A Chinese student finds answers in an unexpected place
by Ken Anderson
Ah Leng stepped off the bus at Zhong Shan 5 and hesitated. A line of trucks and taxis passed. In Guangzhou, as in all of China’s cities, drivers of motor vehicles paid almost no attention to pedestrians.
“Da Ma Zhan is a very narrow street,” Wu San, his friend in the chemistry laboratory at the university had told him, “not wide enough for automobiles. You will enter through a small gate.”
Ah Leng slowed his pace, and there it was: residence unit 35. Even if he had missed the small number, Ah Leng would have found the house, because from the floor above street level and the floor above that, he heard the melody of many voices.
The lyrics and the music stirred in the student a strange feeling. Confucius had once said, “Poetry arouses, music is our crown.” What might the venerated one have said if he had heard the singing of these Christians? How strange for Ah Leng to think such thoughts – Ah Leng, a student of the late 1980s – a scientist, materialist, and atheist.
Pressing tightly against the stairway wall, Ah Leng reached the top and came into a narrow corridor packed tightly with more people – some on a narrow bench, most on stools the size of bicycle seats. An elegant woman dressed in peasant trousers and a plain mandarin jacket looked up at him and smiled. For a moment he wondered if he had seen her among the faculty at a campus convocation. Next to her a man, most likely her husband, studied some mimeographed notes so intently that he didn’t notice Ah Leng.
A college-aged girl stepped out from an adjoining doorway. Her appearance drew Ah Leng’s attention to her and to a small room where over a hundred people crowded into a space meant for fifty people. The girl was attractive, with curious, wise eyes. She wore student clothing and had a braided pigtail hanging to the middle of her back. She smiled warmly as if they had met before, although they had not.
“You visit us for the first time,” she whispered, not as a question but as a greeting. “We have closed-circuit video at this lower level, as you can see, but perhaps you wish to go upstairs. Many students have come again tonight.”
Ah Leng sensed the clutch of destiny on his heart. More than merely curious, he felt strangely pleased to have come. When he reached the top of the stairs, he saw the muk si, the pastor of whom Wu San had spoken so enthusiastically, Lin Xiangao1. He sang out above the others, his voice enhanced by the microphone at the podium.
Although the pastor was less than five-and-a-half-feet tall and very thin, Ah Leng was attracted by the man’s warm and resonant voice, his air of benign authority. He reminded Ah Leng of one of his favorite professors, a man who taught social philosophy at the university.
The God Who Lives was the subject of the evening lecture. What a strange topic in a nation committed to atheism and to a god who exists only in test tubes and observable formulae! Were this many people interested in such a topic?
The God Who Lives! A chill touched Ah Leng’s spine. When Wu San had spoken to him about God in their few conversations on campus, Ah Leng had not seriously considered the reality of such a deity. But in the midst of all of these joyful people, Ah Leng began to think that perhaps Wu San’s God was real.
Ah Leng glanced through the eight half-pages of notes, folded like a small brochure:
1. Internal Doubt Should Not Look for External Evidences.
2. God Becomes Real When Faith Becomes Real.
3. Life’s Surest Realities Belong Exclusively to God’s Children.
4. Faith in a True and Living God Is the Right of Every Human Being.
He was eager for the muk si to begin his address.
People sat across the full front of the small platform, leaving only enough room for the speaker to stand. His podium rested on a base down among the audience.
“You call this a church building?” he whispered to the young man beside him.
“A house church,” the young man replied. “I have heard it spoken of as the largest house church in China. It is surely the best known. This building has been Pastor Lamb’s1 residence for many years.”
That night Ah Leng’s mind was open to options. He had never experienced anything like this before. He knew people who went to temples, but they never expressed the kind of joy he saw in the rooms at Da Ma Zhan. He had heard priests before, but none expressed his beliefs with the kind of authority that this muk si exuded.
“The Bible tells us, ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23),’” the pastor continued. “You can’t be rid of doubt until you are rid of sin. You can’t find faith until you find righteousness.”
Ah Leng contrasted these words with those one of his professors had used: “Mankind’s notions of religion are dead and must be buried. We must dispose of a corpse, no matter how sentimental our feelings may have been toward the illusion we think of as life.”
“It is one thing to experience natural doubt,” the pastor continued. “God honors honest inquiry. ‘Test everything,’ the Bible warns us. ‘Hold on to the good.’ If you have that kind of doubt, there is hope for you. But young people whose minds are programmed to doubt come to us. For over 20 years in prison, I experienced much of that kind of input. But God stood guard over my mind. Not once did my faith waver! Not so much as once!”
Twenty years in prison? Wu San had said nothing of this.
Ah Leng became suspicious. Were these words an introduction to anti-government teaching? And were these people subversives, camouflaged by the veneer of religion? Had Wu San tricked him into coming to 35 Da Ma Zhan?
Ah Leng’s older sister once had been in the Red Guard, which resulted in much distress and disillusionment for her. None of that for him. Never.
But the pastor went on. “When our sovereign Creator designed us, He left us- in the words of one French philosopher – with a God-shaped vacuum inside … Hebrews 11 tells us that ‘faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.’ Truth disbelieved does not denote error. Faith rejected does not validate doubt. In his Word, God gives us specific procedures for rising out of the pit of doubt onto the certain sure ground of living faith. We find the key in Romans 10:7.”
Half aloud, Ah Leng spoke to the young man next to him: “Are you a Christian?”
“For three months now,” the young man replied. “Do you wish to become one?”
“I’m not sure.”
“There will be discussion groups at the end of the meeting. Such a group assisted me. I could help you if you wish me to.”
Ah Leng sat silently for several minutes. The sermon continued, but as he contemplated the young man’s offer, he did not hear it….
So it was that Ah Leng, the student, the disillusioned and inquiring one, became numbered with that ever-growing throng of China’s young people who came to havens such as 35 Da Ma Zhan and found the meaning and light that had so long evaded them.
1 Lin Xiangao’s English name is Samuel Lamb.
Taken from Bold as a Lamb, by Ken Anderson. Copyright © 1991 by Ken Anderson. Used by permission of Zondervan, Publishing House. This book is available at your local bookstore or by calling (800) 727-3480.
Lin Xiangao, known in English as Samuel Lamb, is perhaps China’s best-known housechurch leader.