After my long awaited nap time, Anson came back to take me to the Xing Ba Ke (Starbucks) where I had arranged to meet a young girl who was going to be attending Harding University in the Fall. I was asked to meet Li Chenyang by Jeff Robertson.
Jeff was an elder at the Fairfax Church of Christ, where my son, Matthew and his family attended with God’s family. Matthew was eager for me to meet Jeff because he knew we both had a great interest in Chinese ministries. A year and a half later Jeff asked me to meet, what I now learned was, his Chinese exchange student that lived with his family in Virginia for a year in 2015 - 2016. He told her I was coming to Xi'an, so Li Chenyang and I traded WeChat messages and arranged this meeting time and place.
Li Chenyang entered the Xing Ba Ke and walked right up to Anson and I introducing herself as the one I was there to meet! She was bright, friendly and seemed to have a good grasp of her English. Chenyang had the confidence and the moxie of a much older adult, but she looked very young. I asked how she knew I was the one to meet? She laughed and said, “You looked like the only American in the room, so I knew you must be the one I was looking for.”
We ordered drinks. I had the Hot Chocolate she had some tea. We sat down and talked for an hour or more. Jiaming soon joined us but after smiling and greeting us she talked to Anson and I talk to Chenyang. We talked a lot and then we talked some more. What a delightful and beautiful young woman Chenyang turned out to be. As we talked, she told me a bit of “her story.” How she became a Christian, and how she got to know the Jeff Robertson family. The more she talked the more intrigued I became with her. I soon realized that meeting this young, prospective Harding student reminded me that days like this day will be turning points, and a day and time I will remember forever.
I knew a little about the Agape China, (now Agape Asia), organization that first connected Li Chenyang and Jeff Robertson, but soon I discovered that it has a wider spread of social services than what I first knew. The more she told me about her life the more my eyes grew wider with amazement! This now 21-year old girl had lived a very difficult life. Chenyang’s father died before she was born and her mother abandoned her and her four-year old sister with her grandparents when she was two. Her grandparents were very poor and lived in a rural area near the city of Xi’an. They provided the best they could for her, but life was hard.
After Chenyang finished middle school she became very ill. Chenyang was diagnosed with Aplastic Anemia. She spent the next three years in a hospital! THREE YEARS! That's where she found God! Chenyang had her grandmother read her the entire Bible, a little bit at a time. Several days later, when they finished the entire Bible, Chenyang looked at her Grandmother and said, "We need to both get baptized!" And they were both baptized and became Christians. Soon after, Chenyang prayed fervently to be healed and return to her family. Chenyang told me that God answered her prayer and healed her.
Now with improving health, Chenyang returned to school, albeit three years behind. It was in school years ago that she first heard about Agape China. Chenyang didn’t know who they were or why they chose to help her. Agape provided Chenyang and her family some social services and physical help with other essentials. All the while Chenyang still wondered why her? Why did Agape reach out to help her and not somebody else? It was then she realized that it was God who was answering her prayers. It was God who blessing her, and God who was continually giving her hope. Now, Chenyang tells me, that she wakes up every day knowing that it is God that gives her hope to live another day to live, and it is God that gives her hope for a better life.
Most Chinese students that learn English in high school get to choose an English name, to be used as a nickname. Those names are chosen for a variety of reasons; characters in books or movies, friends and family suggestions, or simply a name that phonetically sounds like their own Chinese name. Li Chenyang decided to change her name, and at the same time honor God for what He had done and continues to do for her. Li Chenyang told me that she changed her name to HOPE. Hope Li! (This is where you insert the sound of me gasping for air and weeping silently.)
I told her that I was a writer and that she had a compelling and stunning story of faith and... hope. Then I told her I wanted to help her, tell her story. It was a story that needed to be told. Hope seemed anxious to help me, help her, tell her story. What a story of hope! Stay tuned to a more complete series of journal and blog entries about the story of the “Hope that is within Hope.”
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Steve Shaner, also known as Xie Yeye, is a professional story teller that delights in traveling to meet new and old friends. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.