This is the ninth part of the story of my conversion to Catholic Christianity together with my wife Judith and our three sons.
When I became a teacher of computer science, I continued to work on Sundays as a priest in Episcopal churches that invited me. My work as a priest dried up, around the time that God called me to go to a place in China, to accomplish a specific task. It is one of the few times in my life that I have known that I was sent by God to do something. My family and I could not have gone to the place where we went by my own plan, and I would never have known what the thing was, that needed to be done.
God prepared me for a change a year ahead. The college where I teach became the first public entity in California ever to declare bankruptcy in 1985, and I almost lost my job. Then in 1986 Judith and Isaiah traveled to the Philippines and Hong Kong with a small group led by the pastor of a church in our little town. It was Judith's chance to fulfill her dream of seeing the Philippines again. The Christian group was going to carry Bibles into China from Hong Kong, and went to a Hong Kong church to learn how. A friend of ours was there, visiting the church for half an hour, whom we had not seen for seven years. We did not know what happened to him, but he was teaching English in China. Later an application came to me in the mail from the American organization that sent him, and I filled it out and was accepted. We were scheduled to teach at a technical school in the big city of Chongqing, but God had other plans.
Our group of teachers and their families arrived in Beijing in August 1987. At one in the morning we learned at our hotel, that our school had misunderstood a message and thought we were not coming. There was no room for us, and our tired hosts found a room in a hotel nearby. In the morning we talked about where we would go. The head of the American organization was on his way to an English school that had several foreign teachers, and invited us to go there.
What we found there was very strange. We had no cook, and no kitchen in which to cook for ourselves. There was trouble with the Chinese host college. We started hearing about foreign teachers in the past who had caused trouble. The head of the American organization went home to the US disturbed and bewildered.
A young American man was the head teacher at the little school. He had been raised Catholic, but had become a spirit-filled evangelical Christian, and wanted us to fast on Thursdays to support him. Since we had only a makeshift kitchen, and daily difficulty preparing meals, I was not interested in fasting. His kitchen was rather well equipped, and he and his wife had no children. When he caught us eating on a Thursday -- it was Thanksgiving Day in the United States -- he was offended. He was even more offended when he learned a friend had invited us to visit the Catholic church in the city, and he said we could not go.
At the end of the fall semester he fired me. He had been writing letters about us and the trouble we were causing, to headquarters in the United States, and the man who had gone home refused to help me find another school.
We began to put the pieces together. We were this year's scapegoat. The head teacher had told us God had promised him he would be in charge of the little school. He also told us that he did not try to influence people who were making a decision about him, but instead prayed. One day Judith and I realized it was mind control, and when we realized it, a heavy cloud of confusion suddenly lifted. We had learned about mind control from a Christian prayer ministry in California. It means using mental power to influence events, and it is different from submitting requests to God. We were reading morning and evening prayer from the Catholic Daily Office that a friend had given us. When we read, "Can the prey be taken from the mighty, or the captives of a tyrant be rescued?" we began to pray for our own rescue.
We asked Chinese friends to help me find another college, and told one of them we were trusting God to help. We had learned to pray this way from the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary, a group of Lutheran sisters originally from Germany. We went to summer camp where one of the sisters taught, every year for eleven years, while our boys were growing up. The sisterhood's foundress Basilea Schlink advises saying to God in times of darkness, "My Father, I trust you, you will take me by the hand and lead me." Our Chinese friend found a school, and we moved in time for the spring semester.
While we were waiting to know how God would help and where we would go, Chinese New Year came. Because Communist China is careful to distance itself from the traditions of the past, the days are called "Spring Festival," but are still celebrated. We had met a boy who had lived in the United States and then gone back to China, where we was behind in school. He was Hong-Fei, or Henry. On the eve of the New Year, he came to our apartment with special New Year's foods he had bought, and prepared a meal for us. He said he had to be with his own family on New Year's Day. It was good for us because Chinese New Year in 1988 was Ash Wednesday, a day of fasting in the Catholic calendar. At midnight rockets went off from campus rooftops.
To the last part of our conversion story: Dominus Vobiscum
To the Table of Contents of our conversion story
To the Short Version of our conversion story
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1. I was a supply priest, that is, a substitute when the parish priest went on vacation, or when they had no priest.
2. The Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Chapter 49, verse 24
3. This is not an exact quote, because it is from memory. The Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary has a web site.