My Encounter With God
The testimony in Chapters 1, 2, 3, was given
in 1985, in Melbourne, Australia
A Daring and Foolhardy Act
A few 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 go 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 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 felt something very strange on the night before we left for Shenzhen. My sixth sense told me that we were heading for trouble. My partner also felt the same thing. 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 there, we knew that our fate was sealed. 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 towards Hong Kong. Most of them had passes for Hong Kong, but we did not. So we left the crowd and took the path going towards a village. We had gone only a short distance when we saw, in front of us, a man and a little boy surrounded by three or four soldiers checking their papers. We tried to slip past the soldiers in the midst of their busyness, 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 they were well-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 thinking to myself, “Though I’m still very young, this looks like the end of the road for me. All my dreams, all my ambitions, all 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 with me 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 really exist? Many undoubtedly believe in God for emotional reasons, but what if there really is a God? If so, I have made the biggest miscalculation of my life. How can I know whether God exists or not? Well, here is my chance to see if He can save me or not.
I knew I had no claim on God; I was not 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 belief that Christians are emotionally and intellectually weak. It also proved to me that God does not exist. But I was mistaken. The elder’s failure to defend his case did not mean that there was 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 a person could come to know God. But I felt that God wouldn’t even talk to me because of the way I had mocked the Christians. Perhaps I shouldn’t even try to pray. But I also came to the conclusion that the only way to know a person is to talk to him. This principle of life applies to man; surely it must apply to God too. 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 would 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 might 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 to 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. The moment I came to God, I had already pledged to serve Him 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 any experiences, I knew God was there all around me. In Zech.2:5, Yahweh 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 was unaware of this verse at that 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 the other people 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. Should 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! While 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, committed no crime as serious as mine; he carried no weapon; he was even accompanied by a little boy. Was I too bold to think that God would release me from prison?
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 want to go to Hong Kong? I only wanted to earn some money in Shenzhen because life has 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 how you are going to phrase the question, yes, I’d 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 would not do it unless I was allowed to read my own confession. But he refused to let me read it. So I said to him, “I’m signing my own death warrant, right?”
He said, “It’s really up to you. Do you want to put your fingerprint on it or not?”
I was in a no-win situation; either way I was going to be shot. So I put my fingerprint on it. I was taken out of the room. Then he called in my friend and said to him, “Your friend has confessed 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 always cautious when I hear of so-called “confessions” allegedly made by church leaders in China.
My friend told me that I had confessed to membership in a secret organization, and that I had done this and done that. What I was alleged to have committed was enough to shoot me three times over! We could do nothing more 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 the 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’m going to 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 from me? Is this a trick?”
He marched me off to the railway station and put me on a train. When I arrived at 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 happened. I have lived under the Communists’ New China for seven years and I know their dealings are not given to mercy or kindness. God must have done something to this commanding officer during that night.
More than that, the officer didn’t even record this incident in my police book. When you travel in China, you must carry a little book that keeps track of your movements. If you travel from Shanghai to Guangzhou, for instance, you would 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 forbidden 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 be 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 very 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 brought me from the heights of power and position 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, arranged for my arrival to coincide with a church meeting. I knocked on the door, and who opens the door but the church elder whom 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 a bit suspicious. Were they trying to convert me with ulterior motives? I later realized, however, that even if they convert me, what could they get from a man who had no money or possessions?
As Christmas was approaching, a lady 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 aroused my suspicions. But now being a person acquainted 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 finally decided to go. I arrived so late that by that time all the guests were leaving. I felt embarrassed and said to them, “Sorry for being late. I’ll leave right now.” But this lady was entreating me to come in. Everyone had gone home except this lady and a brother, 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 that 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 sensing that his motive was to convert me, I gradually switched off and stopped listening to him. He was talking and I was daydreaming. Suddenly a very powerful conviction came into 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 still talking, I said, “Stop!” That took him by surprise and he asked if he had said something wrong. I said, “No, I want to accept God right now! What must I do?”
He said, “Kneel down together with me. God is King of kings and Lord of lords, so you must come to Him in humility.”
When we knelt down, 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 became very bright as if somebody had switched on the floodlights. I was basically an unemotional person, so I was wondering why 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