By Preacher Zhang Li Feng
I grew up in an environment where I was completely insulated from religious influences, especially Christianity. My understanding of religion was nothing more than what was written in textbooks: it was a tool (or means) for rulers to fool and mislead corrupted people and oppress them.
But during my studies in Moscow, I kept visiting Christian churches. To tourists, Moscow has a rich heritage of churches with impressive architecture of a different era. And in the midst of many palaces, whether large and small, you could always find a magnificent church. But isn't Russia an atheist country? After all, its predecessor was China's “big brother”, the Soviet Union, so how could there be so many churches? These questions flashed through my mind briefly, as I had no interest or concern about religious and social issues then.
The time I came into contact with the gospel was during my work-study period. A Chinese-American missionary came into my store sometime in June 1994 and preached the gospel to me. I did not have a good impression of monks and priests at that time but this missionary’s parting remark, :The great scientist Isaac Newton also believed in God”, caused me to wonder: “Did great scientists like Newton also believe in religion?"
Since young, I had heard many stories about Newton, such as “Isaac Newton’s Dinner”, “Apple Falling”, etc. How is it this missionary's story was different from my secondary school teacher's versions? I was a big fan of the great scientist Isaac Newton, so I decided to find out who was lying. As I researched on the biographies of scientists in Moscow, I was surprised to learn that many of the great scientists were Christians. This began to shake my narrow view of Christianity and I wondered, “How can a scientist believe in superstition?”
Without realising it, I was starting to become more accepting of the Christian faith. From then on, whenever I met the missionary, I no longer resisted his preaching of Jesus Christ, but became increasingly interested instead.
Most importantly, I began to understand sin. In the past, I did not see myself a sinner as I equated it with lawbreaking, and I had not committed any crimes or illegal acts. But dishonesty to teachers and parents and cheating in exams are also acts of sin. Even if I tried to cheat but failed or did not dare to do it, it’s a sin. By the Holy Spirit’s conviction, I realised my faults and realised the need for a Saviour in my life. That’ when I decided to accept Jesus as my personal redeemer.
My newfound faith saw two obvious changes: First, I relied on the Lord Jesus Christ and quit smoking — which I had always wanted to but couldn't. Second, I started to read the Bible whenever I had time and attend church worship on Sundays — I would attend two worship services because one time was not satisfying enough!
Slowly but surely, God has changed me and drawn me to Himself until today!
My Calling into Full-time Ministry
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit
and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name,
he may give it to you.” (John 15:16)
“and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation” (Romans 15:20)
In the summer of 1994, during my second year in Moscow, I put my faith in God and was subsequently baptised into the church in September.
God’s grace was upon the Abundant Life Christian Evangelical Church in Moscow, which was growing fast. The church brethren were very active in bringing people to the church and were eager to spread the gospel. In her first year of establishment, the number of believers increased from eight to 200. It was one of the several churches founded by the Great Commission Centre International throughout Eastern Europe. The pastors assigned to Moscow from the Great Commission Centre were either the centre’s own missionaries or pastors who were on short-term loan from other churches.
At the start, a pastor named Yi Ming, who was a Vietnamese American missionary, was sent to the church for one year. In April 1994, the church borrowed a Korean chapel as a place of worship and established a Chinese church. Within one year, the number of places of worship increased to three. After I was baptised in September, I often went out with Pastor Yi to preach the gospel among the Chinese in the business districts of Moscow. I also enthusiastically participated in various ministries in the Church. In early 1995 (four months after my baptism), the church appointed me to be the chairman of a co-workers board.
John 15:16 often kept coming to my mind, where Jesus said, “…but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide”.
At that time, I only understood this verse to mean that we have been chosen by our Saviour Jesus Christ to do His work as His children. So, we should all go out and preach the gospel and bear fruit for the Lord. Like others, I worked and studied at the same time, served, and preached the gospel in the church.
It was only in the spring of 1995, that I began to realise that God was calling me to serve full time. All the while, when Pastor Yi challenged me to serve full time, in the past, my excuse was always, "I am not ready yet”.
About three months later before the end of Pastor Yi's mission in Moscow, he invited me to join him on a week-long retreat in a resort near a lake on the outskirts of Moscow. In the mornings, the pastor would lead me in devotion and prayer and reflect together on the ministry ahead. Pastor Yi once again mentioned about dedicating my life to serve full-time, challenging me to pray more in seeking God's guidance. The pastor also shared with me that God had impressed upon him that He was going to raise up his own workers in our fledgling church.
So, I prayed before God for days and something wonderful happened. Not only did God cause me to recall the verse John 15:16 again, but God also brought to my attention, Romans 15:20. When I read Romans 15:20:
“... thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation”,
it seemed to be speaking to me. My heart was gripped by a vision of the Lord working on the threshing floor. It seemed to be showing me the need for a homegrown Pastor in my own Church, and my tears began to flow spontaneously. I began to be deeply aware that the church needed her own servants to shepherd the sheep of God, as sooner or later the “pastor on loan” had to go back to his own place.
After that personal retreat, I began to seriously think about the full-time ministry path. I had two major concerns: the first was that being the only man in my family, serving God would definitely interfere with my filial piety duties at home. The second was that I had no money for theological studies.
After Pastor Yi left, Pastor Spark Gau and his family were sent from California to Moscow to serve in the church. He and his wife continued to mentor and strengthen my faith. In the meantime, God also showed me that my constant presence with my parents didn't necessarily make them happy. I think that's the answer God was giving me. Therefore, I silently prayed, “If you are calling me, if you are leading me, you will look after the financial and school preparation.” Thereafter, I told Pastor Gau and his wife of my decision: If it’s God’s leading, I am willing to surrender.
In August 1995, when I was preparing for the entrance examination of St. Petersburg Christian University, there were two short-term mission teams visiting in Russia for three months, consisting of teachers and students from the Alliance Bible Seminary in Hong Kong and the Logos Evangelical Seminary in America. God supported me through the care, prayer, and testimonies of the team members. They also helped to support me financially in my study. Amazingly, what they gave me happened to be a little more than what I had to pay for my first year of study. God is so wonderful!
During the course of my theological studies at St. Petersburg Christian University, I have experienced God's supply. God never missed the time nor stopped supplying for my needs — exceeding all that I could ask or think! Some funds were transferred from Hong Kong, some from the United States, and some were even from people in London who sealed the money in an envelope and asked someone else to hand it to me. The most wonderful thing is that the total amount of funds received from various places for each year was always a little more than the total amount of school fees and living expenses I needed in that year! How did all these people — whom I had never met, neither did they know each other — know how much money I needed each year? Only God knows. What a wonderful thing God has done!
God had answered my financial concerns and provided me with everything I needed. When I was preparing for my entrance examination, a seminarian from the Alliance Bible Seminary said to me, "When He leads, He sees to the end!" Yes, our faithful God, I have experienced how great You are! To paraphrase the words of Job in Job 42:5, "I have heard of you before, and now I see you with my own eyes!" Glory be to Your Name!