Having been born and raised in China, I had no exposure to religion at all, yet the concept of God was still present in my life through people’s words and actions. I believe that when we use common Chinese idioms such as “人在做天在看,” which means that God sees every act of man, or celebrate traditional festivals with rituals, we express our natural desire to acknowledge and praise God. Therefore, I’ve always believed in the existence of God. However, due to many reasons whatsoever, my relationship with God was superficial, limited to praying for good grades or the health of my family when necessary and so my perception of Him was always shrouded in mystery and holiness, viewed through a blurry filter. It wasn’t until I came to the US for college that I truly had the opportunity to get to know Him. Everything began to change when I had my first encounter with Christ during a makenew Friday event. I still remembered how confused I was when a man called Tim started preaching on Zoom while I was sitting in the GA common room trying to figure out what language he was speaking in. Having never read a single word of the Bible or knowing who Jesus was or what Christianity was all about, I had absolutely zero idea of what Tim was talking about. When people laugh, I laugh. When people started to pray, I mimicked the way they pray. Yet, it was this event that kickstarted my long journey to finding God. Thankfully, my brief stint as a super extroverted outgoing freshman allowed to meet so many people here, including the makenew guys, who ultimately became my path to Jesus Christ.
Since then, God has become a bit more tangible in my life. Before, God felt distant and inaccessible, like a star in the night sky that was too far away to see clearly. However, now I can see God’s presence and messages in my life, like a star with a gentle light that shines on me. I believe that it is God’s plan to draw me closer to Him through makenew, a community that has greatly helped me grow in my faith. During my first semester at Duke, I surprisingly attended every makenew Friday event, where I enjoyed meals, spent time with others, and listened to messages that challenged me to reflect on my life and the question of God. I spoke with many people at makenew, asking about their faith. Even though I was not a believer at the time, their kindness, faithfulness, and openness to discuss and defend their beliefs greatly encouraged me. I was intrigued to learn more about Christianity and why this lovely group of people put all their trust in it. That’s when I started to do CTPT with Joey and Andy, which gave me a more comprehensive understanding of what Christianity is all about. Although I don’t remember probably anything from CTPT, I do recall having many debates about the nature of the universe, sin, debt, and the afterlife. These discussions helped reshape my view of the world and myself, step by step, even we never successfully reached an agreement on anything.
After CTPT, we began reading the Bible from Mark, which gave me a deeper understanding of who Jesus is and what kind of man he was. Initially, I approached the Bible as a collection of stories and anecdotes, almost like fairy tales or SAT readings. However, as Matthew 17 says, faith can start as small as a mustard seed. The parables in the Bible and the stories of Jesus all became those small seeds planted in me. Gradually, I began taking them seriously and putting myself in the shoes of the characters in those stories, through which, the seed of faith began to grow. The Bible becomes not only a history but also a present reality that I can find traces of in every part of my life. Am I like the son who left his father’s house and eventually returned? Am I like the Pharisees, who claimed to know the truth and righteousness? Am I like the blind man who was healed by Jesus? Or am I like the one who sentenced Jesus to die on the cross? Admittedly, at first, I found some of these concepts bizarre since I had no prior knowledge of Christianity or its history. However, through the discussions and teachings, all of these ideas began to take root in my mind, like seeds that eventually blossomed into a deeper understanding of who God is. I believe that this newfound understanding was a revelation from God, guiding me closer to Him and helping me to see Him in a new light.
So far, my journey of getting to know God and Jesus Christ from ground zero has been a joyful experience, almost like taking a Christianity 101 course without any homework or grading or obligations afterward. However, as I approached a critical juncture that demanded a serious decision about how I wanted to spend my life, I found myself resisting and rejecting Him. I convinced myself that the God I was learning about was not the one I wanted, and therefore I should not accept Him. One particular point that I struggled with was understanding why I was a sinner. I took pride in the way I treated others, always showing gratitude and humility, being polite, easygoing, and bringing positivity to those around me. I thought to myself, how could I possibly be a sinner? However, my perception changed when especially I read Matthew 5:38, which states, “But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” I’ve been questioning my ability to follow the principles laid out in the Bible, which Jesus exemplified throughout His life. Through reading the bible, I realized that examining myself wasn’t just about my outward actions, but also my inner desires. I reflected on how I dealt with my sinful thoughts, including lust, pride, and judgment towards others. This introspection made me suddenly aware of my own sinful nature and how much I need Jesus’ forgiveness. It’s in these moments of self-reflection that I see the powerful connection between God’s word and my daily life. The more I understand and apply these principles, the more I find myself turning to God and seeking His grace. I’m humbled by the realization that Jesus bore all of our sins and sacrificed Himself for us on the cross. These revelations have led me to repentance and a deeper appreciation for God’s immense love and mercy.
However, when the time came for me to make a decision, I found myself hesitating once again. Despite my desire to understand God fully before committing, it was eventually my fear of losing my pride and facing the truth that prevented me from accepting salvation. I was reminded of the blue and red pill dilemma in movie The Matrix. While it seemed obvious to take the blue pill and accept reality, I found myself desperately wanting to take the red pill and return to the comfortable falsehood of my old life. Accepting the truth was much harder than I had anticipated. I struggled to acknowledge the fact that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, simply because I hadn’t witnessed it with my own eyes. Similarly, while it was true that I was a sinner in need of salvation, I found it difficult to confront this reality and chose to remain in ignorance. In truth, becoming a Christian was my path to a closer relationship with God and a return to my heavenly father’s embrace. Despite this, I was hesitant to take the first step. It’s like someone constantly telling me that drinking Coke five bottles a day is bad for my health, and I know it deep down, but I continue to do it because I’m not feeling the negative effects at this moment.
It was July 14th, 2022, a hot and humid night on the Onslow balcony with so many mosquitos around me. I found myself engaged in a series of deep conversations with Joey, Andy, and Jmac. These conversations gave me the ultimate encouragement I needed to take a leap of faith. As my Christian brothers hugged me, I was overwhelmed with a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation for the power of the church. It is through the church that I have found a true embodiment of the spirit of Christ, bringing me closer to God. I have come to understand that I could never have made this transformation on my own. It is the unwavering support of the makenew community that has helped me every step of the way. I cannot express enough how grateful I am to all the makenew people who have been there for me, praying and caring for me.
Since that fateful night, my life has not been one of fulfilled desires, but of a new beginning of struggles under the loving guidance of Jesus Christ. I have come to realize that my journey with Him is not one of easy sailing, but rather a continuous process of learning, growing, and struggling. Reflecting back on my journey, I recall how I first came to know God during times of prosperity, only to reject Him when faced with hardship. However, with the help of the church and my Christian brothers, I experienced incredible spiritual growth under God’s divine plan. I deeply know my journey is not complete and I view it as a continuous loop of struggles, sins, and spiritual enlightenment. I am deeply aware that I will continue to face challenges and stumble on my journey. However, I now face them with a strong and unshakable faith in Jesus Christ. Through Him, I feel the immense love and grace of God. Despite the struggles and sins I have experienced and repented for on this earth, I find peace in the assurance that I will ultimately be reunited with God.
Lastly, I want to encourage any friends who are in a similar stage to where I was to be open and brave to receiving God’s message and grace. Remember, your relationship with God is a sacred one, shared only between you and Him. When you take that step, God will know.