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2. My Encounter with God

Chapter 2

My Encounter With God

A daring and foolhardy act

Afew of us began to hold secret meetings to discuss ways of getting out of China. We decided that two persons (I being one of them) would travel south to find a way out of China, and then inform the others of the escape route.

My partner and I did something daring and foolhardy. We boarded a train to Guangzhou, and there we tried to look for a guide who, for money, would show us a path to cross the border. But we could not find one. In fact many guides were caught by communist soldiers disguised as refugees, and were executed as a public warning. So we decided to go on to Shenzhen without a guide and to cross the border during the night, knowing well that we were risking our lives.

Though we were not religious, I had a strange feeling on the night be­fore we left for Shenzhen: my sixth sense told me that we were head­ing for trouble. My partner felt it too. We were not sure how seriously we were to take this premonition. I was aware from ancient Chinese re­cords that spiritual perception is important in warfare be­cause man has a spirit with the potential to sense spiritual things. (The Bible also says that man has a spirit.) But we didn’t understand this principle very well and dismissed the whole matter as a funny feeling.

The next day we set out for Shenzhen. When the train arrived, we knew that our fate was sealed. That part of Shenzhen was everywhere surrounded by barbed wires and guarded by soldiers. The passengers disembarked and started taking out their passes. We tried to follow the crowd that was head­ing for Hong Kong. Most of them had passes for Hong Kong, but we did not. We walked away from the crowd and took a path towards a village. We had gone only a short distance when we saw, in front of us, a man and a young boy surrounded by three or four soldiers checking their papers. We tried to slip past the soldiers while they were busy, but one of them saw us and called us back. When we could not produce our passes, they started frisking us. Unfortunately for me, I was carrying a hunting knife in case I needed it for self-defense. He held the menac­ing-looking stainless steel knife to my face and asked me what it was for. I told him it was for cutting watermelons! Obviously he didn’t believe my story. We were arrested and marched off to prison together with the man and the little boy.

The jail was a small house surrounded by one heavy barricade after another. As we were approaching the prison, I was studying every de­tail of the surroundings in order to plan an escape. From afar I could already see the faces of people peeking out from behind the thick bars. Soldiers were positioned everywhere. From the way they moved and handled their guns, I could tell that they were trained veterans. We were locked inside the prison compound, and there we waited and waited for the officer-in-command to decide what to do with us. The hours dragged on like eternity. Some prison­ers were whispering among themselves, saying that we were likely to be shot.

My encounter with God


When a person is confronted with death, it makes him wise and sensit­ive to spiritual things. I sat there saying to myself, “I’m still young, yet this looks like the end of the road for me. All my dreams, my ambit­ions, and my hopes are finished. My parents won’t even know what has happened to me.” I thought to myself, “What is life all about? What are we living for?” I was getting a bit desperate. Then I told myself, “Well, I’m not going to sit idle! If I’m going to die, I’ll die fighting! I’ll take out a few soldiers before they shoot me dead!” So I began to study the movements of one soldier to see how I could snatch the gun from him.

Suddenly a bird flew over my head. I looked up into the blue sky and wondered if there was a God up there. Does God exist? Many believe in God for emotional reasons, but what if there really is a God? If so, then I had made the biggest miscalculation of my life. How can I know if God exists or not? Well, here is my chance to see if He can save me.

I knew I had no claim on God; I wasn’t even a Christian. I used to think that Christians are weak and foolish. A church elder once talked to me about Christianity, and I had a delightful time demolish­ing his argu­ments. His inability to defend his case was, to me, a con­firmation of my view that Christians are emotionally and intellectual­ly weak. It also proved to me that God doesn’t exist. But I was mistak­en. The elder’s failure to defend his case doesn’t mean that there is no case to defend. I realized that it was I, not the elder, who was the fool after all. In the end, what had my pride and self-confidence accomplished for me? Here I was sitting on this stone, waiting for my life to come to a humiliating end.

I looked up and wondered how one could come to know God. But I felt that God wouldn’t want to talk to me because of the way I had mocked Christians. Perhaps I shouldn’t even try to pray. But I also came to the con­clusion that the only way to know someone is to talk with him. This principle of life applies to man; surely it applies equally to God. When you talk to God and God talks to you, you have come to know Him. So I said to myself, “I’ve got to start somewhere. If God exists, presumably He will answer me when I talk to Him.”

I was knocking on heaven’s door. I didn’t even know how to pray. But knowing that I had to be honest with God, I prayed, “O God, if You are there, if You are the living God, if You are real, if You truly exist, I come now before You asking You to take me out of prison. If You don’t save me, I may be dead by tomorrow. Yes, I’m ashamed that I have to call on You while I’m in this mess. I also know that I can’t be saved on my own terms. Therefore, if You will take me out of prison and save my life, I will know that You are the living God, and I will serve You and live for You all the days of my life.”

I felt that if God did exist, it must be wonderful to know Him and serve Him. Now you can see why I said at the beginning of my testim­ony that my becoming a Christian is insep­arable from my serving God. At the very moment I came to God, I had already pledged to serve Him for the rest of my life.

After that prayer, I sat down not knowing what to expect. Then some­thing happened. I sensed heaven opening. I was standing in the presence of God! Though I was not seeking experiences, I knew God was there all around me. In Zechariah 2:5, Yahweh God says, “I will be a wall of fire around her, and I will be the glory in her midst.” That was exactly my experience even though I didn’t know of this verse at the time. There was such joy in my heart that I thought I was going crazy. I was so ecstatic that I wanted to jump up and down. I had never felt anything like this; it was like getting drunk.

I can understand the feeling at Pentecost. The apostles were filled with so much joy that others thought they were drunk. My face must have been beaming with radiant joy because my partner who was arrested with me asked me why I was smiling. Shall I tell him I had just met with God? Not knowing what to say, I simply told him that everything will be all right. He retorted, “What do you mean all right?! We’re going to be shot!” But the more I told him that every­thing will be all right, the angrier he became. He was shouting louder and louder until one of the soldiers said, “Quiet! You’re not allowed to talk!”

That encounter with God was so deep that I knew a miracle had happened. I started to ask myself what this experience could mean. It could mean only one thing: God was telling me He had answered my prayer and will take me out of prison! As I was pondering on this, Commander Li came back with the man who was arrested with the little boy. He had just finished interrogat­ing him. A soldier opened the prison door, pushed the man in, and slammed the door. This man, perhaps in his forties, had committed no crime as serious as mine; he was not carrying a weapon; he was even accom­panied by a young boy. Was I too bold to think that God would release me from prison?

Interrogation

I was called in for interrogation. The officer led me to a room that was empty except for a stool at one corner (where I was told to sit), and a desk and a chair at the other corner (where the officer sat). I wanted to sit closer to him, even face-to-face, and so I picked up the stool and walked towards him. He pulled out his gun and ordered me to return to my corner.

He asked me many questions: What was I doing? Did I belong to any secret organization? Why was I trying to enter Hong Kong?

I replied, “Who in his right mind would enter Hong Kong? I only wanted to earn a living in Shenzhen because life had been hard for me.” He said, “Let me ask you point blank: If I give you a chance to go to Hong Kong, would you go?” I said, “If that’s the way you ask the question, yes, I would accept your offer. But what’s your point?”

He took down several pages of notes. When he had finished, he or­dered me to put my fingerprint on the papers. I told him I will not do it unless I am allowed to read my own confession. But he refused to let me read it. So I said, “I’m signing my own death warrant, right?” He said, “It’s up to you. Do you want to put your finger­print or not?”

I was in a no-win situation; either way I was going to be shot. So I put my fingerprint on it, and was taken out of the room. Then he called in my friend and said to him, “Your friend has confessed to everything. Here’s the confess­ion. Read it!” After my friend had read it, he turned pale. He said, “What? You confessed to all this?” Our doom was sealed. To this day I still do not know exactly what I had “confessed” to. That is why I am wary when I hear of a so-called “confess­ion” allegedly made by a church leader in China.

I do know a few general things about my confession. My friend told me that I had confessed to mem­bership in a secret organization, and that I had done this and that. What I was alleged to have com­mitted was enough to shoot me three times over! We could do nothing except to wait for them to shoot us. I had already ratified the confess­ion with my fingerprint. I started to wonder how God was going to answer my prayer and take me out of prison.

Night came and still we hadn’t been given any food. At one point the officer came by, and I thought my hour had come. But he only wanted to lock us in a small room for the night. The next morning he took us back into the prison yard, and again we sat there on that same stone, waiting and waiting. In the afternoon, the officer called me in and said to me, “Listen. I’m not going to lock you up or shoot you. I will take you to the railway station and put you on a train. Get out of here. Go back to Guang­zhou and don’t ever come back here without a permit.” I asked myself, “Did something happen during the night? Why would he release me after going through the trouble of getting a confess­ion out of me? Is this a trick?”

He marched me off to the railway station and put me on a train. When I arrived in Guangzhou, there were no soldiers waiting for me. I said to myself, “Hey! This is for real! I’m free! What happened?” To this day, I still don’t know what had happened. I have lived under the commun­ist New China for seven years and I know that they are not given to mercy or kindness. God must have done something to this command­ing officer during that night.

More than that, he didn’t even record this incident in my police book. When you travel in China, you have to carry a little book with you that keeps track of your movements. If you travel from Shanghai to Guang­zhou, for example, you have to inform the police of your trip after your arrival. My little police book should have recorded that I was carry­ing a dangerous weapon, that I had entered a restricted zone in Shen­zhen without a permit, that I was arrested, that I had confessed to crimes punishable by death or, at least, hard labor. The absence of any such statement was all the more amazing because the officer must have kept a record of the incident in his own files in Shenzhen; yet he recorded nothing in my police book. If he had, I wouldn’t be standing here before you today. I wouldn’t be able to get out of China because I would have been blacklisted as an anti-revolutionary. This was my first exper­ience of a miracle.

Down to the gutter

After returning to Shanghai, I ran into a problem: I had to keep my promise to serve God all the days of my life. I was really stuck. Had I promised too much? Maybe I should have promised something less—like attending church every Sunday for the rest of my life! Maybe the whole incident was just a coincidence. Maybe there was a human explan­­ation for my release from prison. Even so, it wouldn’t have been any less a miracle.

Life in Shanghai was getting harder and harder for me. It was getting very cold. I had no idea where my parents were. I was running out of money. My friends deserted me because they were afraid that I might borrow from them. In no time at all, I had lost all my friends except the son of a floor sweeper. In my former days of prosperity, I accepted him as my friend because he was a nice guy. But my father was embar­rassed that I was associating with this son of an uneducated working-class fellow. In the end, it was he who proved to be my only faithful friend. He allowed me to stay in a storage room so that I wouldn’t have to sleep outside. I was getting poorer and poorer. I sold my watch and all my possessions to get some food. This helped me to survive another month or two.

God was dealing with me. He had brought me from the heights of position and privilege right down to the gutter—literally the gutter because I had to wash up at the outdoor tap where people washed their cars. I could not wash my clothes because I had no change of clothes. My white shirt was turning yellow. I was experiencing the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

My next encounter with God

When my worldly friends forsook me, I began to wonder what Christ­ians were like. I took a long walk to a church without the faintest idea of what I might encounter there. God, in His amazing timing, had ar­ranged for my arrival to coincide with a church meeting. I knocked on the door, and who opens the door but the church elder I used to ridicule! He recognized me and said, “Eric! Please come in!” He was so warm and kind that I sensed something different about these Christ­ians. I could not understand why they harbored no bitterness against me for the way I used to mock them. At first I enjoyed their kindness but soon I was getting suspicious. Were they trying to con­vert me with ulterior motives? But I soon realized that even if they did convert me, what could they get from a man who had no money or possessions?

As Christmas was approaching, a woman in the church said to me, “If you have nothing to do on Christmas day, please come to my place for tea with the church family.”

Her invitation made me suspicious. But being a man familiar with hunger, I found her invitation almost irresistible. When Christmas day came, I was struggling for the whole afternoon trying to decide whe­ther to go or not. It was not until it was getting dark that I had decided to go. I arrived so late that all the guests were leaving. I felt embarrassed and said, “Sorry for being late. I’ll leave right now.” But this woman entreated me to come in. Everyone else had left except a brother named Henry Choi.

Henry was a Cantonese who had lived in Shanghai for a long time. He was a brilliant research chemist who had formulated many things, including special ink and photographic chemicals which China could not produce at the time. As soon as I started talking with Henry, I sensed something diff­erent about him; there was a certain spiritual quality about him. He began to talk about God and how God was real to him. But thinking that his motive was to convert me, I gradually switched off and stopped listening. He was talking and I was day­dreaming. Suddenly a powerful conviction struck my heart as I had never experienced before. In one flash, the Spirit of God was convict­ing me of my pride. More than that, God reminded me of the promise I had made to Him in the prison yard. So strong was the con­viction that I realized it was a question of the truth. Once again I had met with God.

While Henry was talking, I said, “Stop!” That took him by sur­prise and he asked me if he had said something wrong. I said, “No, I want to accept God right now! What must I do?”

He said, “Kneel together with me. God is the King of kings and Lord of lords, so you must come to Him in humility.”

When we knelt, I asked him what to do next. He said, “We’ll pray together. Pray from your heart.” I asked him how to pray. He said, “Simply tell God what’s in your heart. Confess your sins and thank Him for His mercy and saving love.” When I started to pray, I felt the whole place shaking. Everything in the room was becoming bright as if some­one had switched on the floodlights. I am basically an unemot­ional person, so I was puzzled that everything was shak­ing all over the place. There I committed my life to God. Something profound had happened to me; my whole life was changed; God had come into my life. That was the beginning of my long walk with Him.

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church