s perseverance. My heart is full of shame and gratefulness as I look back on it. In recent years, I have often had the opportunity to serve the Lord, and the first time I preached a sermon, the choir was singing “Amazing Grace.” The song felt particularly dear to me that day. Surely the lyrics described me!
I was once a lost person but was bought by God at great price. I had been a confused Christian for many years, and there was no change in my life until God opened my spiritual eyes and made me see.
Tsinghua Garden, the Cradle of Engineers
In 1963, I graduated from high school and faced the dilemma of choosing a university. The elders in my family had split opinions; some wanted me to study engineering, and some wanted me to study medicine. I felt uncomfortable every time I saw blood and corpses, but I liked engineering, so I decided to study engineering. Of course, the first choice for studying engineering in China is Tsinghua University. At that time, the Tsinghua admissions advertisement was “Tsinghua Garden, the Cradle of Engineers.” This gave young students bright expectations for the future.
I successfully passed the college entrance examination and realized my dream.
When I entered Tsinghua University, I found that I had never seen such a large and beautiful campus. My classmates came from all over the country, most of them coming from top local secondary schools, and many of them were study staff members within their classes.
The novelty had not yet faded before intense studying started. Someone asked me to summarize my experience at Tsinghua University, and what I remember the most is almost never having a Sunday off. I worked hard in class, always wanting to be “top-notch.” But among a group of excellent students, my grades were only average. I had a roommate from Wuhan who worked harder than me. I rarely saw him, even though we were roommates for a few years. Before I got up, he had already gone to the classroom; he didn’t return until I had laid down to sleep at night. Unfortunately, even before the Cultural Revolution began, he died of kidney failure due to overwork. I don’t know how the students at Tsinghua University study today, but in any case, do not do like we did, spending everyday sprinting towards the finish line. Not only will your body suffer, but other areas of life will be neglected as well.
Looking back on my years of study, the culture at Tsinghua University enabled us to establish a strong foundation for study and develop a serious and rigorous work ethic. Later, a group of professors, deans of design institutes, and political figures emerged from among my classmates.
At that time, all students at Tsinghua University held a hope, which we called “a devotion to work.” I remember a female classmate saying that she wanted to be like Marie Curie; my ideal was to be a scientist like Yang Zhenning.
I did not know God at the time, and I was determined to realize my dreams through my own abilities and hard work. Looking back now, this so-called “devotion to work” which is centered on individual effort is not desirable. That is not to say that God doesn’t want us to do our jobs as best as we can, but we must be clear about whether we are glorifying God or glorifying man. And ultimately, whether we succeed or not is entirely up to God, not man.
Fulfilling a Vow to God and Entering His House
In the fall of 1981, I came to the United States to pursue a PhD at Lehigh University of Pennsylvania. At that time very few people left China, and most of them were short-term visiting scholars. I was full of ambition, I wanted to achieve much and make a major scientific contribution, to win glory for the Chinese people, and to console my parents who had high expectations for me.
Lehigh University was not a Christian university, but half of the professors were Christians, which was very different from the situation in China. There was also a Christian student fellowship with students from Hong Kong and Taiwan. They were very friendly to me. I participated in their activities mainly because I was alone, and it was good to have someone to discuss things with. During this period, I was busy with my studies, and I did not pursue a spiritual life. I didn’t even know the basics of Christianity. Pastor Stephen Tong once preached at the student fellowship and asked if anyone would commit their lives to Christ. Although I thought he spoke well, I still didn’t make up my mind to raise my hand.
One time, just as the fellowship was about to end, and with no one asking me, I suddenly said, “In the future, after I retire, I will serve God full-time.” After I said it, I thought it was still too early to think about it since I had not yet received my degree, much less found a job. Since retirement seemed so very far away, I didn’t think much about the promise. . . .
In my intense studies, four years passed quickly. In 1985, I received my PhD. A problem arose immediately: I was told that my student visa would expire one month after graduation. I must find a job or continue my studies in order to stay in the United States, otherwise I would be staying illegally.
At that time, my elders in China urged me to stay in the States. They said that in 1949 and 1950 many people returned to China from overseas out of patriotism, but they all suffered during the Campaign to Eradicate Hidden Counterrevolutionaries, the Anti-Rightist Campaign, and the Cultural Revolution. Many ended up dead with shattered families. After considering many factors, I finally decided not to return to China immediately, but to stay here and wait to see how the domestic situation would develop.
But staying was easier said than done. When you look for a job, people will ask you if you have a green card. But when you apply for a green card, they ask if you have a job. I had neither. With no way out, I knelt to pray with my wife and children, asking God for help. I also made a vow to God: “If you help me solve this problem, I will follow you and be a Christian.”
Later, I got in touch with a professor who promised to give me a postdoctoral job and help me get a green card. I said to my wife, “I’m going to be a Christian.” My wife said, “Don’t take it too seriously. Maybe it’s a coincidence. It’s not necessarily an answer to prayer.” I said, “I have never broken my word to people, and I will not break my word to God. But I will just wait a while, and I will join Christianity eventually.”
At that time, my mind was full of personal goals to become famous and successful, and I was not motivated to pursue faith. I felt that as long as I eventually became a Christian, whatever the timeframe, I would have fulfilled my vow to God. So, the matter of faith was simply set aside.
I knew that a postdoctoral job was not a permanent position, so I kept applying for jobs and had several interviews, but never received an offer.
Fast forward to 1989, and what happened that year made me completely determined not to go back. At that time, an advertisement caught my attention. It was a small college’s recruiting advertisement for professors and it had always been there, I just never paid attention since the school was very small. This was a college that was Reformed and similar in size to a department at Tsinghua University. It was not well-known. But since I hadn’t landed a job yet and was ready to settle down, I decided to give it a try.
Since this was a denominational school, four letters of recommendation were required for applying. Compared with other schools, it needed an extra letter of recommendation from a pastor. Pastor Chen Fengqing from the Lehigh area helped write my letter. The school responded quickly and asked me to go for an interview.
The day of the interview was intense. From morning to night, I explained my research to the professors in the department, discussed with them, taught a calculus class to students so that the school could receive the students’ feedback, and had meetings with the department chair and the provost.
Just before leaving in the evening, I met the last person of the day, the president. President Dr. MacKenzie was very kind. He chatted with me about this and that and then mentioned that he knew Feng Youlan from China. He asked me if I knew of him, and I said of course I did. After chatting a little more about my family and such, he suddenly asked, seemingly at random, “Are you a Christian?” I was caught off guard. I felt as if someone nudged me, and I blurted out “yes.” We then chatted about other unimportant things, and then the meeting was over. The president told me to go back and wait for news.
After I went home, I felt uneasy. I felt that although I was determined to become a Christian, I had not yet been baptized. If I didn’t get baptized soon, I might be suspected of lying. So, I immediately found a Lutheran church and contacted them about baptism. I was alone that day, and after asking a few basic questions, the pastor baptized me by sprinkling. And so, I became a Christian.
A week later, the school notified me that I had been offered a teaching position, and I accepted.
Worldly Life in the Old Self Still
Although it is proper to fulfill vows made to God, such a foundation of faith is certainly not enough to bring about a change in life. After I arrived at this school, I still lived in the dream of becoming famous and successful. After I finished my teaching responsibilities each day, I would work late by lamp and stay up until two or three o’clock in the morning, hoping to achieve noteworthy research results. To this end, I gave up almost all entertainment and invested all my time. Years later, when I read that the Bible says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” I was filled with emotion. If only I had understood this earlier, then I would have read the Bible seriously and would not have wasted so much time and energy on worldly fame and fortune.
This is an excerpt from an English translation of the original Chinese testimony and is available for download. The original Chinese testimony is found on pages 298–304 of《无问西东 因为有你》(The Reason for You II: Tsinghua Testimonies) available from ReFrame Ministries.
Xu Yaohuan continued to face obstacles in his quest for academic success and fame. He found that God had other plans for his life. Read the full English testimony to learn more of his story.
More about the Author
Yaohuan Xu was born in Tianjin in 1945 and entered Tsinghua University in 1963. After graduation, he worked in the Ministry of Construction and the Ministry of Electric Power. In 1978, he studied for a master’s degree in applied mechanics at Tianjin University, and in 1981, he went to the United States to study for a doctorate in mathematics. After graduation, he remained in the United States to work and taught mathematics at several colleges. He retired in 2007. By the grace of God, he now serves full-time in several churches and family fellowships. The rest of his life is completely dedicated to God for his use.
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