I grew up in a traditional Chinese household. My family went to temples and burnt incense.
When I was seven years old, I remember my mother buying pencils from the temple – because it was believed that if I used those pencils in my exams, I would do well.
Growing up observing these traditions and beliefs, the Christian faith was completely foreign to me.
I wouldn’t really call my younger self an atheist. I didn’t believe in the traditions my family followed, but I also had a very negative impression of Christians and the church.
For example, I had Christian relatives who were avid gamblers. They even manipulated my grandfather to alter his will for their financial gain.
My aunt also often complained about the church that invited my cousins to their free Sunday kids programme. Church members ended up asking them to tithe monthly – though they were not even Christians at that time.
My Christian classmate often skipped school and slept in classes. We even copied answers for our homework together – from another Christian!
I reasoned: Going to church didn’t seem to make them any different from me. In fact, I seemed to be doing better than some, if not most of them.
So when my classmate, Fiona, first invited me to her church on a Saturday afternoon in 2008, I quickly turned her down.
Church was really the last place I wanted to be.
I gave her all the excuses I could: “I’m not free. I have CCA. There’s a remedial class happening. I have a family gathering.”
I really didn’t want to go to church to mess up my life. I didn’t want to become like them, like the Christians I’d seen.
Yet, beneath the surface, my life was actually already a mess. Secretly, I was in search of a purpose and looking for hope in my life.
But I was too proud to let anyone know about it.
In April 2009, I came home from school after an exam and found my mother standing anxiously at the gate.
“Your dad … He’s in the ICU,” Mum said.
Dad had suddenly been hospitalised for hypertension.
I’d never been gripped by such fear and worry.
One day, after visiting him in hospital, I was back in my room. That’s when I decided to open up the Bible I had for the first time.
I’d gotten it at a Borders sale earlier that year. I thought there was no harm in finding out a bit more about what my friends believed in, despite my deep skepticism.
Now with my Bible opened, I didn’t know where to begin.
But my eyes soon landed on a verse in 3 John.
“Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.” (3 John 2)
Beloved? That word stood out to me.
I didn’t know it back then, but that night, something changed within me. My heart had started moving towards this God who calls me beloved.
“Want to go to the mall tomorrow?” Fiona, my classmate, asked me.
The year was 2009 and it was Christmas Eve the following day.
I instinctively knew she was inviting me to her church. After all, the services were held at Suntec City. But for some reason I didn’t confront her about my suspicion.
I thought that if I showed up to appease her, she would finally stop inviting me in the future.
So I went. In my mind, I was ready to confirm for myself that church wasn’t for me. I made plans to leave as soon as possible.
I really don’t remember much of what happened during the service, or what songs they sang.
I had first seen the image of the bloodied man when I was 5, in one of those old-school tear-off daily Chinese calendars.
But I remember very clearly the message that was preached that day by the Senior Pastor:
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)
Hearing this, everything started to fall into place for me.
An illustration of the bloodied man nailed to the cross came to my mind. I had first seen it when I was 5, in one of those old-school tear-off daily Chinese calendars.
I recalled asking my mother about the man and why he was on that cross.
“He was nailed to the cross to die. He’s Jesus,” she had said.
The visual of nails piercing through his hands and feet with blood flowing out freely stuck to me for a long, long time.
Now, standing in church, I finally knew why He was there, what it all meant.
Jesus died for me. That was how much He loves me, His beloved.
At the end of the service, when the pastor asked who wanted to receive Jesus into their life, Fiona nudged me and asked if I wanted to.
Without hesitation, I nodded. We went down to the front of the hall together.
All I wanted to do was to run to the Man who had died that painful death for me.
Sometime later, I bumped into a secondary friend on the bus.
She couldn’t hide her surprise when I told her I was on my way to church.
I don’t blame her. After all, I’d been quite vocal about my disapproval towards Christians and the church in the past.
No one around me really understood what motivated this change in me. To this day, I don’t even have the exact words to explain how it all happened.
Every now and then I think about my life before and after 24 December 2009.
When I was 16, many of my peers seemed to know what they wanted to do in life. They knew what they wanted to study in the future.
Meanwhile, I felt purposeless without direction. Life was meaningless. I had no clue why I was alive. My life was a mess.
But nothing in my life today is the same as my life back then.
If I hadn’t received Jesus, I wouldn’t have known that there was so much more to living. I wouldn’t have known Someone whom I can talk to and who knows all of my thoughts.
Nothing in my life today is the same as my life back then.
I believe in God’s love even during times I don’t see or feel it, just like how I believe and know that the Sun is still there and real even when it is not shining.
He is the hope that keeps me going, no matter what I’m living through.
So, if someone ever invites you to church, I urge you to go with an open heart.
Don’t let others tell you what the Christian faith is all about. Instead, go and see for yourself who the bloody man nailed to the cross is.
You may be surprised, as I was years ago.
This is an excerpt of an article that first appeared in Thir.st.
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