CHONGQING, China (Mennonite Mission Network/Mennonite Church Canada Witness) — On December 23, 2007, Lindy* celebrated her birthday.
Not, however, her natural birthday. That comes on August 11.
Rather, two days before this past Christmas, through baptism in the Agape Church of Chongqing, Lindy was born anew.
A 22-year-old senior English major at Chongqing Medical University, Lindy’s baptism illustrates Jesus’s Kingdom parables of seeds growing silently and leaven working invisibly.
Those seeds were first planted by her grandmother’s stories about Jesus when Lindy was seven. Lindy remembers. “‘Jesus loves you,’ she told me.” ‘You can pray when you feel sad and when you are sick.’ And because I liked her, I believed her.”
And Lindy did pray. “I was very sick at my grandmother’s home. I prayed, not knowing if it would work. But when I left her home, I had recovered.”
Today Lindy reflects on those childhood prayers. “I think it was not right to remember Jesus only when I needed him. I think I should always think about him, feel his love, remember his love.”
Growing up in the Chinese countryside, Lindy did not go to church. None was close by. So the seeds of her faith lay dormant until Christmas Eve 2005 when she attended the Agape Church’s Christmas program. Lindy’s English teacher, Julie Bender, had invited students to come along to help several Mennonite Partners in China teachers sing an English carol. Seven volunteered. One was Lindy.
“I enjoyed the joy from Jesus that evening,” Lindy recalls. “I prayed for my friends, for their good study and healthy bodies. After that, I wanted to go to church.”
But Lindy did not return until Christmas Eve, 2006, when Julie again invited students to help sing. And slowly, those early seeds of faith began to sprout.
Last August, a personal crisis led Lindy back to the Agape Church and her first Sunday morning worship service. Afterward, she sought out the pastor.
Lindy recalls their conversation. “’Why did you come to church?’ the pastor asked. I said, ‘I just want to find some peace, some comfort.’ He then asked me whether I believed in God. Before I went to church, I thought believing in God was against science and technology. But now I was finding some people who had education also believed in God.”
Encouraged, Lindy began to attend the church’s Sunday evening worship service. She also joined a young adult musical group that provided music. The commitment was demanding – Friday evening and Sunday afternoon practices, which also included Bible study.
But through her church involvement, a new birth was stirring in Lindy’s heart. “I was getting so much. Jesus was teaching me how to be a good person, how to deal with relationships between people. I was also feeling the love of Christians for each other.”
On December 20, the Agape Church pastor invited persons wishing to be baptized to be present the next week. Rushing to the worship service after her Sunday morning tutoring job, Lindy arrived just in time.
Her voice quickens as she continues her story. “People who wanted to follow Jesus stood in a row. I felt my heart beat fast. I prayed in my heart, ‘Jesus, I know you love me, and I know you love all the people. I want to receive the baptism. I have decided to follow you. Please teach me how to do your will. I want to be a person who is more like you.’”
“Then the pastor baptized me. I was very glad, very happy. He said to us, ‘Today is your birthday. Congratulations!’”
As she embarks on her Christian walk, Lindy faces skeptical family and friends. “I wanted to share my good news with my mother and sister, but they couldn’t accept it,” she notes, with a tinge of regret. And then she quickly adds, “I know that Jesus will also love them.”
Meanwhile, most of her university friends, reflecting their schooling, think Lindy’s Christian faith is foolish.
But in her singing group Lindy finds understanding and fellowship. “I like staying with them. It is a family which is full of love.”
And the key member of her new family is Jesus. “Jesus is love,” Lindy reflects, with conviction. “I often hear this sentence from the pastor. And I can feel that.”
And then Lindy takes out her MP3 player and invites me to listen to her favorite English song. It’s a praise chorus about Jesus. Its title: “Love you so much.”
* Not her real name
Philip and Julie Bender teach English to medical students in Chongqing, China, with support from Mennonite Church Canada Witness in partnership with Mennonite Partners in China. In an e-mail accompanying this story, Phil wrote, “Sometimes people wonder whether teaching English in China has anything to do with being missionaries or ‘witnessing to our faith.’ Well, I think it does... and one way – in addition to our deeds and friendships – is through planting seeds of faith, or, in Lindy's case, nudging and nourishing seeds that someone else has planted.”