Three guests attended the lecture I was giving about Christmas, but none of my students seemed to know who they were so I felt uneasy. They stayed after class to ask more questions, cautiously revealing that they were students at a neighboring school and wanted to hear the Christmas story from me. Students from my university had told them that I was a Christian, and their hunger to hear more about Jesus touched my heart.
One of the three young men was faithful to visit me every week and we would go out for long walks to avoid listening ears. During one of our walks he told me that his mother had esophageal cancer. She had recently undergone radical surgery to remove the cancer cells but the doctor didn’t know about reconstructive surgery, so she had to stay upright all the time to keep the contents of her stomach from spilling. However, the doctor expected her to die because she had been vomiting blood and couldn’t keep anything down. Would I please pray for her? The village he lived in with his family was nearly all Christian and they were praying for her complete healing.
Spring came and I didn’t see Li for a long time. I began to worry about him, and although I continued to pray for his mother, I wondered if he had gone home because of her dying? Then he came one day to tell me that he hadn’t gone home nor had he heard any word about her health. He was finished with exams and planned to go home that weekend. The next day he returned with another young man whom he introduced as his brother who had finally come to the city to bring news of their mother to him. Would I please attend church with them on Sunday morning? It was not my habit to attend Chinese church because I knew I would be watched and those who spoke to me would possibly be questioned. Nevertheless, I accepted the invitation.
Although we arrived at the church compound early, the building was already full, so someone found me a little stool and the three of us sat together outside. Soon there was standing room only even in the courtyard. Li translated what was being said and commented that the pastor was courageous to speak of things forbidden by the government. The congregation sang some songs I knew, but they sang slowly and mournfully in a lower key to better suit their voices. I sang either harmony or an octave higher. Li’s little brother leaned against me, and I sensed his enjoyment.
After the service we ate together and Li translated for his brother who spoke no English. Little Brother thought I sang like an angel. They had kept me in suspense about their mother’s condition until now and I was eager to hear how she was. Little Brother said he had delayed coming to the city because their mother was eating normally and sleeping by lying down at night, normally. The family wanted to be sure that she was actually recovering and not merely rallying before dying. It had been a couple of months now, and she had gained weight and was actually helping with the fieldwork. The two brothers were beside themselves with joy and thanked me for adding my prayers to theirs. This was my first experience with miracles in China, but not my last.
It is possible to buy books in China that relate what Christians believe about Christmas and Easter. They are not accurate but at least the curious can find some information. I have found that explaining how the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus relate to Adam and Eve’s fall really connects with my Chinese students. To them the idea of Adam and Eve being enticed by a talking serpent in the garden seemed ridiculous. Jesus dying on the cross and rising to life again were merely isolated events in western mythology.
Starting with Adam and Eve, I tell how man fell into moral evil (the word “sin” doesn’t translate well) and how God was so sad because of the loss of fellowship with man, the highest of His creatures and made in His likeness. To restore the lost relationship with us, God chose to take the punishment the human race deserved by coming as Jesus to earth. The story takes on meaning for my listeners and they hang on every word. Jesus had to come back from the dead so that we could have everlasting life and victory over moral evil in this life. The students are fascinated to learn that Christians have no fear of displeasing ancestral spirits because we believe that after death one goes to his final resting-place, either with a triumphant Jesus or to everlasting punishment.
“Nobody is roaming around; the punished cannot and the victorious would not.”
“Then what is the point of worshiping and placating ancestors that can’t cause us any trouble?”
“Good question. Come and visit me when we can talk at our leisure.”
Sometimes there are visitors when I tell this story and that makes me uneasy. But I don’t neglect to tell this story both at Christmas and Easter. I write out Isaiah 53: 3-7 by hand and read it aloud. A real Jesus who actually lived in history? This is a new idea to challenge the status quo.
This is a story that bears telling twice a year for it never gets old with the telling. Some teachers say they can’t take time from lessons to go into depth about Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection. Dropping one two-hour lesson from the syllabus is not too much when this is the story of salvation, eternal life and hope – the driving force behind life itself.
These events can be made memorable for the students in many ways. I ask American friends to save American canceled stamps, including the postmarks that show the cities of origin, and give them as gifts. Christian themed stickers are popular, too. Or blank greeting cards that they can use as gifts if they wish. I make enough fudge for each student to get two pieces, and pass them out in class. Or better yet, I have an open house in my decorated apartment and have the homemade fudge ready to serve. We sing Christmas carols in my classes and I explain the meaning of obscure words. Chinese students love to sing. Even when the witness is low key, it will be a lasting memory that will bear fruit (Is.55: 11). There will be students who come privately to ask more questions, so these holidays can be a springboard to deeper discussions.
Jennifer asked how I planned to celebrate Easter so I told her of the foreign teachers’ meeting Sunday morning. She told me that a group of students had tried to enter a church on Easter morning a year ago but the gatekeeper had immediately called the police who drove the students away. I told Jennifer I had chosen to not attend the open church in our city as a mini protest. Jennifer was familiar with the concept of protest from studying western culture but begged me to take her. Surely the gatekeeper would let her in if she were with me. I refused but other foreign teachers did go, with students, but the students were turned away.