My journey to truth
Mine is a journey of faith and truth, interspersed with miracles. I was born in an ordinary family in north-central China. My parents were fanatical followers of Mao. But after the death of the “great helmsman,” Buddha came into our home. Along with my parents, I as a child worshiped Buddha, although surrounded by the largely atheistic culture of China.
I knew little of Jesus. Nor did I care. Life was good. My parents, deeply religious now, provided a home filled with love and security. With them I followed the Buddhist worship and rituals, such as giving of alms—an important part of Buddhism. My parents taught me that the Buddha way is the way to achieve nirvana (the higher life). After all, life after death needs to be better than what we’ve got here, and that depends on what we do. So a daily struggle to be righteous is one thing my parents always insisted upon for their children in order to win inner peace and a better life in the next reincarnation.
I did just that. My objectives were simple: to eschew self, serve the less fortunate, be patriotic, and seek the higher life. But all along, I felt a sense of emptiness within. Was it just a feeling? Was it a mere fantasy? Or was it a deep spiritual yearning, created by a power beyond himself?
I did not quite know. But in 1991, suddenly a new world opened before me. That year I went to a small college near my hometown to join an English language class. The course was one of the many taught by volunteers from the United States as part of the emerging new relations between the two countries, and as part of China’s eagerness to open to her students and intellectuals a window to the wider world through English. In any case, a good knowledge of English is important in getting a good job, and I was looking for an opportunity to improve my English skills.
My teachers were two young men—Andy and Emery—intelligent, highly motivated, and willing to go the extra mile. They not only taught well, but also related to students on a one-to-one basis. We became friends, and soon I discovered that they were Seventh-day Adventists.
They taught me English, and I taught—perhaps tried to teach—them conversational Chinese. We talked. We sang. We took walks together. They told me stories from the Bible. They introduced me to Jesus and told me what He has done for them and what He could do for me. But I was not interested in all that. After all, Jesus was a foreigner to me, and I had no interest in a foreign religion. I had my own religion. That was good enough for me.
But not for God. After five months of language study, I returned home. As I was leaving, Andy and Emery gave me a gift that was to change my life forever: two Bibles, one Chinese, one English. When I came home, I opened the English Bible, and in it was written: “Dear Edmond, I hope with all my heart that God will become your best friend, just as He is mine. The Lord loves you and so do I.” The Chinese Bible carried a written challenge: “Dear Edmond, remember, our minds are just like a parachute; they only operate when open.” I took those words seriously and began to read the Bible, but most of what I read didn’t make sense. I gave up.
But only for a while. I went to southern China where jobs were plenty. With my English, education, and other skills I was pretty sure I’d land a good job, but I didn’t. Discouraged, I returned home and worked as a tour guide. But I was not happy. The inner vacuum was getting larger and larger. As 1994 dawned, I turned to the Bible again. I read the Gospels. The seeds that Andy and Emery sowed seemed to germinate. Jesus took on a new meaning. He became real to me. Soon I became His follower. I started attending church on Sundays. I felt good and life seemed to beckon me to go to higher things. After all, I now had a very powerful ally on my side: my Friend Jesus.
A new spiritual horizon opened up before me. I learned that I am not an accident on this earth. God created me in His own image and placed me on this earth for a purpose. He is the One who created the heavens and the earth. I learned about sin, and how its entrance into this world has caused all the suffering that we see and experience. I also learned about the redemptive work of Jesus. But more questions began to creep up in my mind. How I wish Andy and Emery were close by to help me with answers.
For a long time I dreamed of going to the United States for higher studies, and now I decided to take the first step. I wrote the English proficiency examination, a basic for admission into any U.S. college, and passed it. I applied to universities in Oklahoma and Kansas. Both sent me the application papers, but I was not sure which to choose. “It’s time to put my faith in God,” I said to myself. After all the Bible promises that when we come to God in faith, He is able to do more than we ask or think. So I made my study plans a matter of daily prayers.
Just then, an unexpected letter arrived from Andy and Emery, introducing me to Southwestern Adventist University in Texas. I read the university bulletin and liked what it had to offer. I sent in my application. Within a few weeks, the university not only sent an admission letter and visa documents, but also offered two generous scholarships. My parents could not have supported me in the U.S., and so the scholarships were just too good to be true. It was definitely an answer to my continued prayers.
But the money was not enough. In August 1996, Andy and Emery wrote to assure me of their own financial help. I just had a few months to get ready, but getting a passport in China was a long and tedious process. Once again, prayer was the only help I had. In November, the Chinese government issued new regulations simplifying the issue of passports. I got mine in record time—25 days.
Answer to prayer
“What do you plan to study?” my parents asked me. Without any hesitation, I said, “Theology. I want to be a pastor.” Although I was not a Seventh-day Adventist, I always considered myself as an Adventist, and introduced myself thus to anyone I met. My interest in theology grew as a result of my wanting to know more about God and to make Him known to others.
But my answer shocked my parents. Their immediate response was one of anxiety.
“If you become a pastor,” they asked, “can you get married?” I think they were more interested in becoming grandparents than in my newfound joy in the gospel. Once I explained to them about the Seventh-day Adventist Church and the Adventist lifestyle, they did not object much. But not until months later when I wrote an eight-page testimony about my faith and my life at Southwestern were they convinced that I was not misguided in my decision. In fact, my testimony eventually won them over to the truth, and through them many of my relatives have accepted Jesus and are keeping the Sabbath today. I hope soon an Adventist pastor can be sent to my hometown, and a congregation for God’s glory can be established there while I complete my studies.
In all these things, I see God’s guidance. Without Him, I could not have traveled so far in my spiritual and professional journey. One more illustration of God’s care in my life: When I went to the U.S. embassy in Beijing for my visa, there were about 300 people applying for a visa that day. I was No. 254. We were all nervous and not at all sure that we would get visas. As I waited my turn, I saw more disappointed ones leave the visa counter than otherwise. Each person was interviewed for about a minute. When my minute came, it was like a whole day—so uncertain, so unsure, so nervous. But I was confident that God would somehow work out my problem. And He did. I got my visa and soon was on the plane to the U.S.
But then the more important miracle came at the university itself. One day as I was walking on campus, I met Dr. Roland Hill. In the course of our conversation, I asked him if it was necessary for me to be rebaptized in order to be a Seventh-day Adventist. (I was already a baptized Christian.) “Yes,” he said, and pointed out the great truths I needed to know and accept before I could be a Seventh-day Adventist. He invited me to study with him. Just imagine, a simple young man from a remote village in a faraway land being invited by a professor to study about God. It’s committed people like that—committed to faith and faith sharing—that make all the difference between life and eternal life. My eyes opened, and I saw wonderful things in God’s Word. Finally, on February 1, 1997 I was baptized. What a joy it is to be a Seventh-day Adventist!
Yes, my journey has been one of faith, truth, and miracles. I believe God does have a way of reaching out and touching people everywhere. No one is too far away, no one is too lost, and no one is too insignificant before Him. When we respond to His quiet whispers, He does the rest. And above all Jesus becomes a personal Friend—to guide, to guard, to care, and take us home.
Edmond Cao is a student at Southwestern Adventist University, preparing for ministry. His address: P.O. Box 567; Keene, Texas 76059; U.S.A.