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Hospitality That Impacts Generations

wanxin

 

Nearly 250,000 Chinese are participating in universities across the USA. These are the emerging leaders of the most strategic nation in the world, but only ten percent will visit an American home or church during their sojourn here. In the past decade FollowOne has helped mobilize 14 churches and ministries to reach out to this important population. This ministry started in 2002 when Xinxiu, a Chinese Christian, asked Carolyn Loftin to help her teach English to Chinese families in Orlando. As Chinese scholars respond to Christ, they return to serve as very effective marketplace missionaries to their own people.

 

The following testimony is by Wanxin Cheng. Her mother came to Christ as a visiting scholar in Florida. God used a mom’s witness and the hospitality of Christians at Wanxin’s university in America (Harvard) to bring her into God’s family. This is a stunning illustration of the generational impact of providing intentional Christian hospitality to international students.

 

I became a Christian in May 2013, but I had been on a spiritual journey for ten years across two continents.

 

I first heard about the gospel as a middle school student in Chengdu, China. One of my classmates went to an American summer camp and returned as a Christian. He started sharing the gospel to all of his classmates, but I felt angry and harshly accused him of being “corrupted by the capitalist spiritual opium.” We were taught that Christianity is a Western religion, and that it was forced upon China due to its shameful defeat in the Sino-British War. I was already deeply affected by the atheistic, materialistic worldview and the strong nationalistic patriotism heavily embedded in our school curriculum.

 

When my Christian classmate left my social circle after middle school, Christianity seemed to have faded away. But no, it only came back stronger and in a way that would forever stick with me. My mom went to the United States as a visiting scholar in 2008. At first, I was excited about her opportunity to learn from the Americans concerning her research interests in strategic management. Much to my surprise, though, she called my dad and me one day and told us that she decided to become a Christian.

 

“Are you out of your mind?” I shouted over the transpacific phone call. At age seventeen, I felt religion was a mere human invention for weak people who cannot make sense of both the world and themselves. “Mom, you are a tenured business school professor who has a loving husband and pretty excellent daughter. Why do you need religion?” I was convinced that my family and I were strong enough to work hard and determine our own happiness and destiny.

 

Despite my initial annoyance about my mom’s faith, when she came home, I noticed changes in her. She became more patient with and tolerant of my dad, and she was slower to anger. These changes actually saved my parents’ marriage. But I did not want to attribute her behavioral changes to her faith.

 

About this time I began applying to American colleges, a lifelong ambition.  Sensing my stress, my mom offered to pray for me. “Lord, please give my daughter the school that you think fits her the most.” Her prayer amazed me. While other Chinese parents would give their kids a lot of pressure to attend the most prestigious schools, my mom was simply praying for the fittest school for me. I was touched and felt peaceful.

 

Even though my mom had not prayed that I would get into the best school possible, Harvard College admitted me with a full financial package. Harvard admits only about five to seven Chinese high school students every year. My admission thus dropped a bomb in the local news. Everyone asked me, “Why do you think Harvard admitted you?”

 

I was also puzzled! Why did Harvard accept me? Did I have the perfect score? No. Did I have the best resume? No. Am I the child of a powerful family? No. The only rational explanation was, “I got lucky.” Yet I asked myself, ”Was it pure luck?” I recalled my mom’s prayer, and thought, “Maybe this is a miracle.”

 

Even though a miracle did not make me a Christian instantly, it did shake my atheist foundations. I became curious about faith. I began my search for spiritual truth at Harvard. I took some classes in philosophy and East Asian religions because I wanted to learn about every philosophical thought and religion in order to pick a worldview or faith for myself. I intentionally avoided Christianity because my rebellious, or maybe just independent, heart determined not to follow my mother’s path. However, accepting or finding faith is not like shopping for clothes. None of the religions and philosophies I studied resonated with me. They had major metaphysical flaws, incompletions, or ambiguities. I thought choosing a belief would be a highly rational decision, but unsatisfied with the options, I was unable to find a true faith for myself.

 

Just as I was about to look into Christianity, life at Harvard overwhelmed me. It was not the best place to pause and think. I took on an extremely busy schedule. The more I did, the more valuable I felt. Just like any type-A overachiever, I wanted to have it all. I was a science student trying to delve into the field of history, something that is not easy while studying in a second language. I had a very high GPA, received an extremely competitive consulting internship, and co-directed a jazz dance troupe. I was proud of what I achieved, but I was left with no time to continue my spiritual search.

 

I convinced myself that my desire for success was not motivated by material goods, but by the great cause of helping others achieve better lives. Essentially, I was fully embracing the classic Secular Humanism that is so popular in the Ivy League.

 

I couldn't afford to stop my work for some wishy-washy “spiritual exploration.” Did I need to have a faith to teach me how to become a good person? I was already good. But what is the ultimate good? What is the ultimate benchmark of success - Bill Gates, John F. Kennedy, Mark Zuckerberg, or some combination of them all? Who should I be?

 

In the midst of my anxiety, my mom recommended I go to a Bible study. Only one of my friends was open about her Christian identity so I joined her Bible study group. I did not resonate with the Bible at all, however, because I used critical reading skills I to tear apart the text. School continued to be busy and I failed to attend Bible study regularly. I could not get its full context so I gradually stopped going.

 

Jesus says in Luke 14:11, “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled.” God knows how to humble a haughty person like me. Just as I was feeling in control of my future during my junior year, mistakes and life accidents smashed my pride, paused my full-speed advance, and brought me back to China.   

 

Back in Chengdu, I was forced to join my mom’s college student fellowship because I no longer had the excuse, “I am busy studying.” I initially felt like this was such a waste of time. But when I realized that I became calmer and more efficient after going the fellowship, I changed from reluctantly going to actively going.

 

In this Chinese Christian fellowship I witnessed a real truth-seeking attitude. At the beginning, I still misused my critical reading skills to pick out problems with nitty-gritty details and asked very harsh questions during the Bible studies.  Instead of becoming defensive, the Christian students would pause before answering my question. This made me feel like they were taking my questions seriously, even though I was just trying to challenge them. The students spoke to me in tender tones, saying, “I am sorry that I don’t think I have the answer right now. But God’s wisdom is beyond human discernment. I hope you continue to ask these questions, and I will pray that God  will guide you to the answer.”

 

The words “I don’t know” were so foreign to me after years at Harvard.  The skill to voice and argue an opinion often seemed more important than truth.

 

What a humbling experience! I, from the so-called best university in the world, spoke provocatively out of pride. The Chengdu students spoke with humility, hope, and real truth-seeking attitudes. “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.” (Psalm 25:9) God knew humility was the prerequisite for me to receive his gospel.

 

Humbled, I began to patiently listen to my Christian friends’ testimonies. They claimed that they all had experiences of the Holy Spirit touching them. “Why haven’t I experienced such moments?” I wondered.

 

In May 2013, a famous pastor from Taiwan came to Chengdu to preach for a weekend. During the worship, I realized that I held my personal success as an idol in my heart: my academic excellence, my prestigious school and job, and my nobility in caring for people. I felt as if my Achilles’ heel was pierced through. When the dark wound was exposed under the light, it hurt so badly. I wept.

 

Then the pastor called out, “Please feel free to come forward to pray.” I went up and kneeled. I did not know how to pray so I just spoke. “God, you lifted me up so high into Harvard, but I became such a proud person. Please keep humbling me, for when I am full, I am not able to receive you.” I felt a stream of warmth burst out from the bottom of my heart, flow into my veins. It was enormous peace along with a tremendous sense of freedom. Ecstasy I had never felt before.

 

The realization of my weakness and sinfulness did not make me feel condemned, but rather it freed me from my shame. “He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

 

The last barrier to belief was my intellectual stubbornness. I think everyone has questions, even after becoming Christ’s follower. For me, there were probably a hundred questions, but five were so vital and I felt I could not reconcile them.

 

Two weeks later, a business professor from Holy Cross College in America came to our fellowship to share a high level overview of Christianity. In his sharing, he answered all five of my questions. At that moment, I was completely in awe. God had sent someone from the other side of the globe to answer my questions.

 

Looking back, my life story is gradually turning into a God story. As much as I wanted to make my own effort to find and choose my faith, I was merely stumbling down a road in thick smog. I didn’t know true north and I didn’t have a proper compass, ignorant of the right way to think and experience. But God reached out his hands, paved my way, and guided me. Even though he did not blatantly show his face to me, God artfully, carefully, and respectfully let me experience his existence intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.

 

baptism

 

Meeting him is just the beginning. The initial smash of pride just cracked out a fissure. It still takes time and a process to completely put to death my old self formed over the past 23 years. My new self must resurrect with spiritual fruit. 

 

For the rest of my gap year in Chengdu, God challenged my values and transformed me inside out through the Bible and the activities of the student fellowship. The free time enabled me to totally soak in the Bible. And the Holy Spirit even used me, a baby Christian, to help with discipleship trainings. Through fellowship and the scripture, God rooted my faith in him firmly.

 

The biggest transformation was in my values and how I see my relationship with the world. My mom’s fellowship lacked pastors or ministers, but God sent his faithful servants from the United States and South Korea to the group every month. Being bilingual, I was honored to translate for them. Because of this, I quickly became familiar with scripture both in Chinese and English.

 

I was utterly amazed by how gentle and loving these people were. They completely changed my values about who I wanted to become. The deeper I knew them, the stronger the faith I found in them. They were not naïve; nor were they fearless of being hurt. Rather, they knew that suffering in this world is inevitable. It is not about how to avoid being hurt, but how to heal from the wound. Their strong faith in God enables the Holy Spirit to heal them in a short time so that they will not be scared by the hurt, but rather able to continue facing people with the most sincere heart and love.

 

I used to see my values centered in contributions to the world and the judgment of historical recognition. But such values were the things that made me feel overwhelmed. From these faithful servants of God, I realized that who I want to be is no longer a title or a description of achievements, but a faithful follower of Christ with a tender and loving heart towards people.

 

With the firm foundation of faith in Jesus, I excitedly went back to Harvard and graduated. Although I faced even more pressure, tougher expectations, and greater uncertainties looking at the future, I no longer felt lost, overwhelmed, or alone. In fact, the last semester at Harvard was the best semester.

 

With a better understanding of human nature, I was also better at empathizing with and loving my friends with different backgrounds from me. I engaged deeply with different Christian fellowship events. Bible studies helped me continue to deepen my relationship and understanding of God and gave me a safe space to have difficult conversations about life.

 

There can still be frustrations and confusions, but loneliness and anxiety disappeared completely from my life because I know my Shepherd is always with me. And he has a plan for me.

 

God’s plan is mysterious! He exalted me so high that he sent me to Harvard, and yet he brought me back to ground zero in order to save my soul. I am excited to continue to walk with him in this life of grace.

 

 

This testimony was initially written for and published on the China Partnership blog, January 2015.

 

About the author

After graduating from Harvard, Wanxin Cheng began the Human Computer Interaction Certificate Program in the Computer Science department at Tufts University. She is planning to continue in the management/financial consulting area. Academically, she has a passion for the development of Chinese theology and the application of Christian ethics in the Chinese social context. She participates in Highrock Church and Harvard Kennedy School Christian Fellowship. Wanxin plans to stay involved in ministry with Chinese students in the US.

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