I grew up in a traditional Chinese household. We went to temples and burnt incense. I even remember my mother buying some pencils from the temple when I was 7 because it was believed that if I used those pencils in my exams I would do well.
Growing up observing these traditions and beliefs, Jesus was a completely foreign concept to me.
Interestingly, I first came across Jesus in one of those old-school tear-off daily Chinese calendars when I was 5. They had an illustration for every key event of the month, and for April they had an illustration of a bloodied man nailed to a cross.
I remember asking my mother who was the man and why he was on that cross.
“He was nailed to the cross to die. He’s Jesus.”
The image of the nails piercing through his hands and feet with blood flowing out freely stuck to me for a long, long time.
I wouldn’t really call my younger self an atheist. I didn’t believe in the traditions my family followed, but I also had a very negative impression of Christians and the Church.
I had Christian relatives who were avid gamblers and even manipulated my grandfather to alter his will for their financial benefit.
My aunt often complained about how the Church that invited my cousins to their free Sunday kids programme ended up asking them to tithe monthly, even though they were not members of the Church or even Christians at that point in time.
My Christian classmate often skipped school and slept in classes. We even copied answers for our homework together – from another Christian!
Going to Church didn’t seem to make them any different from me, I reasoned. In fact, I seemed to be doing better than some, if not most of them.
When my classmate first invited me to her Church on a Saturday afternoon in 2008, I gave no second thought to it and turned her down.
I’m not free. I have CCA. There’s a remedial class happening. I have a family gathering.
I made up all the excuses I could. I didn’t want to mess up my life. I didn’t want to become like them. Church was the last place I’d ever wanted to be at.
Yet underneath the surface, my life was already a mess. I was quietly in search of a purpose and a hope in my life. But I was too proud to let anyone know about it.
One day after school, I decided to get myself a Bible and find out what’s the deal about Jesus.
In April 2009, my father was suddenly hospitalised for hypertension. I came home from school after an exam and found my mother standing anxiously at the gate.
“Your dad… He’s in the ICU.”
I’d never been gripped by such a fear as this.
One night in my room after a hospital visit, I opened up the rarely opened Bible I’d bought earlier that year at a Borders sale, thinking there was no harm in finding out a bit more about what my friends believed in.
I didn’t know where to look; I didn’t know what to do. Then my eyes landed on this verse in 3 John.
“Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.” (3 John 2)
That night, something changed within me. Unbeknownst to me, my heart had started moving towards this God who calls me beloved.
“Want to go to the mall tomorrow?” Fiona, my classmate, asked me.
It was Christmas Eve the following day.
A part of me guessed that we were going to Church – and to be fair her Church service did take place in Suntec City – but for some reason I just didn’t call her out on my suspicion.
I thought that showing up for once would make her stop inviting me in the future. I went wanting to leave the service as soon as possible. I went ready to confirm for myself that Church wasn’t for me.
I don’t remember much of what happened during the service, or the songs they sang. At one point I even wondered to myself, what is going on?
But I remember very clearly the message that was preached that day by the Senior Pastor – an exhortation from Romans 5.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)
Everything started to fall into place.
The illustration of the bloodied man nailed to the cross came back to my mind again. So that was why he was there.
Jesus died for me. That was how much He loves me.
When the time for altar call came towards the end of the service, Fiona nudged me and asked if I wanted to receive Jesus into my life.
Without any hesitation, I nodded and we went down to the front of the hall together.
All I wanted to do there and then, was to run to the Man who had died that painful death for me.
“Oh, you became a Christian?”
I bumped into a secondary friend on the bus and she couldn’t hide her surprise hearing that I was on my way to Church.
I couldn’t blame her for that; I had been relatively vocal about my disapproval towards Christians and the Church in the past.
Nobody could really understand what motivated this change in me. To this day, neither do I have the exact words to explain it.
Every now and then I think about my life before and after 24 December 2009.
At the age of 16, where my peers seemed to have known what they wanted to do in life and what they wanted to study in the future, I was purposeless and directionless. Life was utterly meaningless and there were many days when I wanted my life to just end. I wasn’t suicidal, but I had absolutely no clue why I was alive.
My life was a mess. But nothing in my life today is the same as my life back then.
As a new Christian, I learnt that God loves me unconditionally, wholeheartedly and continually. But to continue believing in that required an additional measure of matured faith.
I continue to believe God’s love even when I don’t see or feel it, just like how I believe and know that the Sun is still there and real even when it is not shining. I continue to believe in God’s love even when the darkness feels overwhelming. In psychology, this is also known as object permanence. It is the understanding that things continue to exist even when they cannot be seen.
In psychology, object permanence is the understanding that things continue to exist even when they cannot be seen – like God’s love even when the darkness feels overwhelming.
This is the hope that keeps me going even on the most difficult of days.
If I hadn’t received Jesus Christ into my life, I wouldn’t have known that there was so much more to my life. I wouldn’t have known Someone whom I can talk to and who knows all of my thoughts.
So this Christmas, if someone has invited you to church, I encourage you to go with an open heart. Don’t let others decide for you what Christianity is about. Come and see for yourself who the bloody man nailed to the cross is.
And if you’re wondering whether to invite a friend, a classmate, a colleague, a family member to church, I hope you find the courage to just do it. If Fiona hadn’t taken that first step to get me to Church that Christmas Eve 8 years ago, I wouldn’t be where I am and who I am today.
If you’d like help getting connected to a local Church or community of believers, feel free to drop us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org! You could also pop by one of the many Churches celebrating Christmas this weekend – find one near you using our Christmas directory!