Rural conversion stories

Mr Liu, 43 year old doctor (surgeon)

When did you become a Christian and how did it happen?

My story is probably a little different from others. I had a colleague who was a Christian. Everyone knew that she was a Christian but at that time I did not know what it meant. I asked her what she did as a Christian and what she believed and she invited me to come along to the church to see for myself.

I came along with her, to the youth group on a Friday night, not really knowing what to expect or what kind of people I would be meeting there. I very much enjoyed listening to the stories that were told and discussed and to the songs that were sung. I didn’t really understand much at first but I enjoyed it and continued going along, not every week but regularly.

It took time for me to really understand what was going on and to really understand the stories that were being told. During the first year or so I would rarely if ever come to church on a Sunday. I did like to hear the stories though and slowly started to think about them more and try to understand them better.

During this time my life was a mess. I didn’t think that I could live up to the good standards of other people’s lives. I was gambling a lot. I was playing mahjong and cards all the time and was severely in debt. I was listening to the Gospel stories and someone gave me a Bible which I started to read. I liked the stories but kept coming back to one thing. Did Jesus really come back from the dead? I felt that I needed an answer to this question and read and read all I could and asked lots of questions. Often I did not get very satisfactory answers but I knew that this was a significant thing – for me the most important thing.

I looked at the Bible and saw that many of the disciples had followed him during his lifetime but on the cross they had left him. They came back though and they went out to preach and many of then preached even in the face of death. I thought about it more and more and thought that even those who had been with Jesus had doubted him especially as he faced death but then they saw him again and they were changed - they believed in him so much as the Son of God after that, that they would risk dying for him. They knew he was true, that all he had said was true and for them it was worth risking everything for.

Suddenly, I realised that it was not just a story but that it was true and that, if it was true, then there could be no half measures. In 1997, when I started coming along to the youth group, I would have said that I had accepted that there was a Christ but it was only 2 years later that I truly believed and received him into my life.

Things changed but I was a [Communist] Party member and things were complicated and to become baptised was something that would not be acceptable by my work unit. It would have meant big trouble in my work life and for my family, especially as my wife works at the same place as me.

In 2001, I was asked to go to Hangzhou for a 6 month period for work. I realised that it would be possible for me to be baptised at a church there and for it to have little repercussion on my work life. While I was in Hangzhou, I went to a young peoples group and signed up for a 1 month baptism class. The classes were good preparation but what was interesting was what happened after I was baptised. It was like I was a new person.

My belief was totally different after the baptism. I was totally immersed and as I came out I felt like a new person. I had had no purpose before. All of my energy had been spent on gambling but I gave up gambling and it made a big impression on everyone. Suddenly there was no interest there at all for me. I could hear the clatter of mah-jong tiles but was not interested in playing, even for fun. Also I had smoked too much but now stopped that too.

Despite these changes, I felt that I was just an average Christian and that I would just attend church and do what was necessary to help out when asked. Slowly this change has continued.

Some quite large changes happened last year. I needed a lung operation. It should have been pretty standard and should have not been a complicated thing. Many people from church were praying for me before I went into hospital and I was not overly concerned. I had a good surgeon from Shanghai come and do the operation. The trouble was it did not go as well as expected and I was bedridden for 3 months.

It was the first time in my life that I could not do anything. But God used the time well. I had time to read the Bible and to think about my life. I realised how my faith was everything to me. That meant that I had to be honest about my faith in everything. I had to tell people that I was a Christian and not keep it quiet. Once I had recovered fully, I went to see my boss to say that I was a baptised Christian. He thought I was mad to say it and said that if I insisted on having faith then that was fine, but I needed to keep quiet about it and just go on work as before. But I said that I could not do that because I was a Party member and so needed to be clear. Reluctantly he told me to speak to the Party secretary, which I did.

Lots of people at the hospital know that I am a Christian and are amazed that I have changed so much. Someone came back to the hospital after having been away for a couple of years and they said that I had changed so much that they barely recognised me. She meant it as a compliment, but there have been some hard things as a result of becoming a Christian.

My wife is not a Christian yet, and she feels I spend too much time at church and not enough time trying to earn bonuses from overtime at work. We can argue a lot about it. I have invited her to come to church with me, but she doesn’t want to come.

Compared to the gambling and debt, it is not a big problem, but it makes me sad that there is still tension between us. I was going to become even more involved in church work but my minister and church elders told me that my duty had to be to my family also, and they are right. So I spend time between the church, my family and my work. Things can be very busy but I feel very blessed.

How are you involved in the church?

I am a part time volunteer. Last year I decided to do more with the church, but wife who is not a Christian is feeling left out. As such, after discussion with a visiting minister, I will now be putting family at the centre and working at church when I have time. I am involved in running a young peoples’ group on a Friday night, I sing in the choir when people are needed to make up the numbers. I am a Sunday school teacher (for middle school students, although I have no prior teaching experience, or much experience with that age group). I would like to continue with all these activities.

What reasons do you think there are for local church growth/deline?

The numbers change because of people’s working patterns and because of duties and responsibilities at home etc. Not everyone is able to get to church every week, but this does not mean that they do not want to come. Equally some people come to church to see their friends or to see what the church is like and they have not yet believed.

We have lots of people coming to the church to find out what it is like and many say that they would like to join. This is a big challenge to us as we only have one minister and we do not have enough lay workers to follow up each individual. Sometimes the lay workers we have are not able to come to church because we have jobs outside of the church. We do not have the time to follow up on everything and make sure that newcomers are OK and see if they would like to come back again the following week.

Personal contact and welcome is very important in China but we need to be careful because, of course, there are also some people who do not like it if we call them up. They either have pressure from others at home to not attend or they feel pressured by us into coming back and then feel badly towards the church. We do not want that to happen.

Many young people are coming to church because they have been asked along by their friends. I help out with the youth group and can see that for many they come just because they are interested or because they think that they might see a foreigner if they come to church. Some are interested in coming to the youth group but not to coming to church on a Sunday. This often changes over time and we let them take time to come. If they are interested in coming then we encourage them to do so, if they are not then we leave them to come in their own time.

Some young people come because they have family members who are believers and they want to see what it is like for themselves. They are often surprised as it is very different in the city to their small churches at home. There are lots of things that and activities that are on and they enjoy that.

What changes have there been in local society in recent years?

There have been many changes. Lots of people are moving to the larger cities or the coastal areas for work. Things are less stable than in the past. The last 18 months there have been several closures of factories and that has made people very worried about their own job security.

Has this affected people’s beliefs?

It has made them question what they can rely on and have made things more unstable. There are more people coming to church but there are also more people going to temples. I think that people who go to temples are not always believers though – they are superstitious and go there to get good fortune.

Many people like me have had their faith in the Party shaken as it is not able to provide all the things that it used to. I joined the Party because I was committed to changing things but things have become very corrupt. I myself did wrong – wasting my time and energies on things that were not helpful. Now there is little reliable in the world and so people are turning to the church and to the Bible to get answers.

 

hand holding a Chinese Bible
© Churches Together in Britain and Ireland 2010