A young woman from China, raised an atheist, shares her testimony of how she came to know God through faith and reason, a process that helps her minister to Australian youths today.
This is the story of how I came to find my identity in Christ.
Everyone has a different upbringing, but mine was probably very different from yours. I never left China for the first twenty-something years of my life.
Steeped in Study
This is what it looked like at the high school where I studied (though the photograph is not of my actual high school). It catered for students from Years 10-12, and it had over 3,000 students at the time.
This is one of the main classroom buildings. As you probably know, schooling in China is very different from here. We had to have an external exam at the end of Year 6 and Year 9, and you need to get the best possible grades to get into the best middle school and high school in the area.
My high school was regarded as “the best” in the area, among a population of over 6 million. So you can imagine that by the time my classmates and I got there, we were a very purpose-driven and hard-working bunch. All we were gearing up for was the final Year 12 exam, the single exam that would decide which university we could go to.
We all lived on campus to maximise our study time. Every morning, we started the day with two laps of running around the oval at 6:15am (it was believed that physical exercise can keep your body and mind strong) and we got to the classrooms by 7:00am. Then we had a full day of seven lessons, followed by three self-study sessions in the evening from 7:00pm-9:00pm. Lights were out by 10:00pm so we could have enough sleep to face another day of battle.
With a school life like that, I had no time to think about anything such as my identity. It was only after I got into university, that I suddenly felt lost. I was given the impression by my parents, my teachers, and everything around me that once you are in a good university, everything is going to be fine, and good, and happy ever after. But when I got there, everything was not fine, not good, and far from happy ever after.
I started to be bothered by these big questions that I’d never had time to think about before:
What now? What am I going to do for the rest of my life? What is life, what is the world, who am I and where am I going?
Like many Chinese young people at that point in life, the foundation of my worldview was evolution and atheism, as we were educated. One of our core subjects at school, all through Year 1-12, was called “Thoughts and Politics”, which conveyed these ideas:
Evolution is the one and only scientific truth that explains human existence. The universe and everything, including humans, came into being without a purpose, namely randomly, and our consciousness is a mere reflection of the objective reality.
There is no soul, no spirit — they are just fictions. Religions are just human creations of the ignorant olden ages with the absence of science. Political rulers used them as means of oppression and thought control.
For my undergraduate degree, I studied Chinese Language and Literature. As a part of my study, I encountered the work of many renowned writers and philosophers, from both China and the West: Confucius, Laozi, Zhuangzi, Hegel, Nietzsche, Foucault, etc.
I found that their theories were all pointing me in one direction: Life is meaningless. Our coming into being is random, our endpoint is vanity, and the process among random and vanity is meaningless.
With a realisation like this, I sunk into a hole of despair. There was where God found me.
In the last semester of my university in China, I met some American teachers who were teaching the students majoring in English. It was only later I found out that they were Christians and they had to sign a contract promising not to preach to students in their roles.
But they were allowed to answer the students’ questions if the students approached them. They put pictures of Jesus and Bible verses up on their walls; I saw them and started to wonder: “Who is this person?” I saw this portrait of a man with a dusty face and a crown of thrones, with tears on his face.
“That’s Jesus,” the American teachers answered.
Jesus, I thought to myself: wasn’t he that naked body that was always appearing on a cross?
Apparently, he was nailed to it and sentenced to death.
“Why is he crying? Is it because he was hurt?” I pointed at the thorns in his head.
“No. He was crying for us,” the teachers said.
That struck me. Crying for us? Why does he cry for us? Shouldn’t he be more worried for himself?
“So you believe in a God?” I asked, with confusion and curiosity.
“Yes, we do,” the teachers replied.
I had read the story of Creation as one of the great ancient myths, so I had some idea about what this “God” was, I thought to myself.
So I asked: “So… you believe that God made us out of clay? And you don’t believe in evolution?”
“No, we don’t believe that we came from monkeys,” they said. “Evolution is just one of the theories that try to explain why we are here. There are still many questions that Evolution can’t explain.”
My mind was blown away. So such people still exist! Who are well-educated and intellectual, and young, and still believe in a God! Isn’t it just superstitions? Isn’t it a political tool for mind-control and oppression? Now in hindsight, it’s interesting for me to see the irony of these questions that I asked, being in a communist-indoctrinated mindset myself at the time.
But that was the point when I started to question my worldview. And as soon as I started asking questions, I soon realised that there are unanswered questions, or holes, in the Evolution theory.
For example, if all creatures were all just equally evolved from some protein matters or a single cell, why is there only one species of human? When we look at other animals, there are such tightly connected chains from simpler to more complex biological forms — why is there such a great leap between humans and other animals, which enables humans to completely dominate other animals?
And how about morality and free will? When we look at nature, we only see the strong eating the weak, acting out of instinct, not free will. Why do humans, and only humans, have the free will to empathise with the weak, act drastically against one’s instinct or desire, and make choices that are actually against nature? There is more, but I’m not going to keep talking about Evolution. I would love to have a chat over a cup of tea with anyone who is interested in these things.
Journey of Surrender
Of course, I didn’t just transform from an atheist to a Christian overnight. It actually took four years from that point for me to finally submit myself to the Christian faith. I was stubborn, but God never gave up on me.
I still can’t comprehend how God could create Adam out of clay but the important thing is that I’ve come to realise that if He is God and I’m His creature, there would be no way for me to fully understand how He does things.
C.S. Lewis once made a comparison of the relationship between God and us with the relationship between Hamlet and Shakespeare. There would be no way for Hamlet to ever find out anything about Shakespeare, unless Shakespeare reveal himself to Hamlet, by writing himself into the play, the world of Hamlet.
But God did a lot more than that. He didn’t just write Himself into our world through becoming Jesus — He came and suffered our suffering, bared our sins, and died on a cross for us. Just so that we, who otherwise would have no way to comprehend Him, could start to get to know Him.
What I found interesting is, since I started teaching Christian Living and had the opportunity to talk to Australian youth about what they believe, I found that their understanding about the world is quite similar to what I had when I was an atheist, despite them living in a place where there is freedom of speech and religion.
I’m grateful to have the experiences that I had in my youth, so I can empathise with these young people, challenge their thinking, and encourage them to wrestle with some of these most difficult questions in life.
Dear Heavenly Father, we thank You for our church,
which was built on Jesus Christ as our Cornerstone.
We thank You for the opportunity to be a part of so many young people’s lives,
and to be witnesses of Your grace and love for them.
Please help us to be brave and live out our identity of being Your children,
so more people will see the differences between You and the world,
and so they can be drawn towards You and come to know You.
We pray this is Jesus’ name, Amen.