Faith and My Fear of a Foreign Language – Conclusion
Working her way down my row, she reached the person behind me–I was next. Fear, fright, and flight all kicked in at once, and I jumped up out of my seat and ran to the back door. “Ni Wei Li, where are you going?” called my professor. I looked at her, stuck my finger to a tooth and told her I had a dentist appointment! I lied. Walking down the hall away from the classroom, I said, “Lord that was terrible; I’m never going back!!!” And for two weeks I was in turmoil not wanting to go back but struggling with the feeling that that Lord wanted me there. I went back on a Friday. The professor had already figured out what had happened. During that class, the professor comes over and stands beside me with her hand on my shoulder. “Class, class, I want your attention!” All the students stopped writing and looked up at the two of us.
“Class, class, I want your attention!” All the students stopped writing and looked up at the two of us. “Ni Wei Li here is afraid of what all of you think about his Chinese, so everyone, please be patient with Ni Wei Li.” I was humiliated and felt stupid! It was hard enough to come back to a college class after missing two weeks and then she did THAT to me! In my heart I prayed, “Lord, that does it! I’m not coming back for sure!!!!! No way, NEVER!!!” The whole weekend I was in turmoil and again struggled with myself and the feeling that the Lord wanted me there taking Chinese. I gave in; I was back in class on Monday and for the next few weeks, I had to work my rear off trying to catch up with the rest of the class.
As nothing short of a miracle from the Lord, I got through four quarters of Chinese. I started debating if I should take a fifth quarter because I began feeling like I would never make it to China as a missionary. Becoming a bit depressed over this, one day I found myself in a Christian bookstore. As I was browsing the book racks, I saw a book about a pioneer missionary to China named Jonathan Goforth. The book was titled, Goforth of China, so I purchased the book and read the story. I had read a lot about China since I started my Chinese studies, and as far as missionaries went, Hudson Taylor who started the China Inland Mission had been my missionary hero to China. But there were also things about Goforth’s life I could relate to, and he became my new missionary hero with Hudson Taylor close behind. Both Goforth and Taylor were contemporaries working in different areas in China back during the late 1800s and early 1900s.
I was inspired by Goforth’s life but was still struggling about taking more Chinese. Around that time, my wife and I were invited to a wedding for one of her friend’s that was going to be held a few hours from where we lived. On our arrival, we were told we would be staying overnight with some friends of theirs that were retired missionaries that had served some thirty years in Viet Nam. The couple welcomed us and gave us an upstairs room for the night. The wedding would be the next day.
I was sitting on the side of the bed getting ready for bed and got to staring at an old tintype photo on the top of a dresser. I was thinking to myself, “That old lady looks really familiar.” Then I started thinking, “She sure looks a lot like the picture I saw of Jonathan Goforth’s wife in his book.” Over on a table I noticed a really old Bible–except it had Chinese on it! I jumped up, ran over, grabbed the Bible, and opened the front cover. Inside, hand written, was the name Jonathan Goforth! I nearly fell over! He had lost his first Chinese Bible during the Boxer Rebellion in China when he was attacked by a mob and left for dead. It’s estimated that around the year 1889, several hundred missionaries and over 32,000 Chinese Christians were killed by the Boxers. After he survived, a Bible society presented him with a new Chinese Bible, the one I was holding.
That was too much for me!!!!! I yanked my clothes back on, ran down stairs, and started calling for the old missionaries. The wife came out of their bedroom and asked if I was ok. I blurted out, “What’s all that business about Jonathan Goforth upstairs in our room???” She looked at me smiling and said, “I’m his great-granddaughter.” That experience did a number on me, and I signed up for the fifth quarter of Chinese. The following is so typical of God–to go beyond what we expect. Not long after, a Bible publisher was hosting a banquet in our city, and the country of focus that year was China. My wife’s uncle who was associated with the Bible publisher knew of our interest in China and had invited us to the banquet. Sitting down at the banquet table, we said hi to her uncle and to the two men sitting with him. Then her uncle turned to us and said, “I would like to introduce you to Hudson Taylor III and Hudson Taylor IV.” I had to fight back tears.
By the time I had gotten into my sixth quarter of Chinese, we had gone from three classes of thirty students each studying Chinese down to eight of us. We were considered to be the next round of Chinese translators and every other week an officer from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) would come in and pass out applications or other promotional literature. One day my professor, the one who had humiliated me back in my first Chinese class, came to me. She said, “Ni Wei Li, I want you to know that you have an above average ability to learn Chinese characters, even among the Chinese!” By the eighth quarter, I was doing an independent study in Chinese, because at that time, I had taken all the Chinese the university offered.
Walking down the hall one day in the East Asian Language Department, I heard someone call my Chinese name. Turning around, it was my Chinese professor for my advanced studies. He was the head of the East Asian Language Department and had been responsible for the department receiving several national awards. He also was an honorary chairman of the Taipei Institute of Linguistics in Taiwan. He said, “Ni Wei Li, you are one of my “A” students, and if you want to go to the Taipei Institute of Linguistics, I will be happy to write you a letter of recommendation!” All I could think as we parted was, “I’m humbled Lord! How far you have brought me–from fearing a foreign language to embracing it! You did it all because if I had had my way, I would have quit the day I ran out of the classroom. Thank you, Lord; I now love Chinese characters and would have missed out on so much!! Thank you, Jesus, for conquering the fear in my heart! You knew what was best for me, and You knew it from the beginning. Thank you.”
I will boast only in the LORD; let all who are discouraged take heart. Come, let us tell of the LORD’s greatness; let us exalt his name together. I prayed to the LORD, and he answered me, freeing me from all my fears. Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces. Psalm 34:2-5 (NLT)
Copyright © 2010 by William D. (Nick) Nichols