Many of you know that I work I teach English at a local Chinese congregation. I want to share with you a story about one of my former students. Note: Name and identifying information changed to protect the identity of the student.
A few years ago a new student, Yan Dong, started began attending the congregation. From the moment I met Yan, I was aware of her need. She was eager to participate but would come up with strange answers to questions, and ask even stranger questions. Worst was when some students laughed at her…
I rarely get involved with interactions between the students, but this was one of those times. I recall after one lesson, giving, as gentle (for me) a rebuke as I possibly could. I was impressed by the immediate reaction of those with whom I talked. They were stricken and immediately apologized to me, and then apologized to Yan. In future lessons, I saw that they worked hard NOT to laugh…
That was easy. But then God put it on my heart to get to know Yan better. He wanted me to truly listen to her, to visit her home, to invite her into my home, and into my life. That was harder. There were so many things I wanted to do. But I knew this was something I had to do. I had to let God stretch me out of my comfort zone.
When I did, He gave me the amazing privilege of walking with a young woman through her hopes, dreams, and then her shattered dreams… and to be the one standing by her side, believing with her for the impossible.
You see, Yan Dong longed to stay in Israel. She had no explanation for this longing, and no theology to back up her belief, but to the depths of her being, now that she was in Israel, she could not reconcile herself to the possibility that she would have to go back to China any time soon.
That was when the Lord reminded me of how much, in the beginning, no one really believed I was supposed to go on my first tour to Israel. Then later, when I made my plans to return to Israel via a volunteer program, no one really understood me when I said, “I’m going to stay.” They all nodded, smiled, and said, “We’ll see you in a year,” when I got on the plane.
There were many people praying for me, but no one really believed I was leaving the US and would stay in Israel. While encouraged by their prayers, it was hard for me. There was so much that I needed to learn, so many ways in which I needed to change…
And so I began to pray for Yan Dong. Gradually I realized that God was asking me to become a part of HIS story in her life. What an amazing thing that the Lord would trust me to be a blessing and a help to another.
“Don’t let me lose my faith”
Hope was a “four-letter” word to Yan. She had struggled with so many failures in her life. Failure to live up to her parent’s expectations, failure in certain academic areas, failure in relationships… I recall a time when she had shared fearfully, “If I ask God to help me keep the faith, will I be able to stay in Israel?”
I explained that there were no guarantees. I did not have absolute clarity on God’s will for my life, let alone hers. She had to be willing to face the reality that she really might have to go back to China.
I can only imagine what it cost her, when later that evening she prayed, “Lord, I know you are good. I know you love me. You know how much I want to stay in Israel. Please Lord, if they say ‘no’ to me, don’t let me lose my faith. I want You, Lord.”
And I prayed with her, for God’s merciful answer and that if it would be pleasing to Him, to please open this door for her. That door opened. God gave her a few more years. She experienced many joyful moments (see featured photo for this post). But her faith was also challenged in every way imaginable, from laying her decisions before Him first, to handling relationships in a Godly manner. She desperately clung to the hope of staying in Israel, but eventually, it was no longer possible.
Her visa was expiring during the pandemic and a brief window of opportunity opened for her to return to China. The Lord encouraged her to return. It was with tears of sorrow that she left, and I have to admit, I started to miss her long rambling phone calls.
Then, the calls began again. Her faith was challenged more than ever. Her family refused to accept that she would not consider dating anyone who was not a believer in Jesus. They despised her work because, although she loved it, she wasn’t working for a big company and making a lot of money. More than ever she longed for what she couldn’t have… to be back in Israel. We prayed, shared, and talked. But I’ll be honest, no matter how much she credits me with having helped her, I know who really helped her… Jesus Himself!
Now, more than a year later, I received a wonderful letter from Yan around Mother’s Day.
Yan wrote, “Isn’t it also wonderful where I am now? I am in a wonderful congregation with Biblical doctrines and loving believers where I can be fed well with spiritual food and refreshing snacks for my soul. My job is wonderful with a stable salary, a beautiful environment and a flexible schedule where I can learn critical thinking, creative thinking, and systematic thinking, and build teaching/office skills. My neighborhood is wonderful with hospitable families and Israeli friends…”
The battle is worth the victory
As I think of Yan Dong, I can only rejoice. Her battle seemed to last forever, but I see victory in the letter she wrote to me. Jesus answered her desperate prayer of so many years ago, “Don’t let me lose my faith. I want You, Lord.”
Yan Dong’s story is far from over. But this chapter of her story begins and ends with hope—not hope to live in Israel—but hope in the Living God who is a loving father, a kind friend, and the lover of our souls.
Yan Dong’s story encouraged me in so many ways. That God could use me, as weak as I am, to be an encouragement to her. In so doing, I’ve been reminded to keep my hope in Jesus as well, not so much in what He will DO, but in HIM, trusting that what He allows really has been, is, and will be for my best. I’ve been reminded that God is the God of hope in the most daunting of circumstances.
I pray that Yan’s story will encourage you. No matter what challenge you are facing, may you find that hoping in Jesus helps in bearing every kind of answer to prayer, whether He answers with a yes, a no, or a wait—He loves you.
I recently reread a couple of old classics, Hinds Feet in High Place and Mountain of Spices by Hannah Hurnard. I was reminded of how terribly afraid I was when I first came to faith… and of how faithful the Lord is.
I’ve also been reminded that fear continues to be something I struggle with–even fear of losing faith! Like Yan Dong, the unknown, or the dark future we draw in our minds, makes moving ahead seem impossible. But when we yield to our Good Shepherd, He moves us from fear to renewed hope and is able to work through us in ways we never dreamed possible. But getting there means that when our faith is challenged, when we feel like giving up hope, we continue clinging to Jesus, knowing that in the end, nothing compares with Him.
As Simon Peter said, “Lord, where else can we go? You alone have the words of life.”
With that in mind, I hope you’ll enjoy this song by the group Forever Be Sure: Where Would We Go?