Monday, October 17, 2011

How to become a Christian in an atheist nation (pt 1)

Growing up to immigrant parents in Canada, my mom and dad would often tell my siblings and me “how lucky you are” not to be born in China.  They were part of the wave that went to North America in the early 1950s.  “China is poor,” they would say.  “There’s not enough food.  There are no nice houses with heating or hot water like here, no separate bedrooms for each one of you.  You go to the washroom outside, in a hole in the ground, and maybe you take a bath once a week.  If you go to school—if you even can—you have to walk for miles to get there.”  To us, it sounded like an awful place to live.

That image was further reinforced later on when I went to Sunday School, where I also learned that China had no religion.  It was said that there were no churches, and Christians were not allowed to gather to worship God freely.  There were no Bibles.  People were tortured for their faith.  I would come across books that wrote of Chinese believers surviving the horrors of persecution, and I couldn’t help but wonder:  How did these people become Christians in an atheist country?  I couldn’t fathom it.

So the personal story of how someone first comes to even hear about Jesus in a place that is not supposed to have Christianity has always been a fascination to me.  Here is one believer’s story.

Brother Z serves full time in a university campus ministry in Zhejiang province, where he recently passed the 30 year old milestone.  He was born and raised in Shanxi province.

When Brother Z was eight years old, not unlike many kids in those days, he regularly played with the other neighborhood children in the hutongs.  The hutongs were where residents from the area socialized with each other and, like every other day, the senior citizens would gather to catch up on the latest news and gossip in their groups of two, three or sometimes more on the sides of the lanes.

One day Brother Z was chasing after his friends in a game, when he happened to catch the gist of a conversation among some of the elderly.  A couple, “like grandpa and grandma”, were in the center of the group sharing the Gospel.  As he was running around he caught more and more of the words the man and woman were speaking to the others.  Eventually Brother Z stopped playing his game, went over to them, and sat down to concentrate fully on listening to them. 

“I can’t remember in detail what they were saying now,” he says, “but it gave me such a strong compulsion that God is real and that I’d found Him.  So I ran back to my home and grabbed my mom to come and listen with me.  When the couple asked, we both accepted Christ right then and there.

“The thing that was impressed on me was that there’s only God.  There’s no one else.  And I knew that was the way I will live my life,” he says.

Their little home had some idols, mostly accumulated after celebrating a traditional festival over the years.  “We would go to the temple on a holiday,” he says, “and mom would just buy some afterwards, kind of like a souvenir.  It was the custom, not really significant to us.”  But after his conversion he went home and started to clear them out.

How did he get the idea to clear out the idols?

“I really don’t know how to explain it,” he answers.  “It’s just that I felt so strongly that God alone was enough.  I only needed Him and nothing else mattered.  I didn’t need anything else.

“When I was in school I was taught that there was no God.  No gods at all,” Brother Z continues to explain.  “So even six months before [becoming a Christian] I felt that belief in God was a trick, a lie.  I had made up my mind that I would not believe in any god.  I would be an atheist.  But on that day—I cannot even remember specifically what those old people shared—“ he says again, “I just knew inside me that there is only God.  There is no one else.  And so the next day I started to clear out the idols.”

In time Brother Z’s brother and father also became believers, after seeing the changes in the lives of the other two family members.

“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?  And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?  And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” asks Paul the apostle in Romans.

You’re never too young and you’re never too old.  And you never know who’s gonna hear.

Read How to become a Christian in an atheist nation (pt 2)

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