Chen Jing grew up in the suburbs of Beijing. Her parents were members of the Communist party, and she and her siblings were expected to go to college, pursue promising careers, and become successful members of Chinese society. Jing followed the plan, attending medical college and planning a career as a doctor. But then she met Jesus, and he turned everything upside down.
When Jing was in college, she became aware of a foreign couple who taught English on campus. The couple had a dubious reputation; she was told she might want to avoid them because of their strange religious beliefs. But Jing was intrigued by the peace and love she saw in these kind people, and she was curious to know why they were different. “Each time I saw them, they always had a smile. They always said hello to me. I just saw that love, joy, and peace in their lives. I was really attracted by their lives.”
When she needed some advice, she decided to ask her English teachers for input. “They didn’t give me the answer I wanted, but they always gave me some answer that really made me think.” When the couple was getting ready to leave campus (the government watched them closely and required them to move to a new campus every few years) she asked them why their lives were different. They told her about their faith in Jesus, and they introduced her to the Bible.
Jing discovered a group of about fifty Christian students on campus, and she started attending to learn more. After a year of investigating Scripture and considering Jesus, and asking many questions of her fellow students, she embraced the Christian faith. And she discovered that the thought-provoking advice her English teachers had given her had all originated from the Bible.
Around the same time, Jing’s younger sister took a trip to visit their brother in another city. Part of her travel involved a boat ride, and on that ride she used her English skills to help a fellow traveler translate and find his way. This traveler, a Korean man, turned out to be a Christian preacher. After she helped him, he told Jing’s sister about Jesus. When Jing went home for summer holidays, she told her sister what she had heard about Jesus. Her sister told her, “Oh, I heard this too.” She told Jing about the Korean man who had talked about his faith on the boat. When Jing returned to school, she wrote letters to share with her sister what she was learning. And eventually her sister believed in Christ as well.
After graduation, all Jing wanted to do was serve Christ with her life. “I learned medicine, but I had such a passion for God’s Word,” she says. “I knew I could help people with their physical problems, but I saw their heart issues and wanted to help with them.” This meant turning away from her parents’ expectations of success. “I didn’t want to gain the whole world and lose my soul. I decided I probably wouldn’t be a rich person. But even if I did make a lot of money, what would be the use?” Her parents, who had warned her against going astray in college, were devastated.
Instead of pursuing a lucrative medical career, she went to work for a Christian foster home, Shepherd’s Field Children’s Village. This ministry provided care for children with special needs, and Jing helped them find and receive the medical care they needed. When their facility accepted a young girl who had been severely burned, the ministry recognized she needed more sophisticated–and expensive–medical care than they could provide.
From an American visitor, they learned about the free burn care available through Shriner’s Hospitals, and this woman made the necessary connections to the Shriner’s Hospital in Boston. So in 2001 Jing accompanied the girl to the United States and served as her caregiver through treatment. Over Christmas, they visited the woman who had helped connect them to care, in Wichita, Kansas, and stayed with her relatives. Eventually, this family decided to adopt the girl who had been burned.
Jing went back to China, then a few years later returned to the United States to attend seminary. Now she lives in suburban Chicago and works for a Christian ministry, offering counseling and support to Chinese Christians. In her spare time, she leads a women’s Bible study group. That’s where I met her.
Two of Jing’s siblings also live in the United States (including her sister, who is married to a pastor), and six years ago her parents came for an extended visit. After seeing her simple life, so different from what they had envisioned for her, they were drawn to the peace and love they saw in Jing and her friends. And they decided they wanted to follow Christ as well.
If you are tempted to believe Christianity is in decline, please know that many people have stories like Jing’s. If, like me, you’ve been a Christian long enough to remember when China seemed like one of the most unlikely places for an astounding Christian movement, you know God has done something remarkable in that part of the world. And if you believe Christianity is a Western religion, you should know that Christianity has been in China since at least the seventh century, almost as long as it’s been in England. The number of Christians in China grew from 3 million in 1980, to 58 million in 2010. During that entire time, the practice of religion, foreign travel, and exposure to Western ideas have been tightly controlled by the Chinese government. None of us can take responsibility for what has happened in China. It has been, and continues to be, God’s work.
All this remarkable evidence of God’s movement among people is cause for celebration. It’s also reason for humility and for learning from the way Christ reveals himself in and through different cultures. For American Christians it’s easy to feel ownership over Christian belief and practice–we are accustomed to viewing ourselves as cultural exporters. But the Christian faith did not begin with us, nor does it depend on our oversight. There is great hope in a global view of God’s winsome work. And the more we see ourselves as undeserving participants in God’s great work, the more we will be ready to learn what our brothers and sisters around the world can teach us.
© 2017 Amy Simpson.