In January, three students — Linda Zhang, Lucas Zhao, and Lydia Tian — came to Judah Christian School from Kunming, China, to get a Christian education. These students have strengthened our school and reminded us of the unique educational opportunities we have.
Linda Zhang The last will be first, and the first last.
— Matthew 20:16
Back in Kunming, Linda Zhang took pride in her grades. She wanted to be the best student in her school, despite the stress this constant competition caused. But one summer, Linda said, she didn’t do her summer vacation homework, and because of that, “I wasn’t the best student. So I ran away from my school, and I stayed in my house. I didn’t go to school for about a year.”
Eventually, one of her friends asked if she would go to church with her. She did, and when people asked her if she believed in Jesus, Linda would lie to them to look good. “Everyone was looking at me,” Linda said, “and I thought they wanted me to believe in Jesus. I thought, maybe that would make me better or make me a good kid. So I said, ‘Okay, I believe in Jesus.’ But I didn’t truly believe in Jesus at first.” Not until, she said, “I saw the love of Jesus in the church.”
“What I was most surprised by,” Linda said, “was the forgiveness of God in all of the believers. Maybe I hurt them with what I said, or maybe I hurt them with what I did, but they forgave me. My mom forgave me, and Jesus forgave me, even though I sinned and talked bad about Him. He forgave me. That really affected me a lot. As I began to walk with Jesus and talk with other people in the church, I saw that Jesus’s followers are humble, and that’s what I lack.”
“The craziest thing that Jesus taught me,” Linda said, “is that you don’t have to do anything that makes you look great or seem higher than others. You serve others. Jesus said that the last one will be the first one and that the lowest person will be the highest person. So I realized that all I did before I believed in Jesus, like trying to get the best grades, was useless without Him. It didn’t make me feel higher than others or feel great. It just brought me stress and pain and anger. But Jesus’s love gave me peace and taught me to be humble. It healed me in so many ways.”
Linda said that she initially came to Judah to pridefully prove that she was a top student by studying in a foreign country. But now she sees that “Jesus brought me here because he wants me to learn how to humble myself and how to appreciate others. Here I don’t know anything. The only thing I can do is appreciate others. I can say, ‘Wow, you’re so good at this!’”
Linda sees the difference in doing school Jesus’s way. She said, “When I met all the students around me, I thought, ‘Wow, they’re so friendly and so joyful! How can they be so joyful even though they’re studying and in school?’ The first person I met was Ms. Griswold, and she really surprised me with her energy and openness. I thought, ‘Is that a math teacher? How?’ I can talk with my teachers about almost anything. The students like me and talk to me too, even though my English is bad. They don’t laugh at me. We communicate with each other and make friends.”
The testing of your faith produces perseverance.
— James 1:3
How hard can it be to get a travel visa? For Lucas Zhao, it was very hard. The first time he applied and interviewed for a visa to visit the United States, he was turned down. It took a second application and a second interview for Lucas to get the permission he needed to travel here. For a time, the need to be persistent discouraged him. “I didn’t want to read English for a while,” Lucas said. “I just hated the language.” But Lucas prayed and worshipped and kept going.
After Lucas visited Judah and decided with his parents that he would actually come here, he had to go back to China to change his visa to a student visa, which would give him permission to go to school in the United States. Once again, Lucas applied and interviewed, but once again, he was turned down. “Linda passed, but I did not,” Lucas said. “So I was thinking that I was just going to give up. My mom and my family had spent so much money on me. So I said to myself, ‘I’m going to give up. I’m not going back. I don’t have the chance to go back.’ But later, while my mind was saying ‘I’m giving up,’ my hands were typing another student visa application.”
“Jesus was with me,” Lucas said. “The second time I went to get interviewed for the student visa, it was the same guy who refused me in my first interview. Then, and I don’t know why, they decided to open an extra window for me. So a different person interviewed me. After we finished, the woman said that I passed and that I would get my visa. But her hand started reaching for the paper to deny visas. I wasn’t hearing her, and I was like, ‘Whattt?’ But then she said, ‘Oops!’ and she changed her hand back. I got my visa.”
Lucas’s story is a testament to learning to persevere in faith and how perseverance matures us. “Everything I’ve been through,” Lucas said, “I have to go through twice. I think it’s because of the number God once gave me in prayer: two. I don’t understand anything, but I think I’m starting to understand this. I have to go through everything twice because of my lack of faith.”
God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.
— Romans 2:4
Lydia Tian did not stress about her grades like Linda did or have to persist through the defeat that Lucas has. Her struggle was that she was just not into her faith, and it showed in the fruit of her life. Lydia said of herself then, “Yes, I know He is here, and He is my God, and He is the only God. I know, but so what? My life didn’t change. I always hung out with my friends and didn’t learn anything. If people gave me rules, I wouldn’t follow them.”
That is, until Lydia got a wake-up call. It came from her mentor. “Miss Libby,” as Lydia calls her, was in tears because of her frustration at how she and Lydia had spent three years together but Lydia’s faith in Jesus never grew. Worse yet, Lydia was growing more disobedient to Miss Libby. Lydia said, “That was the first time I saw her get so mad, and she was crying, ‘Why are you like this? I’ve spent three years with you to train you, to be with you, and to help you build up a good character. I don’t know why you are like this.’”
Lydia did not brush off her mentor’s words. She realized in horror how she had ignored her mentor’s love and, more importantly, God’s love. So she prayed to God for forgiveness. Lydia said, “‘Lord, I surrender. I will see what you do. I’m so sorry for everything that I’ve done.’ I had no idea what to do at that time, and it was like a really deep depression in my life. I didn’t want to disobey or hurt Miss Libby for anything, but she felt so mad. So I asked Jesus to help me.”
Not long after, while serving in a town in the mountains amid utter poverty, Lydia felt God’s presence. She said, “I felt His power and His plan for my life. I really, really surrendered all. I said to Jesus, ‘I don’t need anything else. I just need you. Not my plan, but yours. Your will be done, not mine.’ And every verse I’ve read from childhood just came into my mind, and I thought of the Lord and surrendered it all.”
After that, Lydia said, “I was so thirsty for His word. I wanted to read the Bible so bad. I couldn’t stop reading the Bible at that time.” Lydia says that now, “in everything I do, I will feel if it is right or not. I will feel the fear of God and if it’s a wrong thing to do. So I ask myself, why am I doing this? About a year and a half later, He has made me a totally different person.”
Despite this change, the lies her sinful self believed didn’t just stop. Lydia said, “Lies come into my mind saying, ‘You don’t deserve God’s plan. You should stay quiet forever. You should just stay in your room, play on your phone, and stay by yourself. You’re not worthy.’” Not helping is the chance of her not being able to stay at Judah for two more years because of tuition costs.
However, Lydia continues to trust God. She said, “I’m still afraid, but God is faithful. He would not trick me by saying, ‘I will give you a trip to America. You’re just going to play around and then go back.’ I believe God’s plan is not like that. If He brings me to America, He will let me stay in America for His plan. He told me, ‘you are going to America.’ So I came. He is faithful.”
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
Most Americans know these lines. They are on a bronze plaque affixed to the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. Written by Emma Lazarus, the lines are part of a poem that speaks of the immigrants who came to the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But they also apply to those who come to America today in search of new opportunities.
Fewer Americans know that, when it was built, the Statue of Liberty was a shiny copper color. Over the years, the copper skin of the statue has oxidized and acquired the green patina that we know today. People have just accepted it like that, not knowing the true glory it had when it was new. In a similar way, we can take our opportunities for granted. They can be right in front of us, but we just go through the motions and don’t actually take advantage of them. The opportunities have oxidized into something else instead.
For Linda, Lucas, and Lydia, the opportunities that Judah offers shine bright like new copper. You’ll see Linda, Lucas, and Lydia walking through the hallways, in your classes, or at Judah events. They might stay in the United States for years, or they might head back to China. But they came here for a reason, in search of a Christian education.
— Ryan Chen, class of '23