It was Lily’s worst Spring Festival ever.
For 18 long months, she’d lived in Canada. Another 18 months were ahead of her. But for ten short days, she’d be home.
Lily’s stomach churned as the plane touched down on Chinese soil. As she emerged from the airport gates, her mother laughed and cried all at once. Her father stood still, scorning obvious displays of emotion.
The threesome climbed into a taxi and sped down the freeway. It was the Eve of the Spring Festival, time for families to be together. Last year, alone for the festival, Lily had cried herself to sleep. That she would do the same this year was unfathomable.
The extended family was waiting, tables laden with good food. “You haven’t changed one bit. It’s so good to have you home again.”
Yet Lily had changed. In ten days, was it possible to change her family too?
Lily’s cousin tugged her hand, pulling her into a bedroom, ostensibly to look at something but actually to quiz her about men! Lily smiled at the dizzy teenager, and replied in a confidential whisper. “There is a man in my life. My life revolves around Him. He is Jesus – the Son of God.”
“Come on girls – it’s time to eat!”
The family sat around the table, the celebrations in Tiananmen Square loudly blaring from the TV. Over the happy hubbub, they questioned Lily.
“What’s the best thing about life in Canada?”
“The best thing there is my church.” Lily took a deep breath and launched into her prepared speech. “I’ve become a Christian. I’m being baptized next month. Father, please, can I have your blessing?”
Lily’s unflinching father, whose emotions had always been buried deep, turned red. His voice was like cold steel. “Are you saying that you have religion? That you are so weak as to need God?”
Slamming his chair back, Lily’s father twisted his daughter’s ear and threw her out the door. “When you return to your senses, you may return to this family.”
Lily sat in the grey stairwell, head on her knees, unmindful of the cold dusty floor. The door was flung open again and her coat and suitcase came hurtling down the stairs. Sobbing, she turned to the One at the centre of her life. Jesus, you know that I can’t do as he asks.
Although called ‘Spring Festival’, it was still bitterly cold and the violent shivering finally demanded Lily’s attention. She needed to find somewhere warm. Picking up her suitcase, Lily started walking.
Groups of excited young people set off fireworks. The streets were decorated with magnificent displays of coloured lights. Red lanterns hung happily in the windows of each home. The festive atmosphere could not have been further removed from the heavy weight in Lily’s heart.
Lily descended to the subway. At least it was warm. Ignoring the stares of the people who crowded aboard after the festivities at Tiananmen Square, Lily curled up and sobbed. Exhausted by her emotions and the long trip, she dropped into an uneasy sleep.
Back in her dorm room in Canada, unable to focus on her study, Lily looked out the window. The leaves on the trees were tiny, fresh and light green. The sun shone brightly in a clear blue sky. Lily decided to take a stroll. As she left the building, she collected a letter from her pigeonhole.
Curling up on her favourite wooden bench in front of a garden of freshly planted seedlings, under the boughs of blossoming peach trees, Lily slit open the letter.
My darling daughter, I will always love you. Your father loves you too, but is too stubborn to admit it.
Let me tell you a story.
When a teenager, I secretly believed. I had planned to be baptized, even though it was very dangerous then.
Until I met your father. You know how he despises ‘superstitious beliefs’.
Even when we are unfaithful, God is faithful. The seed that has lain dormant in my heart these 25 years is sprouting at last. Pray for us, Lily.
Yet again, tears streamed down Lily’s face. This time, though, the tears were like life-giving spring rains. In Lily’s imagination and prayers, she already saw her family happily reunited for Spring Festival some day, truly celebrating new life.
These characters are fictional, but the pressures faced by overseas students who become Christians and return home is real. Do you know any overseas students? Pray for them.
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