When Dad Listens
by Laikein Atkins
It was Friday evening and I was about to leave for my church’s weekly prayer meeting. When my dad found out, he lost his temper, slapped me in the face, and threatened: “If you dare go to church, I will disown you immediately!” “Oh, God, what am I to do? Please help me!” I cried out to God silently in my heart.
Through the Eyes of a Child
Growing up in a Chinese family in Singapore, I often heard my dad say: “It is no use praying to gods or Buddhas. Believe in yourself and work hard.” My mom, on the other hand, saw ancestor worship as part of her duty as a filial daughter-in-law. Every first and fifteenth day of the month she would offer up worship to the gods. But I, as a child, believed in God. Loving to draw, I marveled at the beautiful, ever-changing sky and thought that God was the greatest artist of all—because He painted the sky! Sometimes I would write to God in my diary, and I never associated the giant, scary statues of Buddhas I saw in the temple with God.
About a month after I finished my high school exams, a classmate invited me to her church youth group’s camp. I went hoping to have some fun and, instead, I learned about the true God. I was deeply touched one evening during camp when the pastor preached, and I heard about Jesus’ love and sacrifice for my sins. I knew then that Jesus was God—the God who painted the sky—and that He loved me and wanted to save me from my sins. I was so grateful and joyful that my tears flowed! A few days later, I prayed and accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior.
After camp was over, I started going to church, and my parents became concerned. Then, the Friday evening confrontation with my father happened. My 18-year-old self would normally have gotten into a heated argument with my dad. However, that evening, as I tried to calm down, I prayed that God would help me to really listen to my dad.
My dad had always had a poor impression of Christians. Beginning in the 1950s when he was a young man, there had been a strong student evangelistic movement in Singapore, and many highly educated young men and women became Christians. To my dad, the Christian young people appeared snobbish. They spent a lot of time in church and openly criticizing Chinese ancestor worship practices. Dad thought they were betraying their family and their Chinese identity.
As I prayed that Friday evening, I felt led to tell my dad that I understood where he was coming from. And God worked a miracle in his heart! He then actually paid attention to what I wanted to say! In a traditional Chinese family, parents often say: “I’ve had more salt in my lifetime than you’ve had rice”—meaning, “I know better than you.” So, it was a big deal when my dad listened to me as I pleaded with him. I begged him to give me one year to prove that my newfound faith would make me a better person and a better daughter. After a year, if I had not become a better person, and he still wanted me not to go to church, I would accept his decision. And he agreed! So, I was able to go to church—and my family accepted it. Even on days when I felt lazy and was tempted to skip Sunday worship, they would remind me it was time to go to church!
A Change for the Better
One way I began to change was in my relationship with my younger brother. For years, we had had a volatile relationship, provoking each other into fights and arguments, and this grieved our parents. One day I read a verse in the Bible: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20, ESV). At that time, I did not know that the word “brother” was a general term, so I understood it as God speaking to me about my brother! The next time I had a heated argument with my brother, I felt convicted immediately, so I wrote him a note of apology. For Chinese, it is rare for someone older to acknowledge to someone younger that he/she is wrong. And, in my family, we usually did not resolve conflicts. We merely stuffed them down and pretended nothing happened. But with God’s help, I was beginning to change. I did not want to provoke my brother, and even if I lost my temper with him, I would apologize afterward. Once, when he jeered at my faith and said very hurtful remarks about Jesus, instead of fighting back, I wept—and prayed that God would forgive him because he did not know what he was saying. Gradually, with God’s help, I changed, and my relationship with my brother improved.
During my college days, the campus student minister who was discipling me encouraged me to pray for my family’s salvation. She quoted Acts 16:31, “… believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” So, I began praying that my family would come to know the Lord. But years went by, and at times I felt discouraged. Then my best friend Judi told me: “When you are weak, I will have faith for you. I will keep praying that your family will become Christians.” I really appreciated that others would pray for my family whom I longed to experience Christ as I had. But even when I got baptized, only my elder sister attended the ceremony. And, praise the Lord, years later, she and her husband accepted Christ after they moved to California.
After I graduated from college, I heeded God’s call to serve Him in campus ministry. My mom became angry with me and would not speak to me for months. My dad was disappointed too. Both my parents did not have the chance to be educated because of World War II and poverty, and they worked very hard to put their children through college. They thought that by going into Christian ministry I was wasting my education. They knew that Buddhist monks and nuns did not need a college degree to chant in a temple, and they didn’t understand that Christian ministers needed to be educated. Much later, I realized that my mom thought I was going to be a celibate nun! She was angry because she loved me and wanted the best for me.
Whenever I had a chance, I tried to explain the Christian faith to my parents. Once, when my sister and I invited my dad to church, the Bible study that morning was on the Ten Commandments. I took the chance to point out to my dad that God commands us to obey our parents. (The Chinese Bible translates it as: “to be filial to your parents.” ) I pointed out that filial piety is a core Chinese value and being a Christian did not go against our Chinese values.
Thankfully, over time, my dad’s attitude towards Christians changed. When I got married, both my parents came to church to attend the ceremony. During the reception, they heard young people thank me for the influence that I, as their youth pastor, had had in their lives. That evening, my parents finally understood what my job as a Christian minister entailed. My dad told me afterwards: “Your job is very meaningful.”
Twenty-two years after I became a Christian, my dad accepted Christ. I could not believe it when my brother-in-law told me the news. My atheist dad had accepted Christ! A few years later, he was baptized at the age of 80. Since then, he has been attending church faithfully every Sunday, traveling by public transport. He is now 87 years old. Whenever my sister or I go back to Singapore (my husband and I now minister in China), we accompany my dad to church, and he proudly introduces us to his church friends.
Open Her Eyes, Lord!
My mom is still not a believer, though her attitude towards Christians has softened somewhat over the years. When my brother had marital problems, and when my niece was going through teenage rebellion, my mom asked me to bring them to church! She is impressed by Christians’ commitment to relationships and their efforts to resolve conflicts. She even said, “If your God helps your brother, I will become a Christian.” To her, God is a supernatural power to whom we turn for help in times of need. People make vows with God and when their wishes come true, they have to fulfil their vows. She does not yet understand that being a Christian is more than that. It is entering into a personal relationship with the only true God, made possible by Christ’s death on the cross, paying the penalty for our sins. I earnestly pray that my mom will one day recognize God’s great love for her and humbly accept His salvation. My dad, my sister, and I all pray that she will have eyes to see and ears to hear the Spirit of God—and she will accept the salvation that Christ so freely gives.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).