I used to be an atheist, but God has always been there regardless.

In 1988, I was a university student in China. One day I walked into a half-deserted cathedral. Among empty pews, I sat in a back row. Not knowing why, I burst into tears. A nun approached me. She was kind and gentle, but I left. Religion is the opium for masses. I was taught so.

During the past decades, I had a few friends telling me they believed in God. They said God always helps us when we were in difficulties, but I was busy learning and teaching. I decided to believe in myself.

In 2016, before I came to Australia to study teaching, my friend gave me a Bible: black cover, English Standard Version with a Chinese translation. She copied Psalm 23: ‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.’ I left the Bible at home, thinking I would be on a journey of self-discovery. Didn’t Socrates teach us to “know thyself”?

My university life started with a Gratitude Diary. I was thankful for a new life that was unfolding and yet uncertain. I thanked teachers and peer students, walkers on paths who said “G’day”, shop assistants at Woolies and Coles… I also thanked trees, rocks and the Derwent River glittering in the sun. For a while, I wondered whom I was thanking for the captivating beauty of nature. But I was busy working for good grades. I believed in my own hard work.

By mid 2018, I had discovered myself exhausted, physically and emotionally. I had tried too hard to prove myself and impress others. All effort was futile, and I was in despair. That year, the Jordon Peterson phenomenon was sweeping the internet. Many young people listened to his lectures on the Bible and started to seek God. Could God be the Father for whom these young people were desperately searching? I wanted to know God.

In August 2018, two young ladies came to my door, asking whether I wanted to read the Bible. Of course! I started to read Bible on the Jehovah Witness website. At the same time, I downloaded Bible Application for its daily verses in the King James Version. The first verse I received was: ‘God is my refuge and my fortress. In Him will I trust’ (Psalm 91:2). On buses and on walks, I felt God speaking to me. I found God comforting.

In September, God worked on me intensively and demonstrated the power of the name of Jesus Christ. The September 20 message hit me hard: ‘Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today and forever’ (Hebrews 13:8). I realised as a learner and teacher of English, I had never known this name in full, and it should have been at the centre of the Western civilisation. The next day, I examined my own life: I have been wrong, ignorant, and blind. My life was a mess! I wanted to give away myself, my ego, and my pride. I wanted to obey God. On September 22, I wrote, “God is my conscience”; on September 23, reading the message from Galatian 5, I wrote “God is my liberty”; on September 24, I told myself I should find favour only in His eyes. That month, not only was I fascinated with the concept of God, my heart knew He truly existed and I repented.

I was listening to Catholic teaching at that time, which I found intellectually motivating. Reverend Fulton Sheen taught that Communism preached the Cross without Jesus, and the post-Christian Western society was preaching Jesus without the Cross. Bishop Robert Barron taught that the Holy Spirit was the love that connected Father and Son. I understood them figuratively. But who is Jesus Christ? What is the Cross? What is the Holy Spirit? I wondered.

In November, God sent the late Dr. Charles Stanley. He preached about Jesus Christ, and he taught that the Holy Spirit was the helper, the enabler after Jesus ascended to Heaven. Within days, I offloaded the Jehovah Witnesses and wrote “I trust God the Trinity”. Into December, I was looking forward to Christmas with a joyful heart, knowing for the first time what it really meant for many Christians.

The Lord would teach me about His Cross soon. From February 2019, I got to learn about Watchman Nee, the Chinese church leader, who suffered greatly for the Lord. I also remembered Madam Nien Chen, author of Life and Death in Shanghai, who persevered with elegance in suffering. I had always been wondering what sustained people through their suffering. Now I saw in them the strength, peace, and hope that only Jesus could provide. God even gave them the spiritual resurrection behind bars. I saw Jesus not only the powerful and Almighty One but the suffering God on the Cross.

My soul could no longer wander. I had a Saviour! I had wanted to know God in a world full of dissatisfaction and disappointment. I had personally bled in the thorn of life and ended up self-pitiful and self-righteous. But God’s Spirit convicted me of my own sin and brokenness deep inside. How I wanted His love and forgiveness! The day before Easter, I vacuumed my place long and thoroughly. In the evening, I knelt on my knees, I thanked Jesus for dying for my sins. I asked Him for forgiveness. I called Him “my Lord”.

That evening on April 19, 2019, God saved me out of the wasteland of my own life.

I have recently read Augustus Toplady’s poem reproduced from a book by Ray Galea, recommended by my study group —

Nothing in my hand I bring,

Simply to thy Cross I cling.

Naked, I come to thee for dress,

Helpless, I look to thee for Grace.

Foul, I to the fountain fly,

Wash me, Saviour, or I die.

Four years since this defining moment, Jesus has been present all the time. Every day, I praise the Lord for His mercy and faithfulness. Every day, my heart sings with joy: Oh, Lord you are beautiful.

– Anonymous