A young woman's faith journey

Photo: canva.com/DjelicPhoto: canva.com/Djelic

When Amelia Zhao and I first met, I looked forward to hearing more about her life story and interest in Christianity. Our conversations at Holy Family Church in Wuhan blessed me with an understanding of her journey to the Christian faith in recent years. One conversation went on for over two hours, adding more than a few details to what I knew about her personal journey.

As we spoke, her bright eyes and great smile reflected the joy and energy that is a core part of her personality. She mentioned again that both her mother and father came from families that had no connection with Christianity. Amelia's introduction to the Catholic Church took place two years ago in Shanghai. As someone with a university degree in Chinese literature, she now sees that her growing understanding of Christianity allows her to better understand the literature from other cultures that she is encountering in her postgraduate studies. Some of this literature refers to Christianity. These areas are a partial mystery if a student does not understand the Christian faith.

Amelia's study allows her to refer with ease to authors from various parts of the world and eras in history. An interesting part of what she spoke about this time was her view of one Chinese woman who was deeply committed to writing amid challenging circumstances in the last century. The author found a way to commit to paper her life experiences even though large sections of the precious writing eventually disappeared.

As we spoke about that one case, we discussed how the human spirit can sometimes overcome the most demanding situations and become a sign of hope for others. The possibility of that female author being the subject of further research by Amelia was discussed, such examples of human endurance possibly containing some of the threads of meaning that Christians associate with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. If such a line of research were to become part of her studies in the years ahead, it could literature and the Christian story.

Amelia's contact with the Church has led her to attend catechetical classes. It has also brought her into contact with many young people in the Church in this part of China. Her encounter with Christianity has been a life-changing experience and is already shaping the decisions she is making for the next few years. In looking to the future, she has begun to study French seriously in preparation for going to France to study philosophy. An indication of her commitment to study is that she hopes a qualification in philosophy will be followed by studies in theology. These long-term plans will obviously need several years to reach fruition, but her youthful enthusiasm allows her to see the positive side of such a commitment.

In the midst of these important decisions that have emerged from Amelia's encounter with the Church, it is intriguing to realise that she has not yet been baptised. She explains she has her own reasons for this approach. She also clarifies that she is likely to request baptism in France. While the political leaders in China are focused on decisions about political leadership roles for the coming years, life for many people is about attending to the day-to-day issues of more immediate concern in the living out of their lives. Among the nation's hundreds of millions of people, far from the main centre of decision-making, a young woman feels a stirring in her heart to direct her considerable abilities in a direction that might lead to something new in a Christian faith setting.

A deep knowledge of Chinese literature meeting the worlds of philosophy and theology and supported by a bright personality seems like a promising combination. If Amelia maintains her commitment to her studies over the next few years, we may see her make a unique contribution to the life of the Church in China. Perhaps her unfolding story is already encouraging us to keep in mind what Jesus said about the activity of the Spirit in Chapter 3 of St John's gospel: "The wind blows where it pleases; you can hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going."

Columban Fr Dan Troy lives and works in China.

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