I begin this letter from a point of deep sadness. For three weeks, we have been praying fervently for the missing Chinese scholar, 26-year-old Yingying Zhang. But on Friday night, the FBI reported that they now presume her to be dead. They caught and jailed her alleged kidnapper earlier that evening.
I did not personally know Yingying. But I have known and grown to love dozens of Chinese scholars just like her over the past 10 years.
With one of my favorite people, Ke Wang, two years ago, daughter of a visiting Chinese scholar at U of I
My wife Jie was once one of those visiting scholars. For the thousands of Chinese in Champaign/Urbana, along with those of us who have been immersed in the Chinese community there (as I have been for over a decade now) this news has crushed our spirits.
The phrase from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, "Poor in spirit," is too paltry a diagnosis. I cannot fathom what Yingying must have endured, nor dare I imagine the hell her parents and loved ones feel today.
On Tuesday, I am supposed to go to Champaign to help Jie take a group of Chinese scholars to the Fourth of July fireworks. But I'm not sure I'll be in a mood to celebrate. Yingying would most likely have been in the crowd, experiencing an American July 4
th for the first time.
She came to America just a few weeks ago, winning a competition over a thousand other scholars for the chance to work on her Ph.D. at a great university in a great nation. She was surely thrilled to have the chance to come to the USA and find pursue new life, liberty, and happiness: the stuff we celebrate on our Independence Day.
Her remains have not yet been found at this writing, and the gruesome story of what exactly happened is still unfolding...and may take some time before it is pieced together. Even though I am not in Champaign/Urbana anymore, I have been caught up in the frenetic activity going on there: prayer meetings, rallys, posters plastered everywhere, Chinese students walking down the sidewalk handing out placards and pleading with strangers to help find her, Facebook and WeChat updates by the hour. For three weeks I have been checking the news nearly every hour..Along with others I have felt that sinking depression...without any relief. And even when the FBI said she is now "presumed dead," I cannot keep from checking news reports.
I don't usually get so stuck in such sadness. But it happens to me occasionally. I get to a point where I can see no way out of my obsessive dwelling on the tragedy.
But then, always, mercy rudely interrupts. Other stories nudge and crowd me, demanding my attention. Yesterday it was Megan and Austin, getting married in the church. The day before it was daughter Scarlette, luring my attention away by sending me a video of our grandson Sean flashing a smile. At another point, I wandered into a cache of lovely flowers and plants at the Meijer Store, bought them, and transplanted them in the yard. (I dedicated the Hibiscus to Yingying.)
Jie's new adventure is another interruption to this week of sorrow. She has been fretting all week over her first Sunday in Pesotum, as the appointed pastor of a little congregation of 20 or so people. Her salvation is that she has a "live-in" veteran pastor to tap for help. And she has not been shy about tapping...
Jie immigrated to this country 10 years ago this month, an atheist at the time. It is
some story that she is now the pastor of a little church 30 miles north of Mattoon...while continuing to serve as director of Chinese ministry at the University of Illinois Wesley Foundation.
It is also
some story that s
he is the first person from Mainland China to become a United Methodist Pastor in the state of Illinois. (In a
areas, albeit not related to the state government, Illinois is actually making some progress.)
Along with thousands of others who have been caught up in Yingying's tragic story, my heart feels shattered. And a huge
part of me wants to stay raving mad at God for not saving her.
But then...despite my determined rebellion, I am tossed from one story to another. All these true stories swirling around me have no consistency of mood. Some depress my spirit and others are quite grand...and loving...and joyful.
I find myself simply wanting to be sad: without distraction. The horrific story of this innocent young woman convinces me that we must all live in hell. But the other stories going on my life will not allow me to stay convinced...or to settle into hell. These gentle and loving stories butt their way in. And so I get partly confused. And then...eventually...the mystery of God settles in.
No great nation is safe from evil, death, or tragedy. Life is unfair. And I am quickly offended by all such sorrows and injustices. They would have me think I am wasting my time talking about the niceness of God. I really do think I should just quit. But then...divine love will not let me go. The hope, planted long ago in my soul, will not fade...the hope that God is supreme over even death...and the hope that justice will redeem every evil, including what has been done to Yingying.
There is a heartbreak, a backbone of courage shattered, a needy spirit tortured...every day. Lord have mercy.
But God keeps calling preachers...proclaimers of hope, orators of promised joy...and off they go...to places like Pesotum...arriving in our midst...speaking every tongue...telling stories from every nation...proclaiming the mystery of
And we are assured that after heartbreak, there is ALWAYS something next. Thanks be to God. --Mike