In Fall 2007, my “American Religious Studies” class required me to interview one person who preaches a religion. I really didn’t want to interview a Buddhist monk or nun, and I was not familiar with Islam. In my mind, Christians were kind, helpful people, so I thought for sure they would help me. But to my surprise, not one church responded to my request. Finally, I remembered a business card I had received from a bearded Caucasian man as he invited me to Bible study. He replied to my email saying, “I prefer to answer the questions in person.” When I showed up to the appointment, he did not answer my question right away, but sat me down with a question sheet, John 1:1-5. This is how I started my first Bible study in the book of John.
The first Bible study was very intense, and I could not really understand everything. What shocked me the most was that after 20 minutes, we were still on question 1a. When the Bible study was over and I got the answer I wanted for my project, I was ready to go, but then he asked me, “When can we meet again for Bible study next week?” In my mind, I was thinking, “What?? No way, of course not.” But when I opened my mouth, I said, “Yeah, sure, the same time is ok.” I walked out of the library in disbelief at my own response, but eventually decided that it was not such a bad idea to continue studying the Bible. Since I had moved here from Taiwan just a few years before, this could be a good way for me to practice English and learn American culture.
Over time, I began to enjoy the Bible studies and learned a lot. God especially opened my eyes in Isaiah 55:2 to see that my struggle to be happy and find meaning in this world would not satisfy me. Jesus started to become real, and I took “faith” more seriously, even attending worship service at the Sheep Pen the following semester. At first I just went because my shepherd brought it up so many times, but when I arrived, I was touched that this church was gospel-centered and that everyone had such a sincere attitude.
In the summer of 2010, I started my second attempt at Genesis intensive Bible study, after my failure the previous summer. This time I was excited to finish it, but then a challenge came: an internship in San Diego, part of my radiation therapy program. My shepherd advised me to talk to my teacher so I could stay in Long Beach and finish Genesis Bible study, as my chance to make a decision by faith in God. But I was too afraid of being kicked out from the program. Practically, giving up my own desires and dreams was so hard, and it was something I did not want to do.
So instead I sought counseling from many friends and family members, ultimately deciding to take their advice and go to San Diego. When my shepherd challenged me the day I was about to leave, I become furious and left without going to worship service. I firmly decided: “I will never see this man again.”
I thought going to San Diego would mark a new life of freedom, but the reality was very different. From day one, I was deeply distressed, even praying that tomorrow would never come. When Sunday came, suddenly the idea of going back to Shepherds Church came into my head. At this, a battle started in my heart. I did not want to go back to Torrance because of the long distance, and also because of shame. But after 2 hours of struggle, I sensed that God was calling me, saying, “Aileen, come back!” On that day, I made a decision to struggle by faith and drove to Sunday worship service.
On my way, I couldn’t stop asking myself, “What am I doing? Am I crazy?” But I finally arrived at Starbucks on Artesia Blvd at 1 pm, the time and the place where I would usually meet my shepherd for Bible study before worship service. I was not sure if he would be there–actually I did not expect him to be there–but I was very surprised when I saw that he was sitting at the table just like always. I walked toward it and sat down in front of my shepherd. He lifted up his eyes with amazement and exclaimed, “WOW!! I thought I would never see you again,” and I replied, “Me, too.” (Until this day, I still cannot understand, how was I able to make such a decision? But I believe it must be the work of Holy Spirit.)
From that day on, every Sunday I struggled to come back to Torrance for worship service, even though it took 6 hours total. My hope was that I could somehow grasp God in this struggle. However, it was not enough. I felt like I was drowning underwater, barely keeping my head up. My internship was going downhill and finally, I was about to be kicked out from the program due to poor performance. At that time, the words rang in my ears: “You have lost your chance to prove your faith in God.” I was filled with regret, and I really understood why God said to Abraham, “Do not go down to Egypt, but stay in this land.” I had left my Promised Land for a promising future, but when I left, I lost that future, and I lost my God also.
Desperately, I called my parents, friends, roommates, and even my shepherd for direction and comfort, but strangely, no one answered their phones. When I was pushed to the corner like this, I sincerely prayed. I said, “ Lord, I don’t know how, but if you can help me to graduate together with my classmates, then next time if my shepherd asks me for intensive Genesis Bible study, I will say yes and finish it by any means.”
Immediately after prayer, my phone started to ring–it was my program director. I picked up the phone as if I was about to receive a death sentence, but it was a message of grace instead. She said, “Aileen, I will give you another chance.” I was so shocked that God was willing to answer my prayer, even though I had sinned against him so many times.
That winter, my shepherd once again invited me to Genesis Bible study. I knew this was the time to fulfill my vow, and with God’s help, I finished in summer 2011. The same year, I graduated from my program. The job market was harsh and my uncle wanted me to go Texas with the guarantee of a good job due to his connections. But I remembered what God had shown me, and chose to stay in California by faith, entrusting my job matter into His hands. After many rejections, sometimes even on the same day of applying, I received a phone call right after Bible study that I had been hired, not per-diem, but as a full-time therapist. I was so joyful when I saw how God had been guiding me and taking care of me all this time.
Now God’s love has become personal to me; He is no longer a person who just shows up in the pages of the Bible. It is because of him I am here today, and I am thankful for His grace upon my life. As life goes on, challenges keep coming, but because of God I can find comfort and peace. I pray to hold on to his grace and respond to this mercy by serving the lost sheep at CSULB with God’s heart continuously.
One Word: God is merciful!