Winding Paths that Led to God
A Shaky Foundation of Faith
While growing up in Hong Kong during the 1950s, I attended a government secondary school where some dedicated Christian teachers felt called to spread the gospel to the students. Every Wednesday after school, at a nearby church, they shared their Christian faith, prayed, and sang hymns with the students. As a 16-year-old youth then, this was my first exposure to Christian teaching.
Several months later, I publicly stood to accept Christ in an evangelical service organized by a local church. At that time, I developed a somewhat romantic feeling toward the God I believed in. I remember one night gazing at the magnificent sky above and thinking about the Heavenly Father who loved me with such an unconditional, amazingly incomprehensible love. It was a splendid thought to me in every sense. But, unfortunately, there was no one who followed up with me to help me gain a deeper understanding of the Christian faith. So, my faith remained shallow.
My parents followed the traditional ancestral worship, prevalent in Hong Kong during the 1950s and 60s. Nevertheless, they did not forbid me going to church. I attended an evangelical church in Hong Kong and enjoyed listening to the pastor’s sermons during Sunday worship services. However, I had many questions. Once I asked the pastor: “Why should I believe the Bible as the words of God?” He answered by quoting a Bible verse: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). In my heart, I considered his answer illogical and unconvincing: How could he give me an answer from the Bible when I am questioning the believability of the Bible? Disappointed and puzzled, I attended this church only briefly—for a year or so—carrying many questions in my mind.
A year later, I was admitted into the Chinese University of Hong Kong with many questions troubling me regarding Christian beliefs. A critical one was: How can we know there is a real God guiding our daily activities? For example, when believers pray fervently in one accord in Jesus’ name for some good work, yet things don’t turn out as they prayed, why is that so? Is it because they prayed about the wrong things or because it was against His will and therefore God answered differently? I simply could not understand what was meant by the leading and guidance of a loving God in our lives—if there truly was a God. Pondering over such matters, I finally decided to rely on my own logical thinking to choose the goals and directions of my life and to plan my future without considering God’s path for me.
Gradually, I lost interest in the Bible and Christian beliefs and withdrew from church activities. During my third year in college, I determined to turn away from God once and for all. I challenged Him with an “ultimatum-like” prayer: I am leaving You now because I am not sure about your existence, let alone sovereignty. How can I follow You? If the Bible parable about the one lost sheep among the flock of 100 that you seek and bring back to your fold is true, You will surely fetch me back if you are truly God! With that defiant prayer, I stopped going to church, ending friendship to most of my Christian acquaintances as well.
Devilish vs. Divine Spiritual Experiences
Having no consideration of God reinforced my own belief in rational, logical thinking. Like most others, I relied on general social mores to guide my way of life. I enjoyed the freedom to live the way I preferred and paid little attention to Christian values. When discussing different world religions with others, I did not hesitate to voice my own doubts about Christian beliefs. As I wandered farther from my early profession of faith, my initial romantic feelings toward God as a father who cared for me dimmed almost completely.
Nonetheless, I still held onto ambivalent feelings of two distinct opposite experiences I had had: the existence of the spirit of the devil vs. the Holy Spirit. I remember when I first heard the gospel and was struggling in my mind over whether to accept Jesus or not, for several consecutive nights, I experienced an awful, frightening nightmare of the devil hovering over my physical body. At last, out of exhaustion and fear, I yelled out loud this desperate prayer: “Jesus, save me!” To my utter surprise, the apparition of the devil was gone immediately. That spiritual encounter was very real to me!
So, too, was the experience I had had with Jesus during the short duration I believed in Him. I genuinely felt the Holy Spirit’s presence giving me inner comfort and peace from within. I also experienced the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit, which enabled the rebellious, unforgiving me to become submissive to my mother, overcoming my instinctive rebellion toward her which I’d had since my teenage years.
As I strayed from God, He sent a stranger to speak to me. That stranger was a staff person at the university library reference desk. He surprised me with a direct question: “Why don’t you admit that you are a Christian?” Such a blunt question from a stranger made me very uneasy. He continued: “Tonight is my last night working here. I am about to undergo a major surgery and the outcome is unknown. That’s why I feel obligated to talk to you tonight!” I don’t remember how I answered the man, but I know that I dashed out of the library, gazed up at the pitch-dark sky and uttered a short prayer to its Creator: “Oh God! Are you sending this stranger to talk to me? Are you pursuing me, your lost sheep?” God knew all my struggles with spiritual experiences and my inner thoughts. No one can hide from Him!
After this incidence, I resumed conversing with God. Yet I was bargaining with Him rather than submitting to Him. I asked God: “If you let me study abroad, I promise you I will check out Jesus again and to see what it means to be a Christian!” As I look back now, I see this as rashness, ignorance, and boastfulness.
God’s Mercies Revealed
Yet God was patient and kind, still embracing me with His mercies and forgiveness. After I obtained my master’s degree in Hong Kong, I was accepted into a doctoral sociology program in California, with the support of many scholarships. I aimed to study demography and social mobility in order to help Chinese society after my graduation. Knowing that the path to study in America had gone so smoothly, I did not forget my previous promise to God to explore the Christian faith more deeply. I began attending the local Chinese churches in Los Angeles. However, once again, I found I could not discuss my faith questions with other Christians because they were not bothered. Eventually, I put aside my questions, stopped going to church, focused on my studies and, one year later, got married.
A few years after my marriage, my husband and I moved into an international-student dormitory operated by some dedicated Christians. We met an elderly American couple who served as our governing superintendent and kitchen manager. They demonstrated genuine care and concern for the student residents, and my heart was deeply touched by their acts of unselfish and unconditional love. In the dormitory, we had different Asian ethnic groups coming from China, Japan, Korea, and other Southeast Asian countries. We also had students from the Middle East, Africa, and South America. We all needed to adjust to the American way of life from our own unique cultural habits and interpersonal social expectations, as well as overcome language and communication barriers. Some residents were hard to get along with, not only due to cultural and social background differences but also because of their unethical behaviors. Yet, this couple was always loving and kind in serving such a diverse group of different ethnic residents.
Witnessing this exemplary Christian couple’s love for others, I gradually saw my own weaknesses and shortcomings, and what I really lacked in life. I poured out my deep longing to God: “I am willing to be close to You again, and to know You more, if what I see in this couple is what Christian faith is meant to be!”
Soon, I got pregnant. While I was carrying my baby, I encountered in a real way the mystery and wonders of a new life being formed. For the first time, I experienced the fantastic wonders of God the Creator in giving life. From Him alone comes the power to form a new life, from the beginning in the womb to the emergence of a new-born baby into the world. My child’s birth all depended on God’s power, love, and blessing to me as a mother. I was inspired to name my first-born son Theodore, which means “God’s gift.”
God Never Left Me
When I finished my doctoral training in 1989, I began teaching sociology in a state university in Illinois. This University was located in a small town with very few Chinese inhabitants. The weather was bitterly cold, and it was difficult for us to always attend church. But God is merciful! He awakened my hungry soul to long for His words again. When I began reading the Bible this time, it seemed to be different. I found many verses in the four Gospels that sounded as if God was speaking to me personally—they were so full of authority and power, and very fulfilling and comforting to my heart! Such new experiences were beyond my understanding. The previous questions I raised about the credibility of the Bible and Christian faith seemed irrelevant and unimportant.
With the Holy Spirit’s enlightening, I gradually learned what the Bible says about Jesus’ sanctity, righteousness, mercy, and faithfulness. I began to understand that He is the One Creator and Lord who rules everything, and He is worthy of awe and adoration as a God of truth. In my youthful days, I was always trying to defend the oppressed. That was why I always questioned the reason behind God letting tragic things happen. Now, I realize the roots of many societal problems are the common pitfall of us, the human race, with our sinful nature, living in a lost and fallen state. Praise God, the Bible reveals that God has prepared a way out for us—an eternal salvation that redeems and frees us from the bondage of sin—through His only begotten Son Jesus Christ, who was born in flesh and died for our sin, so that whoever believes in Him will be born again into a new life, with a new heart, capable of receiving and giving out His love! This is the best news and most perfect message for all humankind for now and throughout eternity.
In 1993, I became a postdoctoral fellow at a North Carolina university. Afterwards, I stayed at the same university as a research associate in one of its research centers. At this time, our seven-year-old son wanted to go to church, telling us that he needed to get to know God. Thank God, right at that time I bumped into Grace, whom I had met in an extracurricular class more than 20 years ago in Hong Kong. Through Grace, my entire family was led to a Chinese church where I was baptized. I began learning how to serve others by volunteering to help with kitchen service, flower and church decorations, and children’s ministry. I eagerly listened to pastoral sermons and attended Sunday school and church retreats organized by senior church leaders. Spiritually, I was also nurtured by reading spiritual devotionals and doing Bible study.
Praise the Lord! After my husband and I both became committed believers who returned to the bosom of God, I witnessed the acceptance of Christ among my family members one after the other—first, my older brother, my mother and father, then the mother and siblings of my husband. Their accompanying life-changing transformations have strengthened my faith in Christ. Most thankfully, our beloved son Theodore also asked—on his own volition—to receive baptism upon his high school graduation.
Looking back, I see that my unbelief and obstinacies over unanswered questions about Christianity caused me to repeatedly wander away from God. But now I am convinced that our limited human intellect can never resolve all the theological questions before we can believe in God. In the end, it is our willingness to honestly seek for His truth and to obey Him that matters. In my case, Jesus and His teachings made sense only after I accepted Him first and foremost in my heart. That is the key to understanding the Bible and knowing Him personally. When I was willing to open my heart to accept His love first, then I was able to love Him and others in return.