A Fugitive Youth Finds Family and Faith
by Fung Lin
Twenty years ago as a teenager from Fujian Province in mainland China, I furtively boarded a human smuggling boat to sail across the Pacific Ocean for three months, destined for America. I had hopes of fulfilling the beautiful American dream. But the blessings God bestowed on me far exceeded the dream I had planned of my own desires.
From my earliest memories, my parents constantly quarreled. Dad’s violent temper caused their marriage to end in divorce so that, at five years of age, I was under the custody of three aunties and my grandma, who took turns caring for me. Soon after the divorce, my dad remarried, and my mother went away. I didn’t see her again until ten years later, my first year in high school. A friend of my mother—a stranger to me—came and told me my mother was very sick and longed to see her son. She had leukemia and would likely not live long.
On her sick bed, my mother told me that she felt guilty about shunning her duty to care for me as a mother should. She asked my forgiveness for her neglect. Several days later, she died, and I was heartbroken. When my dad learned of my visit to see my mother, a serious verbal fight erupted between us. In his rage, he hit me physically. Deeply hurt, I knew I could no longer live at home.
The Life of a Fugitive
Not long afterward, my uncle asked if I would be willing to go to America. My answer was affirmative because I only thought about leaving my abusive father and getting far away as fast as possible. Because I did not have enough money to pay the illegal gang boss to smuggle me out of country on his boat, he was willing to let me come on board free of charge with one condition. I was to help him maintain the boat’s engine to keep it running smoothly. During my middle school years, while staying with an uncle who operated a small electrical factory, I had learned some basic skills in repairing electrical appliances. The boat purchased was converted from a small, used cargo boat. I spent a whole week repairing the engine to ensure it would run well. The gang boss also promised that he would find me a job, and I could pay back the smuggling fee by installment.
On one extremely dark night, about three to four hundred illegal fugitives like me came on board the boat to leave our country. All of us were hidden beneath the lower deck with no bed or toilet facility and with only a handful of working crew and serving ladies on the upper deck. Our daily meals, tied to a rope, were let down through a small vent. Later, as my cousin and I were needed to manage the operation of the engine, taking turns around the clock, 24 hours a day, we were allowed to sleep on the upper deck, which had a little better living condition, with a bed and simple toilet facility.
The small boat filled with illegal passengers destined for America floated along for over two months in the wide ocean, where we saw nothing but water. As we neared Hawaii, we faced a crisis. The engine completely died. For over a week, the boat floated on its own, pushed along by the wind and waves. Since we were all illegals, we dared not signal for help to be rescued. With our scanty food supplies diminishing day by day and only salty sea water available for cooking congee, wild rioting erupted among the crowded stowaways. Somehow, at this critical moment, the engine began to miraculously work again. After three exhaustive days at sea, we finally arrived on the shore of Mexico. Several hundred of us jumped into the small lifeboats, after breaking down the original cargo boat which we let sink to the bottom of the sea. We were in Mexico—but with dim hopes for our future.
An Orphan in a Foreign Land
The gang boss divided the hundreds of us into small groups of ten to twenty people. Hiding us inside arranged homes during the day, marching us on foot at night, and hiding us in compartments of transporting vans through a desolate desert, we finally entered America, arriving in the vicinity of San Diego.
From there, the gang boss arranged to fly us to New York, where he sold us as slaves to a triad criminal ring. The criminal ringleader commanded us to make phone calls to our relatives in our homeland requesting that they bail us out with a sizeable amount of money. For failure to pay ransom money, our relatives were told that our safety was in jeopardy. At that time, no one in my family had money to send, and there was no one in America who knew me either. While many members in our group were set free after the ransom money came, a dozen or so members in our group were locked in an underground cell, including me. We were often abused by the triad ring gangsters who hit us and threatened our lives at gunpoint. However, I was not afraid because I knew that what they wanted from us was only money, not our lives. One day, these triad ring gangsters started a fight with some black guys upstairs, who called the police. Thus we—the fugitives turned slaves—were rescued by a special police squad. The police escorted me to a shelter for orphans, as I was not yet an adult. I felt that my life was like a leaf flowing uncontrollably in an ocean. Nevertheless, there surely were invisible hands guarding me all the time!
Experiencing Genuine Love
One afternoon, I was taken to the emergency room with severe stomach pain. When it was discovered that I could not speak English, an interpreter was fetched to help me. She was a Christian, who gave me a Bible and told me that God could take care of me better than anyone else. Of course, I didn’t believe her as I felt God was unfair to me because I had had no parental love as other children had.
The doctors were not able to find the cause of my illness. I was tossing on my sick bed in agony and talking of dying soon. My thoughts turned to my mother who had already passed away, and all the surviving relatives like my grandma, my father, my aunts, and my younger brother and sister who lived in mainland China. I felt awfully lonesome and totally abandoned. I wanted to cry, but no tears ran down my cheeks.
During this time, I could only cry out to the God who was unknown and unlikeable to me, pleading for relief from my pangs of pain and agony! For the first time in my life, I picked up a Bible and flipped to a verse God intended for me: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). These words were exactly what I needed for consolation at that time. My heart felt much warmth as I sensed that God had loved me from the beginning, and He loved me right then. Whenever my agony became unbearable, I cried out to God, and felt Him next to me—so intimate at that moment.
Later, the doctors told me that they found many worms inside my stomach which had entwined together in clusters, blocking my digestive tract. They also found problems with my appendix. As a result, they performed surgeries on me. I spent nearly three weeks in the hospital. During this time, a Christian lady from Taiwan came repeatedly to visit me, praying with me, reading the Bible, and consoling me in every way. Her genuine concern and loving-kindness made me experience a kind of unselfish and unconditional love that I had never experienced before.
The Shining Truth
After I was discharged from the hospital, the Christian lady continued to teach me English and the Bible, and started bringing me to church. The pastors and church members showed genuine love for me, making me believe more and more in the real God all of them put their faith in. I was still at a young age, with little cultural exposure, so I could not comprehend things too deeply. Yet, through numerous loving acts, I was exposed to genuine love that these Christians had toward others. In contrast to these genuine believers, I started to believe that I was a born sinner with no love in me at all. Human sinful nature separates us from God, leading us to refuse to believe that there is a real God of love. The kind of life I led in my early childhood, through my hectic wandering experiences as an illegal fugitive, all pointed to my firm belief that human beings are inclined from birth to live in a way that falls short of the glory of God. I started to believe that the Son of God, Jesus Christ, died on the cross because of our sins. I also started to believe that God truly rules everything in the universe and determines the fate of every human being.
Later, at a special summer camp, the preacher made a challenge: Who is willing to receive Jesus as your personal Savior to guide your life? Who will be willing to step out to witness for God after you receive Him? Accepting this challenge, I burst out in tears. All my life I had been very tough and resolute in character, rarely shedding a tear over anything. I did not cry when my mother died. I did not cry when quarreling with my father. I did not cry during the entire journey as an illegal fugitive. Yet, facing God before me now, I cried out loud like a baby! Memories flashed vividly in my mind, one after another, with scenes of past experiences of intense suffering, hurt, and deep distress. I realized then that the invisible hand of God had never ceased to uphold me—while hiding during the illegal boat crossing, when the police freed and rescued me from the hands of the triad ring gangsters, while on the brink of death in the hospital when the doctors saved me from extreme agony, and through the unconditional loving care of a Christian lady from Taiwan. All these happenings demonstrated and pinpointed the love and protection over me that could only come from God. Focusing on God at that moment, I gathered all my strength to boldly raise my hand to publicly accept Jesus to be my personal Savior. I felt a stream of power push me to walk to the podium at the front and make my first public testimony for God—which I understood later to come from the work of the Holy Spirit in me!
A Blessed Family
Not long afterwards, I was adopted by some houseparents who, with no children of their own, adopted orphans like me. They immediately enrolled me in high school. Since I had never been a serious student in mainland China, my academic foundation was very weak. With the added language barrier, studying was a difficult task for me. It was then that I started to rely on God, putting all my studies before Him in prayer. When I encountered difficulties taking examinations, I prayed even harder. Thankfully, God led me so that I got through high school successfully and entered the university, doing major studies in accounting.
In 2004, I was baptized as a born again Christian, and in 2006, I married a Chinese classmate who was born in America. Later, when my father immigrated to America, I pleaded with the Lord to give me strength to forgive his past wrongs to me. And God was faithful. My father became a true believer and was baptized in 2009. He worked nine years in America before retiring. My younger brother is a businessman in Fiji, and my sister still lives in mainland China. I presently work for a private company in Manhattan, New York, and my wife is a hospital nurse. We have three children: Noah, age 9; Ethan, age 6; and Isaiah, age 1. Thankfully, because of the Lord, we are a harmonious family.
Thinking back to the broken family of my childhood and adolescent years to the blessed family of my own that I have now, I feel that my life has been like a dream—part nightmare, part paradise. But I know for certain that we can never be separated from God’s love.
“A father to the fatherless...is God in his holy dwelling” (Psalm 68:5).
*This article was extracted from Chinese Today, Issue 681 (January 2019), and translated by Philip Yu. He and his wife, Kwok Hoi Wong, a contract editor of Chinese Christian Mission, reside in New Jersey and attend Rutgers Community Christian Church.