Six Shots: A Life Transformed
By Zhao Ai-guo*
After I came to the States, my life became a total failure: the company I started closed down; the restaurant I opened was destroyed; I was robbed working as a deliveryman; I had nowhere to go and only a spring mattress to sleep on every night; I suffered from a disease that was hard to cure and could be fatal; I did odd jobs for a restaurant to make a living (and who would’ve thought!) got shot by my colleague, an old Vietnamese veteran. My life hung in the balance; my wife left me; my family was no more. Could there be a worse tragedy in life than this?
Who would think that back in China, I had been a kind of “success story”? At the mere age of 35, I had become a lieutenant colonel, and in the 90s, that was really something. A man of status, people waited on me and followed me. But then, what the world called the “American dream” proved to be an absolute nightmare for me.
Shot Six Times and Calling Out to God
Ever since I was young, my motto had been that I was the only person who could bring good fortune to the human race. My “success” in China proved this motto true for me. Notions like “relying on God” or “believing in Jesus” were but jokes to me.
In 1991, my ex-wife went to the States as a visiting scholar. A woman of vision, she thought we would have a better future there than in China. I also had dreams of my own, and her words were like a guiding light, shedding light on my path ahead. Without a care in the world, I resigned my position, despite the many who persuaded me to stay, and flew to Pennsylvania to build a new home and life.
A saying goes: “Dreamy be your dreams, reality remains realistic.” Starting a new life was exciting and joyful, but we still had to confront the realities of how to make a living. With her wages, my ex-wife was shouldering the costs of rent, food, and commute. As a man, I could not rely on my wife to make a living for me. But how could I provide for my family? I could not speak English and did not have any special life skill. Physical labor was the only thing I could offer. So, I went to work as a deliveryman for a Chinese restaurant.
After a few years, we saved up some money and started our own restaurant. But making money was not as easy as we imagined. When a fire occurred in the restaurant, we were forced to close it down. During this time, people from the church would invite us to go to services. I did go—not to worship God—just to meet with my countrymen, eat Chinese food, and learn English. I had no time for what I deemed superstitions, and there was no way I would “believe in Jesus.”
Under the stress of making a living, I became disillusioned. I had given up a life that was envied by everyday folk in China to come to the States. I worked hard every day, never slacking off. I had gone from living the life of the upper class in China, to this almost refugee-like state of having nothing at all. Why did “relying on myself” work in China but not in the States? Would I be a loser for life? I did not want to accept it, but what could I do? Argument became the language between my ex-wife and me. We both thought ourselves exceptional, and we both felt let down. Eventually, our marriage broke apart.
In 1996, I found a job at a large-scale restaurant. Many colleagues were from Southeast Asia. One of them was a Vietnamese veteran that fought in the Sino-Vietnamese War. After he learned that I was once a Chinese soldier, he hated me and picked on me all the time. He never found it in himself to treat me with kindness. Then one day, this Vietnamese deliberately made fun of me again, and I had had enough. I rebutted him, never thinking that he would pull out a gun and shoot me. There was a kitchen cabinet between us. He shot me six times in my abdomen, leaving 11 holes in my body. One bullet did not go through and was stuck inside me. My intestines were shattered, blood gushed everywhere, and nothing could stop the bleeding. By the time the ambulance arrived and rushed me to the hospital, I was feeling cold. With my life hanging in the balance, I thought of the God that the pastor and the brothers and sisters from church had told me about. In my desperation, I knew He was my only salvation. I prayed, “God, if you do exist, please save me!” More than 10 hours later, I came to my senses. How amazing! A life as hopeless as mine was saved! I immediately felt it in me: “God is real!” I had not been wanting God, but God answered my call. “I call on the Lord in my distress, and he answers me” (Psalm 120:1). I became a believer in the Bible then: “My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me” (Psalm 31:15).
In Poverty and Dejection Comes the Salvation of Jesus
After being resuscitated in the hospital, I returned to China for recovery. A Chinese saying goes: “One is bound for good fortune after surviving a great disaster.” After the disaster, I had no difficulty in believing in the existence of God. Yet, I still knew next to nothing about this God that saved my life. During my almost seven years in the States, many Americans and Chinese had told me the gospel. They said that we were all sinners in need of salvation and believing in Jesus Christ would give me eternal life. In China, I had heard nothing about salvation and eternal life during the education I previously received. However, in America, both American and Chinese Christians left me with the same lasting impression: their love for others. The people who came to talk to me at church were all very kind. The grannies would talk to me with a kind smile, without a hint of arrogance. They looked like they lived in peace and joy. They willingly helped me whenever I needed it, never asking for anything in return. Their Christ-like character and way of navigating the world were something I had never experienced before.
Although the life of these Christians led me to see that believing in Christ was a good thing and would fill people with love and kindness, I never believed in the existence of heaven and hell. Ever since I was young, I had received an atheistic education, so it was totally unacceptable for me to admit that I was a sinner, or that I would go to hell if I did not believe in Jesus. Yet, when I was shot and almost dying, I thought not of any ideal or belief but of the gospel that the Christians told me about: “When you face adversity in life, and no one is coming to your rescue, no one is going to help you, only God can save you. God not only can save your body, but your soul as well.” When my life was endangered, I called out to God, and my life was saved. This is an undeniable fact, something that I firmly believed was true.
After half a year of recuperation in China, I returned to the States without a penny. In my sorry state, I could only afford to stay in a most stripped-down basement, living from day to day. I forgot when it started, but someone next door was singing loudly every day. The voice was loud and sounded merry. It annoyed me to death. One day, I couldn’t help myself and knocked on the door and shouted, “What’s your problem? Stop singing every day; it’s really annoying!” As blunt as I was, the person did not get mad but told me gleefully: “I am singing songs of praise to the Lord.” When he mentioned the Lord, my heart was touched. It turned out the man was a pastor from Taiwan who had come to the States to pursue a doctor of psychology degree. This pastor was immensely wise, and step by step he led me to learn more about the Bible and prayer, and brought me to church. He was truly the angel sent from God to guide me in learning about the Creator of the world, the Lord of salvation. At that time, I dedicated my whole being to reading the Bible, praying, attending church services, and learning more about this God who gave me a second chance at life.
The Bible says: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). God’s standard of glory is unattainable. As sinners, we fall short of the glory of God. Gradually, the Holy Spirit guided me to see my true self as a sinner. Although to the world, I had attained success at a young age, I had also lied, was proud, did things against my conscience, was always criticizing, had a bad temper with my wife, and was arrogant and strict with people. These were all true of me. I confessed, “Lord, I truly am a sinner. I need the blood of Jesus Christ to wash me clean.”
A lot of Chinese people respect heroes for being highborn and dying with glory—not trembling in the face of death. But death is not the end. “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). The true meaning of life lies not in a belief system, but in having a living relationship with Jehovah our God, the Creator of mankind. When we lead our lives according to the way He shows us, then we are following Jesus Christ. When we leave this world, we will enter into the glory of God for eternity. The life of a Christian is filled with hope and meaning.
Following Jesus Christ, Blessed by God Beyond Measure
When I was recovering from my wounds in China, I met my wife, a virtuous and capable woman. We both found faith after we came to the States. When we were looking for a suitable church, my wife happened across a sermon of Pastor Zhang Boli online and really enjoyed it. For a year, we attended the Sunday service of Pastor Zhang Boli’s church, even though it was a journey of almost five hours there and back. As I matured as a Christian, God called me to preach, so I went to seminary to equip myself. Today, I enjoy a loving relationship with my wife, have a beautiful family, and am well-respected in the local Chinese community. My three children are all Christians—graduates from business school and medical school—who go on overseas missionary trips with me.
When I relied on myself, I lost it all. When I rely on Jesus, my blessings overflow—for this life and for all eternity.