While completing her PhD dissertation, Yanqin studied the Bible. Her dissertation topic was Mo Yan’s book Sandalwood Death and the English translation of this work.
Yanqin with her advisor Dr. Stalling in Beijing
Yanqin came to America to work with Chinese Literature Today. During her time in the U.S., Mo Yan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, a timely announcement considering Mo Yan’s work was her chosen study topic.
MY LIFE SKETCH – JIA YANQIN
I’d like to share with you my life before knowing Christ. In Eph.2:1-3, It says:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. Eph. 2:1-3
One year ago, I would never think that I would become a Christian one day. I never went to a Church before I came to America. Although my mother in law is a Christian, but we never got to talk much to each other, not to mention religion. Talking about beliefs, none of my parents and their family are believers of any religion, yet both my parent and grandparents’ family are deeply influenced by a complicated mixture of Buddhism, Daoism, Confucius principle and even Communism like most Chinese used to. Basically it means that my family would takes some parts of this, some of that and make their own norms and principle of life. For example, since my hometown is two hours’ drive from the birthplace of Confucius, our local culture is deeply rooted in Confucius principles. There is a strong sense of hierarchy in our family. Boys are more valued than girls, and women cannot share the same table with men if there are guests coming. And another strong influence is Buddhism. Though we are not truly Buddhist believers, but just like the Christianity in the west, the Buddhist thoughts is deeply embedded in our blood and way of thinking.
For a long time, I believed if you keep doing good deeds, you are going to have rewards. But if you are doing something bad, you are surely going to be punished. We also believe in reincarnation and afterlife. And Daoism does give us some basic yet convincing concept of how the universe runs. We believe that there is a kind of Dao that rule the running of the whole universe. There is a most famous saying in Daoism: “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.” As the saying goes, I never figured it out what the Tao really is, or does it have consciousness or not, or can it hear us or not, although I feel like that is a way or principle that the world or universe follows. Another example is communism belief. This doesn’t mean that they really believe in the ideal utopian society that the Party boasts, but my grandparents indeed are very grateful toward the communist party for they believe they cannot live such a content life without the help from the Party. Surely, there are a lot of conflicts in between each of these beliefs or religion; however, my family does have their own way of selecting parts they like and make their own way of life. Therefore, did you ever wonder if there was a God? I did wonder sometimes, and in the past I did believe the world and universe is run by some kind of powerful force or energy because everything in the universe seems to follow a certain way. So there must be some force in control of all those things, including us. But the thing that I am not sure is whether it is benevolent to us or not? Is it meant to be kind to us or is it just running in a random way regardless of our wills? I guess you can call me a skeptic.
I think in the past because of that skepticism, I always had fear and worry about the future. To deal with that fear and worry, sometimes I try to escape (from my present situation), sometimes I try to control, try the hardest to control everything that I can see. When dealing with a difficult situation, my fear and worry are in the way of my decision making and killing my courage of stepping forward. While some other times, out of fear and worry, I try every chance to take control, only to find out that human are not in control and there are so much unpredictable elements happening. Failure to control gave me a deep sense of despair, desperation and lostness. For example, I believed hard work could bring whatever you want, yet sometimes it didn’t. You are not in total control, rather controlled by others (college entrance exam). What’s more, you feel lost and feel like that I don’t have a purpose in my life. To a lot of people, I am the lucky one, because although I am a female PhD student, yet I have a boyfriend and finally married him. You know, female doctoral students are called the fourth kind in China, and generally not favored by the gentlemen in China. I am doing OK in my research and other works. My husband and my parents love me. But constantly, I feel like I am prisoner of my life and my marriage. I got stuck and was desperate for something fresh. I used to be crazy about all the nice things. When I was not able to get them, I rejected and hated all of them. Yet I am greedy, I always want something more. I was totally lost and followed the crowd. I was lost in other people’s opinions, including my parents, my teachers, my idols, and many people that I admire. I followed their opinion and tried to become the person that they are or they wanted me to be. I cared too much about what other people say about me, how they judge me. I tried hard to become successful in their eyes. Until one day, I feel very tired and frustrated, but cannot find another way to live.
Then I’d like to share with you about how I realized God was speaking to me. As it is quoted in Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” While I was lost and depressed, God brought me to America. As an English major, I always have a deep interest in western culture, and especially curious in finding out the fundamental cultural roots that build up the whole western civilization. So when my friend Sunny invited me to Bible study Friday night, I agreed immediately for the Bible is the very foundation of western culture. I remembered I always have lots of questions or doubt about what’s said in the Bible. For example, what is faith? How to have faith? Some silly ones: what if I don’t want to go to heaven because I love the human world better? While we have such large population now, plus you don’t have reincarnation, is heaven super crowded now? I remember a lot of my questions were offensive, and I am surprised at Bill and Ryan’s great patience in answering them and how convincing their answers are. However, I think the first thing that really touched my heart is the singing on Sunday morning at Church. I still remember the song that day was
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me….
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.
I didn’t know what was happening at that time, but I just couldn’t hold my tears. I think this song sings out my deep yearning that I want to be found, I want to see because I already feel that something is wrong with my life, and I was lost. At the same time, when singing this song, I feel like my yearnings are met and I feel peace and love in my heart. I remember afterwards, I asked Jeri about this experience, she says that it’s Jesus knocking the door of my heart. From that day on, I began to go to the Church every Sunday and go to listen to basic lectures taught by Bill and Jim. Their lectures helped me know much more about God, Jesus and the Bible.
Well, the first time that I began to realize and feel God’s love for me even when I was a non-believer is the time that I was asked to write my life-sketch by my tutor Karen. I really thank God for bringing Karen to me. I met Karen on a girls’ escape to Dallas and we had a nice time together and then she volunteered to tutor me. And the first homework she gave me is the life sketch. I remember that night when I began to think through all the major things happened in my life, I do feel that I am blessed and God loves me. Just that I was blind and couldn’t see his plan. For example, I didn’t get to the ideal college I wanted to go. I had to go to a college that was my second choice. I used to be upset about it for a long time. But without that failure, I would never have the chance to know my husband, and those wonderful friends I have. Also that failure makes me work harder in my college studies. I also want to tell you how I realize I am a sinner? In the past, generally I consider myself a good person. Therefore, sin is a hard concept for me to understand. While, Jim’s lecture on King David one Sunday morning make me realize that I am a sinner, I have sinful behaviors and sinful ideas every day. For example, sometime I am unwilling to trust, be dishonest, easy to fall for temptation, and pursue for vanity. Yet God forgives us, but we have to live in our own consequences, just as King David.
Next, I will share with you about how I became a Christian. In John 5:12-13, it says: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” Till now, I have known God, felt his love and caring for me, and moreover I do know that I am a sinner, but I don’t feel the connection to Jesus. I cannot figure out why the sacrifice he did two thousands years ago can affect us. While I was puzzled, God send Bill and Pam to me. They invited me to have a dinner with them. It’s on that day, May 15, I opened my heart to Jesus, let him be the Lord of my life. I remember I expressed my confusion to them. Why could Jesus’ death give us salvation? They explained who Jesus is, why he is our Savior, and only believed that he died on the cross for us. I remember Pam is illustrating the relationship between me, God and Jesus with a painting. With her illustration, I understand through thousands of years, our sins are separating us from God. But God loves us and sent Jesus to save us. He died on that cross so that we can still know God. Only I have to believe in Jesus. At that time, I suddenly remembered Bill’s lecturing on faith. Faith is not that I point to an airplane and said to the other people, I think the plane is safe. Faith is that I have to get on the plane and prove it is safe. While I believe Jesus is that plane, I am willing to put my faith in him and trust the fact that he died for our sin. Therefore, there in the restaurant (It was Zio near Target), sitting across from Bill and Pam, I prayed out loud like this: “Lord, for a long time, I didn’t really know you. I don’t feel a connection with you. Well, that’s because I was too proud to be saved by someone, that’s because I didn’t realize how deep my sin has blocked me from you. Lord, forgive my pride and blindness, I am willing to surrender to you. And I believe you died on that cross for our sins and revived after three days. And I feel you are in my heart now.
At Last, I’d like to share with you what being a Christian means to me. In Psalm 18, it says:
“Who is a Rock except our God? For it is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect.” [Psalm 18]
In Philippians 4:6-7, it says:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” [Philippians 4:6-7]
From the time that I knew about God to the time that I became a Christian, I do feel things are changing in my life. I feel God has opened my heart to see much more things in my life. The first thing is that I have a purpose in my life now—-to love, serve and glorify God. I admit that my first impulse to believe in God is to gain peace and joy in my own heart. However, after I feel God’s love and care for me all through my life, and what Jesus did for our salvation, I love God deeply and want to be like him, and serve him. The second thing is about the material things. I do have a deep faith that God provide us the things we need. So there is no need to be anxious. The third thing attitude towards death, I have been scared of death since I was little. Because I am always afraid I would never have fun after I died. But as my heart is opened to God, I’m willing to believe that if he can give us such a wonderful fantastic earth, then there is no need to worry about the place we go after death. That would be much more fun! The fourth thing is about values. One reason that I feel so blessed to know Jesus and have faith in him because he changed my values. As I have said, I used to follow the crowds while I was in China. And lots of people I know, especially young generation, are judging people by the cars they are driving, the house they live in, the kind of dress they wear. I used to be one of them. I remember I saw some young Mothers in their thirties in the park near my apartment. I would quickly judge them by the way they dress and make a quick comment that: “Oh my goodness, I don’t wanna be like them one day! ” I realized how shallow I was and I had no idea how content and loving they must have felt about her baby and family. Of course, I couldn’t because I don’t even have the courage to sacrifice a little to be a mom. The fifth thing is that the way I view failure. I feel failure and frustration is part of our life, which is a chance for us to grow and be stronger. As it says in Corinthians 11: 23-12:10, “[God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (Corinthians 11:23-12:10). No one’s life is perfect without failure and frustration.
I know there will be problems and difficulties in my life, and I believe that whenever I encounter problem or challenge, God will show me the way through the Bible. So after I go back to China, I will continue to read the Bible and find some Christian friends that I can discuss and share with and gather together on fixed time. Besides, I will share my whole experience at Trinity with all my friends and family and tell them about God. Of course, I will keep in contact with all you friends here through email or skype. Like Bill said one time, you need to not just see the plane in sky and believe, you have to get on the plane. That shows you really believe! Now I really believe that Jesus is in my heart! Now I’m on the plane and I want Him to use my whole life to serve and glorify God.