In His Time: Stories of Returnees (2)

Lu-Ming

本文原刊於《舉目》36期

Background: The lead character of our story was born in Anhui, China. In 1985 he arrived in the United States as a graduate student. After earning a doctorate in electronic engineering, he moved to California to work in the area of electro-optical messaging research. In 1996 he founded his own company specializing in the area of digital image processing. In 2001 he returned to China to develop new products, returning to the USA in 2004. Currently he does research in machine vision in Los Angeles, California. He became a Christian in 1991, and is serving in his church and small group as a tent-maker.

Returning to China as an entrepreneur

      At the beginning of 2001, I returned to China with a patent in my name; I was looking for investors and planning to manufacture my product in China.

      Upon arriving in Beijing, I found that great changes had taken place in China, and that many local governments were opening their arms to welcome foreign student returnees. I secured immediate help from the city of Beijing and various departments in Chung-Quan Village (a district in Beijing with many famous universities and high technology companies), and organized a technology introduction lecture in which many potential investors were invited to participate.

       I quickly teamed up with a young and capable investor, and we rented an office in the Returnee Enterprise Park of Chung-Quan Village. Within a week, we had filled out the necessary registration paperwork, and a new high-tech company was open for business. I and many other returnees were amazed at the efficiency and sincerity of the help we were being given.

       A new company has to attend to many fronts at the same time: building up a technology development team; finding capable management and marketing personnel; training and coordinating team members; and, on top of all this, entertaining the many provincial representatives who would come to Chung-Quan Village to observe and learn. I felt that I didn’t have the time required to do the necessary research.

       At this time, my Chinese partner asked me to move the company to Shenzhen; he said that the necessary development and manufacturing systems were already in place there, and moving the company would spare us the cost of rebuilding basic infrastructure. I felt that his suggestion made sense, and moved the company to Shenzhen.

Family Re-union

       When I began working in Beijing, my wife stayed in the US with our 10 year old daughter and 7 year old son. I called home every day, and returned to the States to visit every month or two. In our phone conversations, my wife would encourage me to work hard, but my children did not hide the fact that they missed Daddy. Every time I returned to the States to visit my family, I would browse through department stores beforehand, hoping to buy toys that my children would like, in order to make up for my absence from their lives.

       For Christmas that year, my wife brought our children to China for a visit. Just before their return to the US, one of them developed a fever, but my wife still had to take them on the plane. I saw them off at the airport, my wife, with the two listless kids, dragging their heavy luggage and disappearing into the crowd of travelers moving through the gate.

      When my wife called to tell me that they had gotten back safely, my daughter cried into the phone: “I don’t want any toys; I only want Daddy!” It began to dawn on me that trying to live a family life in two far-apart locations was not going to work. My wife said, “Whether sweet or bitter, our family has to live together.” So I rented an apartment in a good neighborhood in Shenzhen and moved the whole family to China.

Issues with Education

       It was relatively easy to become accustomed to the food and other living conditions; but, as with many other returnees, our biggest issue was that the children could not get used to the school system.

      In big cities in China, there are international schools for the children of foreigners, but they are usually far away and expensive, and they typically teach exclusively in English; our children would not be given the opportunity to learn Chinese. The other choice is to attend private bilingual schools, which are essentially boarding schools with strict discipline: the students are allowed out only in weekends. The children of returnees already have to deal with many adjustments in their lives, and attending such schools takes them far from their parents and unable to tell them about their problems. Many children in these environments become emotional and refuse to go to school, some crying to return to the States. Behavior like this creates a great deal of pressure for many returnee families.

       My wife and I felt that there was a good opportunity here for our children to learn Chinese. In the States, they had studied Chinese once a week but had not had much time to practice; it was easy for them to forget what they had learned. Since we were now in China, we thought, we might as well send them to local schools.

       The local schools presented their own difficulties. First, there was a large gap between our children’s and their classmates’ abilities to hear, speak, and write Chinese, and catching up would be a challenge. Furthermore, it is hard to get into good public schools; they usually demand a high sponsorship fee. Students from the outside, without a local registration, might not get in even with lots of money.
With the help of the Foreign Affairs Office in Shenzhen, I obtained a ‘specialist certificate.’ According to local government regulations promoting the introduction of experts, the children of specialists are to be treated as if they were local residents, accepted by the local schools on a priority basis with no sponsorship fee. In this way, the issue of our children’s schooling was resolved.

      My son was in first grade, and it was easier for him to catch up; my daughter, entering third grade, faced more of a challenge. My wife started tutoring her at home in the summer; she also helped her with homework.

      The new school year began in September. On her first Chinese exam, my daughter scored 50%. My wife encouraged her not to lose faith, but to continue studying, and she talked with her daily after school to help her adjust. Two months later, my daughter scored 70%; by the end of the first semester, her Chinese scores were among the top in her class.
In their two years at this primary school for commoners, my daughter and son learned to read and write Chinese, and they got along well with their teachers and fellow students.

Finding a church

       My first impression when I returned to China was that there were people everywhere! From early morning until late at night, cars and people made noise outside the windows; in such an environment it was difficult to find a quiet space. I was also confused and agitated inwardly. I was very much looking forward to joining a fellowship or small group for prayer with other believers seeking peace and strength in the Lord’s presence. In the United States, finding a church fellowship is not difficult, and sometimes attending prayer meetings week after week becomes a burden. In China, however, it became something I thirsted after.

        Through a friend, I found a home church in Beijing. Sunday services were held in a brother’s apartment; the attendees were mostly college students in their 20s. The church leader, Pastor Zhao, was Korean. He had graduated from an American theological seminary in the early 1990s, and before graduation had spent two months travelling in China, where he had felt called to serve in China. After graduation he had moved his family to Beijing, starting to learn Chinese, preach the gospel, and disciple seminary students. In 10 years he had built up two home churches and many seminary students had graduated.

       The Sunday church service was an underground affair: people came in twos or threes, took the elevator to a floor above or below the designated level, and then took the stairs the rest of the way, so as not to draw attention. The sitting room was about 30 square meters in area, but over 70 people were squeezed into it; the windows and door were covered with thick blankets to keep the noise in. In a corner of the room, Mrs. Zhao played the keyboard and led all in singing. When he preached, Pastor Zhao spoke with a slight Korean accent. My first impression of this church was one of warmth and sincerity. I was impressed by these young people’s eagerness for the word of God, and touched by the selfless sacrifice of the Zhaos.

       After one trip to the States to visit my family, I received a phone call just as I was returning to Beijing. A grieving brother told me that Pastor Zhao had been received to heaven by the Lord in an automobile accident the previous Saturday. He had traveled to Shantung to train Christian leaders, and after a week’s intensive training had came home, but the next morning had gone out again to visit brothers and sisters, and, too tired to drive well, had gotten into a fatal accident.
At the memorial service for Pastor Zhao, I saw some twenty brothers and sisters from his church in Korea, as well as his students and co-workers. Pastor Zhao had given his entire life to China on behalf of the Lord. Mrs. Zhao placed clothes and other items belonging to Pastor Zhao on a table; we went forward one by one to take these as mementos. Sobbing, Mrs. Zhao said: “This is my home and you are my children; I will stay here to finish the ministry that Pastor Zhao started.”

       Fortunately, the seminary students trained by Pastor Zhao were equal to the task of carrying on his work. Pastor Zhao had passed away, but the church was more mature and borne more fruits.

       The first Sunday after I moved to Shenzhen, I got up by habit to go to church. As I walked out the door, I realized I didn’t know where to go. In China most home churches are not open to the public; without an introduction by Christian friends they are very difficult to locate.
Still lost, I walked into the elevator, where I found several well-dressed Korean children. I asked, “Where are you going?” One of them answered, “To our church.” Immediately I asked, “Does your church speak Chinese?” The child replied, “No, our church does not speak Chinese.” The local authorities allowed their church to operate, but only Koreans were permitted to attend. Frustrated, I called some friends as I returned to my apartment. With some difficulty, I finally found a home church not far away.

      The church rented space from a restaurant to hold meetings on Sunday afternoons. The restaurant was on an upper floor; below it was a crowded local market, and restaurant workers and customers were constantly going in and out. With over 100 attendees, the meeting and singing were both quite public; compared with the tense secrecy characteristic of the home church in Beijing, the atmosphere here was very relaxed.

      The pastor was very young, just 30 years old, and the sister who led the singing had just graduated from high school; she was not even 20. A college student played the keyboard; while simple, it could produce the sounds of orchestral percussion, piano, and other instruments. From the singing and praying to the preaching, the meeting was filled with God’s presence.

       Most of the members of the church were local residents. Some survived on picking through garbage and lived in sheds made of paper cartons; their hands, when I greeted them, felt like rough bark. Yet they exhibited enviable joy and faith.

      The meeting place kept changing. Sometimes the restaurant had scheduled dinner banquets or renovations, and the church meeting would have to be moved to another restaurant or a hotel conference room. Each time, over a hundred believers would have to be notified, and all the materials — including the keyboard, a loudspeaker, a microphone, and a box of spiritual books — would have to be moved to the new location. But each time, the pastor and co-workers would give sincere thanks: “Thank you, Lord! Your provision is wonderful!”
It was also a joy to attend their prayer meetings. Everyone sat in a circle on the floor and, following the movement of the Holy Spirit, we would take turns singing songs or leading in prayer. In the rounds of singing and praying we could easily pass one or two hours. After praying, we shared a joyful meal together. Simple faith leads to trust and obedience to the Lord.

Returning to the States

       In my spare time, I helped a local private school to build a board-certified international school, and assisted the local government in organizing a Sino-American CEO forum to promote the internationalization of local small- and medium-sized businesses.
After two years in China, product development was almost finished, and there was not much technical work for me to do. I am not very interested in marketing and management, which require a good deal of socializing and complicated human interactions. Around that time, my Chinese partner came to feel that the previously agreed-upon ownership percentage no longer applied. We disagreed on the percentage that intellectual property contributions ought to have.
I was contemplating my next move. During the summer vacation, I took my family back to the States for a month’s rest, leaving behind the demanding work routine to be still before the Lord, seeking my way ahead. A thought came to my mind: maybe it was time to return to America.

       After getting back to Shenzhen, I had several fruitless meetings with my partner. My friends told me not to give up my rights, but my sense of futility became stronger and stronger. Finally, on a Friday in the middle of September, I told my partner in our last meeting, “You can take everything from our joint effort. I have decided to return to America.”

       After the meeting, I felt totally relieved. When I came home, my wife asked me, “What is your next step?” I answered, “I don’t really know. Let’s go back to the States and I will find a research position; I don’t want to drag the whole family here and there.”

       The next day, I received a phone call from an old friend who works in a research facility run by NASA. He said, “A researcher in my group resigned yesterday. He accepted a teaching position at a university two months ago, and has already sold his house, but he only told me yesterday and I cannot get him to stay. Are you willing to come and continue his research?”

       It is certainly interesting, looking back, how this vacancy became available at the same time I was falling out with my partner. Moreover, the work was well matched to my technical background.
I flew to the States on October 1 to interview with the responsible parties, and everything went smoothly. A woman from human resources said to me, “The hiring process may take one to two months; just go home and wait for us to notify you.” But by October 5, when I returned to Shenzhen, the job offer had already arrived. In my heart I praised God: “He is faithful in His time! He is such a merciful Lord who cares about His people!”

        I lived with my family for two years in China, and I have returned to the States, to a familiar work environment. In my heart I am grateful to God that during my time in China I learned many valuable lessons about life, my limitations, and His faithfulness. My family was able to taste what it was like to live in China, and my children gained a good foundation in the Chinese language. Above all, we witnessed how Chinese Christians look to God in difficult circumstances, living faithful lives.

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