I'm not going to assume the reader has any type of context, so I will attempt to explain everything from scratch. Often times, the people that we surround ourselves with think alike, which unfortunately leads us to being trapped in an echo chamber, where we keep hearing the same ideas over and over until we are convinced that any concept or anyone that disagrees with what we believe cannot possibly be right.
This is my promise to you: that I will unequivocally define testimony without assuming what you know or what you don't know. If you've been a Christian your entire life, you may already have some context about the meaning of a Christian's testimony. If you've never heard of Christ before, I welcome you to hear me out and form your own opinion after you've read this. I aim to write this to be impactful to both audiences. (Please do comment down below if I didn't accomplish this so I can know why and improve in the future.)
I'll try to keep my definition of testimony brief, but if you want to get straight to my testimony, feel free to skip down to "A Brief Background".
What's A Testimony?
According to the almighty search engine Google, here are 4 different definitions:
1: (noun) a formal written or spoken statement, especially one given in the court of law
2: (noun) evidence or proof provided by the existence or appearance of something
3: (noun) a public accounting of a religious conversation or experience
4: (noun) (archaic) a solemn protest or declaration
Simply put, from a secular perspective, a testimony is where a witness states their version of what they believe to be true. In the courts of law when judges try to decide how to rule a case, they evaluate many aspects, such as footage, forensics, etc. If things come down to it, they will also hear witnesses give their testimony.
However, social scientists did a study and believe that the accuracy of eyewitnesses in criminal cases can be questionable. Psychology is so hard because we truly don't know how the mind works, and it can play tricks on us, which leads people to distrust what others say. It may even lead to people distrusting their own experiences, their own memories.
I'm not a psychology expert, a law expert, nor am I a Biblical scholar. But my point is that science doesn't yet have a confirmed stance on the accuracy of testimonies. That's because as great as science is (I'm an engineer so I would consider myself a pretty logical person), science's limitation is that it can only verify repeatable phenomenons.
But what if an event is unrepeatable? Do we discount it as false? What if it actually happened to that person? Perhaps there is a way to explain it through science, if you stretch it out far enough. But even if there's not (I don't know of a way yet), the person who received that experience certainly cannot deny it happened to them.
Therefore, my definition of testimony is this:
My personal experience that leads me to conclusions that I find undeniable.
More precisely, I will be giving my testimony of how I became a Christian and why I believe Jesus to be my Lord and savior.
Why I'm Publishing My Testimony
A motive is the cause that moves people to induce a certain action. – Wikipedia
Humans are selfish by nature. They won't do anything unless there's motive, or something to gain.
I openly admit that this is the case for me as well. But what do I have to gain by sharing my testimony?
In my mind, I have received something that I deem to be free and so good that I simply must pass it along. The only reason that I received this is due to others sharing their testimonies with me, and now I feel it would be selfish for me to keep it to myself.
But wait, didn't I just say that I'm selfish? That last paragraph made me sound selfless. My selfish reason, therefore, is to have readers enjoy the same goodness that I have received. I'm being selfish by wanting others to experience the same amount of joy that I do in my life. I'm being selfish by wanting others to have purpose in life, just like how I've went from not having a purpose to having a purpose. I'm being selfish because I want to love others just like how Jesus loved me. And so on.
Up until now, I've only ever shared my testimony through word-of-mouth. Not that I dislike repeating myself or anything, but writing is one of the most scalable activities of all time–you write once, and it's read forever. I should know–I'm a programmer, and we write code, and it runs forever.
Writing is therefore my way to reach broader audiences since it's so easy to just give people a link. And they can also share that link to others. And so on. It's contagiously simple.
If my testimony helps even one additional person move an inch closer to God, I'm happy.
Now, with all that out of the way, let's begin.
A Brief Background
I was not born into a Christian family. My parents immigrated from China and both have graduate degrees in science and engineering. They're well-educated and didn't really believe in superstition of any sorts. They believed in having good morals, working hard, and being responsible. They taught me those lessons starting from a young age.
I was the firstborn, and since my parents had me at a relatively young age, I was also the first kid to be born amongst my parents' circle of friends. So they really had no idea how to raise a kid, nor could they really ask for advice amongst people their age.
In addition, I moved around quite a bit, never staying in one place for longer than 2 years until I reached middle school. I would even go between countries, spending some time in the US and some time in China. Here's a rough timeline:
- Born in China
- Came to US for the first time at 7 months
- Age 2: China
- Age 3: USA
- Age 4: China
- Age 5: USA
- Age 9: China
- Age 12: USA
I would move either with my parents, or sometimes I would just stay with my grandparents. It was somewhat challenging to make and keep friends with all that moving, but at the same time I'm grateful for being able to see both Chinese and American perspectives (especially in a time when tensions between the two countries are high).
First Contact With Religion During Childhood
At age 8, when I was in the USA, a missionary knocked on my door, and it was just my grandparents at home. I let her in since she seemed nice, and my grandparents didn't speak English. She offered to tell me some stories, and I simply couldn't refuse.
She gave me a picture Bible book, and talked about how God created the world. And I was fascinated! I mean, the pictures just looked so amazing!
I don't know how much time passed before she had to go, but she said she would come back next week for the next story. So I was really excited!
I'm guessing (memory a bit fuzzy) this happened for a good 2 months, and every single time, my parents weren't home, so I got uninterrupted story time with this nice lady. I'm sure my parents didn't mind–free daycare for them.
Finally, one time my parents were actually home, and met this storytelling lady. They firstly thanked her for her time and patience, and proceed to chat about grownup stuff.
Later I found out that she's a Jehovah's Witness, and their beliefs are slightly different from what I profess to believe. Nonetheless, this was my first time hearing about God. I got a good preview of Genesis and part of Exodus, up to Moses parting the sea.
Learning About Superstition
At age 9, I went to China and had formal education in the Chinese school system. It was very different than in the USA. Plus, I really had to catch up on my language, since I had been speaking English for the past few years.
I actually liked my Chinese education, even though it was admittedly much harder. I learned a lot more, and everything was very well-structured. Teachers actually cared a lot about their students' growth. People in society actually respected teachers (unlike in the USA).
One class I had was called 思想品德, which translated literally means "thinking about morals in society". It was one hour per week, and we actually took tests. Here are some example questions:
Sample Multiple Choice Question:
If an old lady with a cane is crossing the street, you should...
A) help her across the street
B) ignore her
C) laugh at her and mock her
D) push her to the ground
Sample True/False Question:
A picture of a person bowing down to a statue
The unsurprisingly correct answers are A) and False.
But wait, hang on a moment. That second question? Do you realize what that means?? The Chinese government has taken the formal stance that superstition is bad and actively teach this in the school systems. Whoa!
Okay, so I took this "no superstition" lesson to heart. It wasn't until a few months later that I revealed my double standard.
One nice sunny day, my family and my cousin's family go on a hiking trip to the mountains where a beautiful Buddhist temple lies on top. When we finally reached the top, my cousin, who is 3 years younger than me, took incense, burned it, and bowed down to the Buddha statue.
Immediately in my mind, I thought about the first of the Ten Commandments: thou shalt have no other gods before me. I told my cousin that he's not allowed to bow to a statue because that's superstition. I told him that the Ten Commandments forbade it. He wasn't very happy about it and told me to leave him alone.
My parents (who were still not Christian at the time) asked me a very shrewd question: isn't God also supserstition?
I was 10 at the time, and I couldn't explain it, so I just got angry instead.
Has My Mom Gone Mad?
At age 12, I was back in America for middle school. My dad stayed in China for work, so it was just my mom, my brother, and myself. Occasionally the grandparents would also join us.
Immediately after arriving in the USA, one of my mom's former classmates invited her to church. And within one month, my mom decided to get baptized (baptism is a public declaration of one's faith).
Wait. What happened? My mom, who holds two masters degrees in engineering, who is highly praised amongst her peers for being smart and logical, who once called Christianity superstition, did what just now??
I honestly thought my mom had lost it. I couldn't believe what happened. How did one month undo all of that?
I almost lost all of my respect for mom at that moment. But then, I figured, okay, maybe the church is just really deceptive and it's my duty to save my mom.
The logical conflict was that my mom believed in superstition, and my teacher in China claimed superstition is wrong. Two authority figures in my life disagreed with each other and provided conflicting testimonies. That means either one is right, or both are wrong, but they cannot be both right.
At this point, I was leaning towards my teacher's argument.
I told myself that I would get to the bottom of this. I swore that I would solve this insane riddle at all cost. I'll save you, mom. Just watch me.
I made a plan. I would infiltrate the church and uncover the secrets to their silly deceptions that managed to fool my mom. And I will discover the truth.
The Gift Of Curiosity
So I put my brilliant plan into action. I attended church service regularly and even their Friday night events. At first, I was pretty skeptical of everything they told me.
But then, I grew to love the people and the fun, and kind of forgot about my little detective plan to save my mom. And I just started to enjoy church since it was a fun place to hangout, and the people were really nice.
I also liked the music, and the sing-alongs were really fun because I am musically inclined.
And then, I started to take things a bit more seriously. I got curious, and started asking questions.
- Who is God?
- Who is Jesus?
- What is sin?
- Why did Jesus die for our sins?
- What's the Holy Spirit?
Okay, so I got my answers to those questions fairly easily. But here are the harder ones:
- How can God, Son, and Holy Spirit be 3 and 1 at the same time?
- Why does God let bad things happen to good people?
- If God is sovereign, do we actually have free will?
- Can God create a stone so heavy that he himself cannot lift it?
Okay, aside from that last question (which is a troll logical fallacy), even experienced Christians may not have an answer to those questions.
And that deeply disturbed me. I learned that I hated not knowing something. I was in middle school at the time, and viewed life in terms of a test, where everything must surely have an answer in the answer key. But this is the first time I've been confronted with questions that have no answers.
My Notes On Christianity So Far
At this point in my middle school self, my understanding of Christianity is as follows:
- God created the world.
- God created the first man and woman, Adam and Eve.
- Initially, they were perfect, but they disobeyed God by eating from the tree of knowledge, which was the start of sin.
- Because of this original sin, we all have sin. This means we missed the mark of God's perfect standards. (example: we've probably all told a white lie before)
- There is life after death. (surprise!)
- God judges everyone at the end of time. You either go to heaven or hell.
- Because of God's Holy standard that He cannot violate, we are all doomed to go to hell.
- God loves us and doesn't wish for us to go to hell.
- God sends his son, Jesus, to earth.
- Jesus lives a perfect life as both human and God at the same time.
- Jesus is crucified, dies a human death, resurrects from the dead after 3 days, ascends up into heaven after 40 days.
- Anyone who believes in Jesus won't go to hell because Jesus will intersede for believers during judgment day.
Obviously, the true semantics are more complicated than this, but this was as much as my 8th grade brain could tolerate. Furthermore, I was told the other following fun facts:
- There's historical evidence that Jesus actually lived on earth and went through the accounts told in the Bible.
- The Bible is the most translated book (Shakespeare is second).
- The Bible's historical accuracy is amazing! It's the most accurately copied book throughout history, and this was before the copy machine where clerics have full-time jobs to copy the Bible word for word just to have an extra copy. They also have a very rigorous verification process.
I admitted that I was not a perfect person. But at this point in my pre-adult life, I didn't fully grasp the concept of sin. I thought I was a good enough kid who followed the rules. It wasn't until later that I would understand what sin really means.
Instead, I was selfishly wondering the following:
- What do I have to gain from subscribing to Jesus?
- What do I stand to lose by not subscribing to Jesus?
Really, those 2 questions are two sides of the same coin. At this point, Jesus sounds like a pretty good life insurance policy in case Jesus actually exists. If Jesus actually exists and I believe, I get to go to heaven. If Jesus doesn't exist and I believe, I will simply die. However, if Jesus exists but I don't believe, I will go to hell. (This is known as Pascal's wager.)
The Gamble Of A Lifetime
I was stuck. No matter how I reasoned, no matter how hard I tried, I could not use human logic to compute whether or not Jesus was real or not. Science had failed me.
Science cannot prove nor disprove the existence of God.
What am I to do? Looks like it's down to my best guess.
So I took a gamble. I decided to give God a chance. I figured my life would be far more interesting if I had an omniscient, omnipotent deity on my side, even if he didn't actually exist. At least it would be pretty high entertainment value.
After all, what do I have to lose?
So I chose to believe because I was curious. Curious about what God could do with my future. Curious about the nature of God. Curious about how my mom got swindled in one month. (I still hadn't figured it out at that time.)
I didn't want to live a life of regret. I didn't want to miss out. I was feeling quite adventurous. After all, I could back out anytime.
At the mighty age of 14, I declared my faith, got baptized, and proclaimed myself to be a Christian.
So I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Now that I had become a Christian, I had not the slightest clue of what I was supposed to do. Mimic the other kids, I told myself. This included:
- Praying to God
- Following the Ten Commandments
- Reading the Bible
- Worshiping God
- Hanging out with fellow Christians
That's kind of how I got started. Everything seemed good for quite awhile. Church was fun, the people were kind, I was close with my church friends, and I learned a lot from my spiritual leaders.
For fun, we even decided to start a middle school worship band, which we named Glory 2 God (we thought it was funny because the initials G2G sounded like gotta go). Fundraised our equipment with bake sales and had some generous donors, and we purchased musical equipment and I spent countless hours transcribing music that we could play.
We went on monthly (and sometimes weekly) hiking trips. It was great because we went with a huge group of about 20, and there were plenty of kids for me to play with. I loved playing with kids of all ages since it's my big brother instincts kicking in.
The Pastor at my church also took every Sunday to teach us middle schooler boys. The lessons that he gave were very meaningful, and I really enjoyed learning from him. We enjoyed deep spiritual conversations, asking extremely difficult questions, learning about spirituality, and had plenty of fun. I still remain in contact with him to this very day.
But the perfect days didn't last forever.
Politics And Social Media
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. – Matthew 28:19-20
I was taught that I was supposed to share the Gospel (the good news that Jesus Christ is our Lord and savior) to others. And that's exactly what I did. I told people in school about Jesus, and some were perceptive while others were not.
I was also taught that gay marriage is wrong, and around 2008, the state of California was voting on Prop 8, a proposition that defines marriage as strictly between a man and a woman. Along with my church, we stood outside grocery stores handing out flyers advertising to vote YES on Prop 8.
I talked to my classmates at school about this too. Again, some of them took it well, but quite a few of them didn't. I remember asking one of my friends via instant message, can you imagine being a man loving another man? His response was of course, to which I responded back with a really confused emoji.
I wasn't satisfied with the fact that most of my classmates disagreed with me, so I took to social media. This was the very first time I started a Facebook War, in which I posted that gay marriage is wrong and in violation of God's law and that it is sin, and therefore we should vote YES on Prop 8.
Almost immediately, parties from both sides started commenting, vehemently passionate about their views. My classmates from school were disgusted that I was so close-minded and gave me more than a piece of their mind. My friends from church cheered me on and told me to champion the truth.
It did not end well.
400+ comments later, some more mature parties from both sides stepped in and somehow got both sides to calm down. I don't remember how–I have since deleted this thread when I did a privacy purge a few years back.
Now, I did say that this was only the first Facebook War that I started. I've also started Facebook Wars on other controversial political issues, such as abortion, euthansia, genderless bathrooms, etc.
None of them ended well.
And as you can imagine, this caused me to lose a lot of trust amongst my classmates, which made my social life more challenging.
I learned the hard way that God is not popular in the world.
(If you're curious about my views on topics such as gay marriage and LGBTQ+, let me know in the comments below and I'm happy to write about that some other time. But I'll omit it here since it's not exactly relevant to my testimony.)
Experiencing Miracles Firsthand
The rest of high school was pretty heads-down for me. I mainly focused on school work, my extracurricular activities, and not much else. And I graduated.
Since I had finished high school, the plan was for my mom and brother to move back to China so they can be reunited with my dad. But that wasn't scheduled to happen until August, towards summer's end.
I had extremely epic plans for the summer. I planned to work an unpaid internship to get some industry experience. I planned to work at a job to save up some money. I also planned a bunch of really fun hangouts with my friends. I felt like I had everything going for me.
Until everything went wrong.
One nice day in the month of June, when I was in our church's summer retreat, my mom got an emergency call that my grandpa was in the ER with a low chance of survival, so she booked a same-day plane flight to China and took off.
My brother and I were still here, with our American passports, without Chinese visas. That meant we couldn't go back to China, even if we had plane tickets. (China doesn't allow dual citizenship. While I started out with a Chinese passport, my mom naturalized herself along with me, but we had to trade in our Chinese passports.)
That means that if we wanted to join my mom, we needed to get that Chinese visas as soon as possible.
But that was not the only problem. This development also meant we were moving back to China a full 2 months earlier than schedule. And that means we needed to do some serious packing.
My mom booked us tickets for 2 days later. That meant my brother (7 years my junior) and I needed to finish both tasks in under 48 hours. Talk about a tall order for someone who's barely an adult and a pre-teen.
Faced with this impossible task, I was completely overwhelmed without any direction whatsoever. I felt desperate. Life was easy up to now. Even school wasn't that bad and manageable. But this?! This was absolutely insane! How was I going to accomplish this?
Being deep out of my wits, I earnestly prayed to God for help. I never felt so lost and so desperate, and I was willing to accept anything. I swore that if I somehow got through this, it would be a miracle that only God can deliver.
I got a phone call from one of my mom's church fellowship friends who told me they heard about my situation and offered to help pack. I thought, wow! Looks like God already answered my prayer.
Immediately after, I got another phone call from another one of my mom's church fellowship friends. They said the same thing and also offer to help. And then another. And another.
Within the next few hours, my mom's entire fellowship (a group within the church) came over to help us pack as much as possible into 81 giant cardboard boxes. By the way, there was also a good amount of furniture and a piano.
I couldn't believe it. God actually pulled a miracle right before my eyes. This was insane. No one could have possibly expected this. 20+ people banding together to pack all the belongings in a house in such a short amount of time.
There's simply no way I could have done this myself. The only explanation is that either I'm extremely lucky, or that divine intervention happened.
Okay, maybe that was a fluke. Let's say I did get lucky. But the next miracle proved to me beyond a shadow of doubt that God works miracles.
Now onto the visa problem. I had no idea how passports and visas worked and not the slightest clue on how to obtain one. Not to worry, said one of our church family friends. He drove us to the Chinese consulate, and I filled out the application and gave it to the lady at the counter.
But I filled it out wrong in every possible way, and the lady at the counter was really mean and scolded me very loudly, and I cried. The tears mostly came out of desperation, since I felt like I was pushed to my limit. She told me to fill out another form and wait in line again.
But we didn't make it in time. The consulate closed (they only open for 2 hours on weekdays from 9am to 11am), and we had to try again the next day. So we drove home, feeling defeated.
Once again, I prayed. I had tried to do things in my own power like I have for most of my life, and it didn't work. I prayed for another miracle. We only had one more day left, and that was our last chance. If we failed, it would be over.
The next day, we went back to the consulate, and I gave my forms to a different lady at the counter. It was all in God's hands now. I didn't actually change much of how I filled out the form, so I had a feeling she was going to nitpick at something again, so I was expecting the worst.
To my surprise, she greeted me with a smile and took my form with no complaints. She asked when I would like to have the visas ready, and I said today. Unfortunately, they didn't do that, saying the soonest they could do was tomorrow.
Nooooooo! This is it... good try...
But the church family friend interceded, explaining our situation, that I had a family medical emergency, and that we were alone here without our parents. And hearing all of that made me feel worse since it just highlighted how desperate my situation really was.
But another miracle happened! The counter lady said she would be willing to make us an exception, and that if we come back right after lunch that she would process the visas and hand them back to us.
Wow! Another answered prayer! Another miracle!
It sounded like they were pretty strict with their processes, and it was completely out of my power to make something like this happen. I can either believe I got extremely lucky twice in a row, or that these were God's miracles.
Experiencing 2 miracles in 2 days convinced me that God is very much alive and active in our lives. I'm a pretty proud person and fairly confident in my own abilities. But it wasn't until I found myself at my limit and sought out God that I started to see God's miracles in my life.
The Hardest Summer Vacation Of My Life
With the 2 miracles I just experienced, my brother and I were good to go and headed back to China to join our family. Unfortunately at this time, my grandpa had already passed away.
We all attended the funeral. It was very poorly run, which just made us all feel worse.
I spent my first out of eight weeks mourning. Then, I was done mourning and started to find something to do. I stayed indoors, and none of us left our home. By week five, I felt really angsty and wanted to go outside, but my mom forbade it. To her, this was still a period of mourning, and nobody's allowed to leave the home.
By week six, I had lost it. I started lashing out, yelling at my mom, blaming her for the cause of my terrible summer vacation. Mind you, I had extremely epic plans for this summer! This was the last summer vacation I had before I entered college. It was my senior year summer. All my friends were having a blast, doing tons of fun things. Some of the more ambitious ones were working or shadowing for experience. And I wanted to do those things too!
Mom, who's probably in the most pain out of us (aside from grandma), retaliated back. Why couldn't I just be a good son and follow her rules? Why couldn't I be quiet and obey? Why couldn't I just shut up?
We didn't talk to each other for a whole week.
By week seven, I started getting emails from college to set things up, so I lost myself doing that. I setup my college email account, filled out some paperwork, and did a bunch of mindless things to distract myself. It worked. I returned back to normal and forgot about the heated argument we had the previous week.
By week eight, I was ready to leave all this crap behind. My summer was coming to a close, and I could not wait to start college. As I eagerly boarded the airplane to escape all that had just happened, I started to reflect on this summer.
I had all these amazing plans for myself, yet none of them happened. Why?
I complained to God about this, blaming him for the timing of my grandpa's death. Why couldn't he have stayed alive for 2 more months? Why did it have to be now?
But then it dawned on me, and realized that I was being completely selfish. I was such a brat. My behavior was wrong. I was drowning in my own sin. Even as a family member died, I was still thinking about myself.
How could I think such a thing? I was complaining that my grandpa's death was poorly timed because it was inconvenient for me. That's totally wrong.
So I moved on to another question: why did my grandpa have to die?
I never got the answer to that question, but I did learn this: God is sovereign, not us. God used my grandpa's death to interrupt my pride. I can't say for certain whether God let grandpa die specifically for just this one reason, but the truth was that I was getting overconfident in my own abilities, but God humbled me to teach me that he is in control. Furthermore, God started to teach me that he has better plans for me than I could ever hope to have for myself.
The College Cult
And at last, I started college.
I had no idea what to expect. My mom assured me that the 4 years of my undergraduate experience would be the best moment of my life. My church seniors told me to avoid drugs, alcohol, parties, and fraternities at all costs. Some parents told me to study hard and do my best. My spiritual leaders told me that the first thing I should do is find a campus ministry (kind of like a Christian club on campus).
I took the advice on making finding a campus ministry my first priority. On the first day possible, I checked out the campus club fair and made sure to hit up all the Christian ones (and some other fun-looking ones too).
There were multiple campus ministries that I considered joining. I ended up settling for one that was smaller in size because they were also a church at the same time. They were very kind and inviting at the time too, so that also helps.
The first year felt nice. I got a good sense of community, I attended church service, mid-week events, Bible studies, and had a good time. I felt like I was gaining a good amount of Biblical knowledge.
But by year 2, things started to feel a bit off. I started to notice things that I didn't see before.
First, I started to notice that whenever I brought up any suggestions for change, they were almost immediately turned down without a serious thought. For example, I suggested that we should have more outreach events not just at the beginning of the semester, but we should do some throughout the semester as well. Instantly turned down. I felt like I wasn't even given a chance. But I didn't think too much on it. Maybe I just needed to be more humble.
Secondly, my Bible study leader expressed concern over my high involvement in too many other activities. He strongly implied that I should de-commit from those activities in order to free up myself more for the ministry. I obliged.
Third, having de-committed myself from nearly everything else, I felt ready to serve the ministry. However, they have this unspoken rule where only upperclassmen are allowed to serve. My fellow underclassman also felt the same about this too. So, I was deemed unworthy to serve purely based on my status as an underclassman.
Fourth, they apply a lot of pressure for their members to attend their "flagship" summer short-term missions event. It makes you feel almost as if you have to do it, since anything other than that isn't of service to God. Yes, they would guilt-trip you into attending this event.
Now, those 4 things I mentioned above aren't huge deals. They're minor, and mostly just small complaints and a matter of preference. But the next few things I mention should freak you out because it most certainly did freak me out.
First, I listened more closely to the Pastor's sermons, and noticed that when preaching about a behavior, he would often use himself as the example instead of Christ. You guys should do this, just like me! Now, wait a minute. Shouldn't we be looking to Christ as the first and foremost authority? How can you boldly proclaim your own glory instead of God's? Aren't you telling us to follow you instead?
Second, the Pastor, who is himself a single man well past half-century, preached that guys should fellowship with guys and girls should fellowship with girls. He highly discouraged dating, inter-mingling, and mixed-gender events and disciple/discipler pairs. That by itself isn't a problem, but his behavior suggests that he himself is above his preaching. He discipled some college girls, even though there were women leaders in the ministry available. Do as I say, not as I do.
Third, I noticed that most of the members inter-marry with each other, which isn't strictly bad on its own. But there's an unspoken rule that the Pastor must approve of the couple before they can get married within the church. That feels to me a bit too much power and also too much involvement in personal lives. Now, I understand that sometimes a wise leader wants to protect the younger ones from going down a dark path. There was this one couple (both strong Christians) who were two years apart and started dating, but didn't receive the approval of the Pastor. The Pastor constantly rebuked them, especially the man who was two years older, and they constantly butted heads. The two eventually ended up leaving, and actually got married. As far as I see, they seem happy together and are living a life glorifying to God.
Okay, I'm done complaining.
I want to preface this by saying that I don't actually disagree with the theology of the members of this organization. However, I found the way they put things into practice unsuitable for me. They practice what I call spiritual legalism, where the Pastor gets to call all the shots in an organization where customs are pretty much set in stone and cannot be changed. Questioning anything was highly discouraged, which I believe to be unhealthy.
But I don't believe God is like this. While I agree that God never changes, that doesn't mean he never changes us. He's constantly working in us, molding us to be more like him so we can live out his will. Living in the comforts of a timefreeze isn't the way that I envision my life that God has planned for me.
Our faith is not determined by any human organization we choose to be apart of. Human organizations are human-made, and humans err. Therefore, human organizations also err. Our faith is our own and should not suffer simply because we lose faith in our organization.
Before the end of my sophomore year of college, I had left the organization, unsure of what awaited me as I entered life as a college upperclassmen.
Can A Fraternity Be Christian?
Bear one another's burdens, thus fulfilling the law of Christ. – Galatians 6:2
One of the advices I got from my church seniors were to avoid fraternities at all costs. I was told that they indulge themselves in sin, that they host extremely loud and disgusting parties everyday, that they invite girls over so they can have sex with them, and that they drink to the point that they constantly breathe intoxication.
But then I heard about this Christian fraternity. I thought to myself, what an oxymoron. What moron would fall for something like that? I bet they're just disguised as Christian but in actuality, they are just the same as the other ones. Perhaps they think that just because Jesus turned water into wine that they are allowed to drink to their heart's content?
I've heard about social fraternities (when we say fraternity, we typically mean social fraternities), business fraternities, law fraternities, ethnic fraternities, engineering fraternities, and all sorts of other types. But I haven't yet heard of such thing as a Christian fraternity.
The Christian fraternity's name is Alpha Gamma Omega, or AGO for short. Since I was a junior unattached to any organization (after de-committing from just about everything), I decided, why not? I'm skeptical, but if anything, it'll at least be high entertainment value.
So I attended rush, which happens in the first week of school where all the fraternities hold social outreach events to attract newcomers. On one night, we went to go play broomball and had German sausages afterwards. On another night, we had In N Out Burger and went to a trampoline zone. And on the final non invite-only event, we went to the beach and enjoyed a nice bonfire and barbeque.
The events were really fun, but I was really surprised by the members of the fraternity. They were a group of brothers that were really close to each other, very strong in their faith, with such a passion for ministry to Greek row. Maybe my perception about them is wrong and I was too quick to judge.
I apologize in advance, but there are certain secrets that members of the fraternity must keep and cannot disclose. In short, I was invited to be a Pledge, which means that I will spend part of this semester fulfilling certain requirements in order to earn membership in the fraternity. This process is called pledgeship. I can vouch from my experience that the process is well-designed to grow your faith in God. I thoroughly enjoyed the process.
One of the challenges that left the most impact on me was the cross walk. In this challenge, we (my pledge brothers and myself) constructed a wooden cross, wrote down all our shameful sins, nailed them to the cross, and as a team carried this cross up the mountain for several miles. The process was not only extremely physically excruciating, but also emotionally difficult as well. I literally felt the pain of carrying such a heavy object on my back, and I had several of my teammembers help me. I got a small fraction of the burden that Christ experienced as he took up the cross for all of us. I'll never forget that moment in my life.
Obviously, I will say that not even AGO is perfect. During my time as a pledge and active member, we had our fair share of struggles. We disagreed, had arguments, and were foolish just like all boys are. But I can definitely say that God grew me during my time in AGO and has left a lasting impact on me.
By joining a Christian fraternity, I realized that I was quick to judge based on preconceptions that were only partially true. It was simply convenient for me to believe them to be true, but this limits how God can work in my life.
Therefore, I strive to recognize that each one of us has our own biases. If I'm slow to judge and quick to repent, God can surprise us in unexpected ways.
Chasing After Worldly Ambition
I graduated college. The good old undergraduate days were short. But I wasn't done with school yet, because my parents and their peers urged me to continue onto graduate school, and I obliged since I actually liked school and thought I could learn some more stuff. They said I should at least have a Masters degree, otherwise I'd be useless. It's not until years later that I realized a Masters degree is totally useless.
Back to the topic. I spent the first three summers of my college undergrad doing research, so I didn't actually have any industry experience. By a stroke of luck, I ended up landing my first internship working in cyber forensics. Admittedly, it was actually a pretty boring job, so I told the partner to not even bother giving me a return offer since I wouldn't take it.
In the upcoming fall semester, I did both classes and took on another internship, this time in software engineering. This one was a bit more fun, but because I had to balance both work and school, I ended up performing just mediocre.
So then, in the spring semester, I actually founded a tech startup with 5 other folks, where I was the Chief Technology Officer (CTO). In the 8 months that we spent together, one person dropped out, and we fired a person for under-performing. I along with the other developer managed to build out the MVP (minimum viable product) of the app. We went to pitching competitions, won one, placed in a few others as well.
Life seemed to be going pretty well as I was really passionate about entrepreneurship at the time.
But I was sick of school. And I also realized that I lacked the full technical experience required to fully build out our product. So I called it quits, and we disbanded. I went back to school to finish up so I could finally get out.
At this point in my life, I was feeling more confident in my own ability and started to lean on it more, despite the miracles that God had shown me personally just a few years back.
Humans are quick to forget the good things and slow to forget the bad. The Israelites were constantly on-and-off with their relationship with God, and we are no different. Thankfully, God is patient and merciful, and he constantly pursues us even when we forget about him.
Graduation And Unhealthy Work-Life Balance
At last, I graduated, yet again, and started work. My first job out of college is in tech consulting, where we as technical experts come in and advise and implement technical solutions for clients. We have a wide variety of capabilities, including business intelligence, data warehousing, web applications, mobile applications, cloud infrastructure setup, artificial intelligence, machine learning, etc. My firm mostly had clients in the pharmaceutical industry. So I basically got to learn quite a bit about the healthcare industry.
This was a brutal job. I worked 12-hour days, 60-hour weeks on average. Not only did I have my daytime work for about 10 hours, but I also had nightly calls with India for about 2 hours. Dinnertime always mocks me because by the time I eat, I'm still not yet done with work.
I enjoyed work at first because of its challenging nature. In addition, I also had to field client asks, which was a good experience for me. I learned a lot and grew a lot too.
But sooner than later, I started enjoying work less. I mean, my performance was good. But I found work less fulfilling.
In addition, I wanted to find a church community, but I couldn't spare anytime during the weekdays, which made it harder.
Eventually, I ended up switching jobs, and now my work-life balance is much better.
I learned that work will never truly satisfy me. Even now that I'm on my second job, I know that it will eventually stop satisfying me. But at the same time, this is what I do as a profession, and as a follower of Christ, I must still be a good steward and meet the performance bar.
Disruptions By The Pandemic
Who could have ever guessed that a global pandemic would occur during the year of 2020. For many in the USA, it means economic hardship. For the older and more vulnerable, it means peril at every encounter.
I'm grateful that I'm in a profession where I can work from the comforts of my own home. The worst I can complain about is being stuck at home and not seeing anyone in person. But that's truly not that bad.
Staying at home is actually nice. Again, I know I'm privileged to say this and am extremely grateful for the frontline workers and medical staff for bearing this burden.
The pandemic helped me to realize what truly matters. I've cut out the unnecessary things in my life and focused on just the things that matter. I've become more minimalistic in my mentality. I started talking more to my family. I caught up with people that I haven't talked to in such a long time.
And, I picked up the hobby of writing, along with some other fun things.
Again, I have to admit that I never expected God to bring about such blessings amongst such dire circumstances. But I see this as evidence that God will only continue to be gracious to us who believe. And because he does so in unexpected ways, we must also be prepared to receive it in these unexpected manners.
Seeing The Real World For What It Really Is
What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. – Ecclesiastes 1:3-4
After just a few years of adulting (post-college time), I've started to see a glimpse of what the real world is really like. There's so much sin in the world it's almost incredulous to my innocent younger self. And of course I'm not excluded from participating in the world's sin either.
Without the university bubble, the world is a truly worthless place. When most of us enter the "real world", we're really entering the world's economy (unless you are in the military, in government, or in non-profit). That means there's business wars left and right, and these businesses are competing to see who can make the most money so they can satisfy their shareholders. If you put money into a retirement account or any investment fund, you are a shareholder. So it's all cyclical.
Now, governments are the ones that set the rules. But governments are a bit slow, and they are corrupt. So it's impossible for them to fairly regulate. The big companies with a lot of cash can just hire the best lawyers and best lobbyists to bend the government to their will, and the average person doesn't have enough time (for they are working full-time) to oppose them.
For example, in the healthcare industry, the pharmaceutical companies spend hundreds of millions on advertising, and most of the time these drugs are not even necessary for the human body. But for some necessary drugs, the prices are also outrageous. A carton of insulin might cost $20 in Canada but that same carton can cost $300 in the USA. And it's illegal to buy in another country and import it into the USA, because the government said so. But people do it anyway because they cannot afford it. It's really just the company's ploy to maximize profit because they know USA citizens have more purchasing power. Disgusting.
Another example is the Turbotax software company, Intuit. They are required by law to offer free tax filing services for people of certain demographics, but they have done everything in their power to make you pay for their software, even when you are legall entitled to it for free.
And finally, we have escalating political tensions on all fronts. Just in the USA, there's a huge falling out between the Democrats and the Republicans. The bi-polarization is so bad that neither side is willing to hear each other out on any topic. If we go global, tensions between China and the USA have never been more troubling. It's almost as if both countries are out to get each other.
I started to realize that if this is all there is to the world, then this world is truly sad and hopeless. Even though I keep thinking about what I can do to improve the world (solving the energy crisis, solving world hunger, solving the market), at the end of the day, humans are really just rotten animals who don't show an ounce of gratefulness of the goodness they receive.
That includes me as well. How much blood, sweat, and tears were shed so that all of us can be here today? What sacrifices did people in the past and present make so that we can live in privilege? Running water, abundant food, nice shelter, fancy clothing, etc. We (in the USA) don't suffer any shortage from materialistic goods, yet we are still unhappy. Satisfaction seems to always elude us, no matter how much technology progresses.
The point is, the more I learn about and see the world, the more evidence I see that sin is strife everywhere, and that there's no end to it.
Of course, some people may believe that life is all there is and only emptiness awaits us at the end. But that would be quite sad, because that means it doesn't matter whether we die today or we die later. Because that would mean that our lives fundamentally don't matter in any way. Because that would mean we could behave in any way we wanted without considering the consequences to ourselves or others. Because that would result in complete anarchy, lawlessness, and chaos. Because then life is completely hopeless and no one would care about anything. Because that means nothing is significant. Because that means we are just an accident. Because that means we have no meaning.
So, Why Christianity?
We will all eventually start thinking about the question what is the purpose of life at some point in our lives. Most people probably do it in old age, when they feel like they're nearing the end of their lives. If we're going to ask this question eventually, might as well take the time to answer it now. For we cannot predict how long we live, right? Better prepared than not.
Furthermore, I pointed out earlier that science is limited in that it can only verify repeatable phenomenons. While I love science for what it can do, science cannot provide all the answers. (I actually don't think science and religion conflict–science can validate faith, and faith can also support science.)
Now, I acknowledge that Christianity is but one religion out of a huge pool. Even within Christianity, there are several sects you can subscribe to. I subscribe to the Evangelical flavor, which means I believe in evangelizing (spreading) the Gospel to others who have not heard the Good News.
I won't get into why specifically the Evangelical flavor–that's a discussion for a different time and not quite relevant to my testimony.
All other religions require you to earn your salvation. Do this and you'll receive this. Christianity gives it to you for free. Justification by faith alone. No works required. (Now, of course, if you truly believe, works will naturally come out of it. This is known as faith that works, which I subscribe to.)
The polytheistic religions believe in multiple gods, and honestly that's too complicated for me. If I have to remember to pray to the rain god, the food god, the money god, and the love god, all at the same time, I will most definitely get confused. And there will inevitably be the question of who is the greatest god. And maybe someone will get a god wrong here and there, and you'll have arguments about who your favorite god is and who your least favorite god is. No way.
The monotheistic religions, namely Judaism and Muslim, are a bit simpler to follow. Judaism is simply Christianity without the New Testament. Jews believe that a Messiah is coming, but that Jesus wasn't the Messiah. Christians believe Jesus to be the Messiah. Muslin believes Jesus to be a prophet, but that Mohammed was the real hero. Muslims also believe in praying towards the direction of Mecca, and they will actually make a once-in-a-lifetime pilgramage to touch Mecca. (Mormons believe in an Americanized version of Christianity where the Book of Mormon is "part 3". The musical The Book of Mormon is really funny and I highly recommend watching it if you haven't.)
This is my extremely limited human logic at work: if we assume that God exists, that he is perfect, omnipotent, and omniscient, it would make sense that he knows everything that there is to know about good and evil. And it would make sense that he prefers good. And it would make sense that he hates evil. And it would make sense that he would love each and every one of us perfectly in how we were meant to be loved. And it would make sense that he would have a plan for each and every one of us to fulfill his will (whatever that will may be).
I simply cannot believe in a god-fest where gods are inconsistent and compete against each other for glory (polytheism is out since inevitably the question will be asked about who is the "greatest" god). I simply cannot believe in a god who isn't perfect because then I have no reason to respect him if he is also fallible like myself. I simply cannot believe in a god who is satisfied with being reduce to a statue or some humanly created object. I simply cannot believe in a god who created us in his own image and doesn't care what happens to us. I simply cannot believe in a god who demands us to follow very specific ceremonies or else condemn us for failing to do so. I simply cannot believe in anything in this world having hope of providing me with eternal satisfaction. Finally, I simply cannot believe that we with our limited human capacity can figure out god.
That is why I find Christianity to be the best representation of my beliefs and the most possible answer. There is only one God, there are no statues, there are no strict ceremonies, there is no discrimination, there are no expectations, and it is free for all. No other religion comes close.
Benefits In My Life
Now it's time to answer the what's in it for me question.
The biggest benefit for me is that I no longer have to be anxious about my life. Anxiety is something that I struggle with because I always seek to achieve the optimal outcome given the constraints. (very engineer-like, I know) I can defer all of that to God, who I fully believe to be in control, from the smallest details to the overarching plan.
Another big benefit is that I can be confident that my life has purpose. No longer do I need to search for purpose because God gives me purpose. And even if I were to find my own purpose apart from God, that purpose won't last and it's not long before I will have to find another one. But God provides me with a one-stop-shop. We get to be part of his kingdom and partake in his share, which is amazing that the God of the universe will allow us sinners to have such a privilege.
And yet another great benefit is that now I see that the answer to everything is love. Honestly, love is the answer to everything. God is love, and God commands us to love God and our neighbors as ourselves. We are even commanded to love our enemies, which is quite radical too. But if we actually did do this, how much better would the world be?
Now, if you remember way up in the article, my faith does serve as my ultimate life insurance. I have comfort in knowing that whatever happens to the world, we have our home in heaven.
Practically, this has helped me too in the following ways:
- I'm more loving.
- I'm more patient. (all fruits of the spirit)
- I'm more intentional.
- I'm more disciplined.
- I'm more productive.
- I'm a better steward (owner).
- I'm a better disciple and discipler (student and teacher).
- I'm more confident. (confidence comes from God)
- I'm more faithful.
- I actually understand the world better. (makes me better at work, better at understanding companies, governments, etc.)
- I'm future-proof.
Strictly speaking from a cost benefit perspective, I've reaped far more than I sowed. But the greatest reward is having a personal relationship with God, the almighty creator of the universe who loves us so much. And although I will never completely understand this counterintuitive phenomenon, I will continue to seek out God's heart because of the way I've been radically transformed by God.
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. – 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
To conclude, the first thing I must say is that all the glory goes to God. I cannot take any credit for anything that happened in my life. I acknowledge that I'm limited, and I don't have control over many of the things that have happened.
Of course, I put in my own effort in what I do. But I'm not foolish enough to claim that I brought about glory to myself in any way. It was all God.
If you made it this far, I sincerely thank you for taking the time to read through my testimony. I'm sure it wasn't a light read.
I'd also like to say that this is simply my testament and my version of events as I interpreted them. I fully believe this to be true, but I'm not expecting all my readers to agree. Every person has their own story, and I don't want to discount yours either. After all, science possess neither the power to prove nor disprove God.
But, if you are even a little moved by my testimony in any way and would like to learn more, please do feel free to reach out by commenting below. Or if there's something you'd like me to expand more on, please say so as well. If you have a friend who you think will benefit from reading this, please do pass it along to them as well.
Thanks again for reading!
Every weekend I write about some thoughts, life lessons, and interesting things I came by for the week. I'd love for you to join.