In January of 2015 there was a gentle knock at my office door. My office door is almost always open, so before I turned around to see who wanted to see me I heard a soft female Chinese voice that said, “Hello, are you Professor Shaner?” A Chinese woman was standing there and introduced herself as Catherine (her American name) and that she was told I was looking for a Chinese language teacher.
“Ni Hao, Wo shi Xie Yeye,” I said, which means “Hello, I’m Steve Shaner,” my Chinese friends call me Xie Yeye!” (That’s a story for another day). And, “yes,” I said, I am looking for someone to help me learn my Chinese better. I was told that Catherine would come see me so I wasn’t surprised to see her standing there. Catherine let out a little laugh and seemed amused that I had a Chinese nickname. “Really?” she asked. I briefly told her about how I got my Chinese nickname and we continued. We went through the obligatory introductions and pleasantries of a first meeting. Her Chinese name is Ma Hua. I invited her to sit and talk with me for a few minutes. Perhaps, 30 minutes later, we had a schedule of when she would come back to help me continue my language training. I told her how much I wanted to pay her to see if that was OK with her, to which she replied, “Oh no, I won’t charge you anything.” To which I replied, “I insist, if you don’t accept payment we won’t be doing this at all.” She smiled and simply said, “Well, Okay.”
I don’t know if I’ve ever met a more giving culture than the Chinese. Her wanting to help me for free was an example of the way they honor new acquaintances, older people and professors.
For the next two and a half years Catherine and I met periodically. We went through a pre-planned and well prepared Chinese language lessons and a WHOLE lot more. I would tell her of specific things I wanted to communicate in my Chinese speech classes and she would come back the next week with new words, conversation scenarios and such. Catherine also prepared me very well just before I left each year for my teaching in China. She helped me be able to navigate my conversations in airports, train stations, and taxi’s. She helped me be able to meet new friends, order food at restaurants and find a bathroom, and do so in Chinese! We talked about life, her culture, our culture, her background, my background, plus our work and study environment. But what became so abundantly clear to me was that she was fascinated with OUR culture. Not just the American culture, but our Harding culture in general and specifically our Christian culture! She had so many questions. Catherine was not a Christian and, from what I could sense, she had no intention of considering such a decision, but she was just fascinated with our lives that was so different for her upbringing and what she had always known. Catherine always wanted to know what drove Christians to do and act the way we did? She was both amazed and confused.
And, for the next two-and-half years we talked, conversed, and shared our life’s stories with each other. Often, I would ask her about God by asking her how to say something in Chinese that had a very specific reference to Christianity. She often didn’t always know, but would find out and get back to me. It wasn’t that she didn’t know Chinese words, but she didn’t understand the context for such words to be put into a thought process and a conversation. Catherine always came back prepared with an answer and some direction for my conversation question. And, she always wanted me to tell her more about why I was asking such questions and how I would use those sentences with Christian references.
We became friends. Catherine’s husband and she were both professors in China. She taught English and her husband taught Physics. She was at Harding to get her Master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second Language, or as we call it TESL (tea-sell). Catherine lived in a small apartment near campus with her 15-year-old daughter, Xiao Bai, (or Dawn) for whom she checked into Searcy High School. Her husband would come to Searcy as often as he could, usually a couple of times per year and stay for 6-7 weeks at a time. On one occasion when her husband was in town Donna and I had her family over for dinner. They are a delightful Chinese family.
Catherine had many friends while attending Harding. Many of her classmates were also Chinese, and some of her friends were other Chinese professors that were attending Harding in a visiting professor role. As time went on she started collecting more American friends, but more importantly, many of her new friends were Christians or were becoming Christians. Often, while visiting for my language class, Catherine would ask me why Christians… Why Christians did this, why they believed that, why, why, why? She had a myriad of questions.
Last December Catherine’s friend Grace, a visiting Chinese professor, had been studying about Christianity largely on her own and became a Christian herself and was baptized shortly before Christmas. Catherine thought Grace was way too hasty in making that decision. “She has only been introduced to Christianity a short four months ago!” She asked me, “How could she change her life so quickly?” As time went on Catherine was more and more enamored with our lives, our love, our fellowship, our study, our Lord!
On June 14, 2017, just a few weeks before she left town to return to her hometown of Xining, Qinghai, Catherine was baptized and became a Christian! Much to my dismay, I wasn’t there when this occurred. I got a message on my phone one morning that said the night before that Catherine was baptized at the Westside Church of Christ!
On Thursday, July 27th I attended her going away party. The party was being hosted by the Chinese church that meets in Searcy. This church is made up of mainly Chinese women that were either here visiting our campus, or married to American men, and a few Chinese students such as Lillian Chen and Howard Kuang. There are also some Americans who attend regularly, like Gary & Danita Jackson, and Ed & Lolita Higgenbotham. All of these people had been praying and studying with Catherine so that she might become a Christian. We sat her in the middle of the room while the rest of us gathered around her, laid hands on her and prayed over her.
After the prayer was over, I was expressing my thanks, love, and admiration for what she had done for me and for her becoming a Christian, so I asked her, “After two and half years, what was it that convinced you to become a Christian?” She said something that I will never forget. She answered and said, “I had so many questions about Christianity. I had them all answered one at a time… until the only question left was, ‘Why am I not a Christian?’ Then I called my friends and told them I wanted to get baptized.”
Then I asked her another question that had nothing to do with God, or so I thought… “Catherine, Why Harding? Why Searcy, Arkansas? How in the world did you find your way from (Xining, Qinghai, China), a city that’s about as far away from here as you can get, all the way to Searcy, Arkansas and Harding University?” She answered as quietly as the day I met her when she said, “I believe God led me here to meet you, and everybody in this room.”
That statement almost took my breath away! It’s a sobering thought that God is placing people, that are looking for Him, in the paths of those that can lead them to Him. Are you ready to be used by God for such a cause as this?
Sunday, I sat in our weekly worship and thought of the church’s mission as we sang this song:
"Let Us Be You"
Words and Music by Clarissa Cox and Michael Lusk
Live in our hearts, fill this body.
Stir our spirits, help us serve!
Walk with our feet to the hurting.
Let us be You, revive Your church!
Let us be You on this earth.
Let us be You when a wounded soul cries out for hope,
Let us be You when the lonely need to know they're not alone
Just as Your stars pierce through the night
Let us forever shine Your light!
Let us be You, let us be You on this earth.
Reach with our hands, touch this city.
Lord, let our mouths speak Your truth!
Use our blessings to bring justice.
Let us be You, revive Your church!
Let us be You, on this earth.
Catherine left Searcy headed home to China very early in the morning on Sunday, July 30th. I may never see her again this side of heaven. But when I get there I’m going run up to her and to say, “Nihao, Wo shi Xie Yeye!