Undercover, Until Further Notice
Because it is too dangerous to meet publicly for church, the thirty-nine of us had to make due with an undercover worship service in a small hotel room. If one of us started to pray too loud, we turned on the television or the shower to drown out the sound of our worship. If caught in a church service, it meant certain punishment—either deportation back to the States or possibly imprisonment. A communist government such as China’s can do almost anything if they deem it necessary. As we worshipped, I could feel the demonic strongholds that have gripped this portion of the world for centuries too long. We spent our Sunday evening in Beijing in strict but reverent secrecy.
For as long as I can remember, the Orient has intrigued and mesmerized me, from the newest ninja LEGO set all the way to its rich and intricate history and diverse language. It is a world where the past continuously engages with the present, constantly reminding the Asians where they have been and leading them to where they will go. Even though the Asian continent overflows with modern commerce and business trends, it still preserves the customs of its ancestors.
Over the years, missionaries have come to my church, and if I had to identify anyone in particular that has touched my life, I could not. Beginning in my early teens, with each message given and burden shared, I would feel my spirit deeply resonating within me; their passion and fervor unfailingly held me captive. I initially allocated this emotional response to the intentions these missionaries inspired in the moment, but as time has progressed, I realized that God had implanted this inescapable drawing to this culture within me. God was, in fact, giving me His heart for China, teaching me how to love and care unconditionally for the lost souls in this area of the world.
Despite this obvious calling though, I staggered through the majority of my teenage years. For a dark and endless abyss of depression took hold and ravaged my entire being. This destructive force bound to my spirit affected me on every level—socially, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I would search for and summon happiness through various means, but behind every door I opened, I found myself lonelier and more isolated than before. I was slipping through the fingers of purpose and opportunity. I began questioning everything I ever believed in or thought to be truth. Life had lost its appeal, for it had become an empty, endless cycle of mechanical gestures and meaningless relationship. I had become unlovable. Thankfully and providentially, this downward spiral took an upward turn in the summer of 2007.
It was a smoldering afternoon in early August at the North American Youth Congress in Charlotte, North Carolina. As I sat in the service in my usual apathetic and detached daze, the words “Opportunity to go to China” broke through the murky cloud of my indifference. The words instantly pierced through the darkness, and I was fully aware for the first time in a long time. Clarity of mind abounded until doubt, which soon crept its way to the doorstep of my heart, started knocking. It reminded me of my past and reasoned that God’s holiness and majesty had no business using the likes of me. This disillusioned state lasted less than two minutes, however, for a familiar but long-absent voice of authority spoke powerfully and undeniably directly to my mind and spirit. I felt God not only assuring me but charging me to go on this trip. When the service ended, I rummaged through the crowd until I found the Apostolic Youth Corps (AYC) booth. When I picked up that application, I picked up, not only a couple of pieces of paper, but I picked up my future. I picked up a renewed sense of purpose and belonging. That afternoon, I took my first steps out of the quicksand of depression in which had swallowed me up for so long.
There were many applicants for this trip, and my chances looked slim-to-none. Impervious to the odds, I turned in an application and soon after received a letter congratulating me on my acceptance to the trip to Beijing. Joy sprung up in me like an old friend. I was going to China! Despite my excitement, I remembered this trip would cost almost $3,000, and I wondered where I would get the money to fund the journey. The time came to make Faith Promise pledges at my church; I pledged to give twenty dollars a month. For a sixteen-year-old without a job and a mission’s trip costing ten times this amount, such a commitment would prove an impossible task. Nevertheless, less than two months later, I started my very first job. Miraculously, with the help of God’s providential hand, my trip to China was completely paid for before I even left the country. God had made a way where there was no way.
Stepping off the plane in Beijing was like stepping into a fictional book that my dreams had written. Only three things even now keep me from believing that those ten days were only a dream: my photos and souvenirs of the trip, my lasting friendships with those with whom I share this life-changing experience, and the ever-present burden which unrelentingly beats inside my heart and which only intensified and deepened the moment my feet touched China’s communistic soil.
God moved in astounding ways among us during the trip. Because of the government’s close surveillance of Beijing’s resident pastor’s communications and movements, I was unable to attend any Chinese underground church services. We soon found out, though, that God did not need a church service to move, for we visited a children’s hospital, which had never before been done by a group of foreigners; we were able to give gifts and pray for over one hundred Chinese children. We raised over five hundred U.S. dollars to buy every child a McDonald’s meal, which none of them had ever before tasted. I was humbled by their excited gratefulness of something I so casually take for granted.
After returning to the United States, I realized life stops for no one, no matter how many times you ask it to. I was a member of the graduating class of 2009, and my whole life stood undeniably before me. I knew one wrong decision would change the positive direction my life had started to take. I began college at Miami University in August and in the early spring, heard of a possible study abroad program based in China. I went to a lunch to find out more, and God placed me right next to three of the four deans over Miami University. With the understanding that the trip would last six month’s time and cost of tuition would remain the same, I pursued the program, another possible dream come true. The opportunity was, indeed, an amazing one, but obstacles soon arose, for Miami would only accept eight out of over twenty-five applicants to go. Since I was only a freshman with no credits, my chances of making this trip were once again slim. Nevertheless, in faith I signed up. I tried to dull the high hopes I felt so that if I was not accepted I would not feel too disappointed. I received an email on a Tuesday in October, expecting to see “thank-you-for-applying-maybe next-time sentiments, but I read the exact opposite. The first word I read sent a shockwave through my body: congratulations. I had been accepted again! My whole life had just been taken on a rollercoaster with what seemed like no end. My amazement was unspeakable. How could I have ever doubted God and His providence? I will be leaving in the middle of February 2010 to a world where my every step will have to be orchestrated by God, and not myself.
Only a couple months before I even learned of this program, I had increased my Faith Promise by 500 percent. My second excursion to the Far East will equate the cost of approximately six months of living—close to $10,000. Amazingly, my school is paying for almost the entire trip. How did this happen? I am still asking myself this question. I do know that if you give your life and your talents to God, He will take you places that will blow your mind and your reality. I also know that He will abundantly supply all your needs according to His riches and glory.
I am a fourth-generation missionary, but my feet are the first to touch a foreign land. God has a peculiar way of bringing meaning out of hollow realities. God has taken what used to be a hopeless and doubtful existence and has transformed it giving it substance, one filled to the brim with purpose and overflowing with His providence. I am undercover, through Him, until further notice.