by Becky Hobbs
When Frank Li's father named his new son "Wanbing" (meaning ten thousand soldiers) forty-three years ago, he wasn't kidding. The impoverished farmer desperately wanted Frank to be a great soldier for anyone - even the Chinese Communists - to bring honor to the family and allow the young man to escape the backbreaking farm labor that eventually sent both parents to early graves.
Today Frank is a noteworthy soldier, although his Commanding Officer is not of this world. A senior M.A. student at RTS/Charlotte, he has a burden for his fellow Chinese countrymen, especially intellectuals like himself. He spends his time outside of class traversing the United States presenting the Gospel to them, conducting Bible studies, and trying to interest American churches in reaching out to Chinese intellectuals studying and working in this country.
"One has to be in Frank's presence for only a few moments before one recognizes his intellectual capabilities, his passionate love for Jesus Christ, and his desire to reach the Chinese world with the Gospel," says Dr. Frank Kik, RTS/Charlotte Professor of Practical Theology. "He has the ability to communicate the Word of God in such a clear and simple way that those of both Western and Asian cultures are attracted to Jesus Christ. I am convinced that Frank will be one of the outstanding Asian Reformed leaders in this century."
GOD'S PROVIDENCE MAKES A SCHOLAR
That Frank travels in academic circles and is considered an intellectual himself is nothing short of the amazing providence of God. Without the Lord's sovereign help, this dynamic scholar-evangelist might already be dead after years of torturous work on a poor farm in Mainland China.
The oldest of seven children, Frank grew up in severe poverty on just such a farm in southwest China under Communist rule. His father worked in the rice fields for about ten cents a day; Frank wasn't ten years old when he joined him, earning even less. He later would watch his father die at only forty-nine and his mother at fifty-two because of the grueling work.
Getting an education was the last thing on anybody's mind in those days. With little income from farming the land, the challenge was to find enough to eat. His father had only three months informal education and his mother only two years. But young Frank liked to attend school, where he proved himself bright and curious about all things. He earnestly wanted to learn, but during the Communist Cultural Revolution an education was essentially useless. One could enter college only with recommendations from Communist party officials, so very few people had the opportunity. Where would a poor boy like Frank get such endorsements? When Frank was in the fourth grade, his father demanded that he drop out of school and come to work, saying, "We don't need an intellectual; we need someone to help on the farm."
"I cried very hard and begged for the opportunity to stay in school," remembers Frank. "My mother and my principal persuaded my father to let me 'play' a few more years before I had to work for the rest of my life. Thank God my father relented."
Out of fifty students in his grade school, he was the only one to go on to high school and college. High school was a two-hour walk away in the next town, so he could come home only on weekends. He really didn't see any future in his education either, but he didn't want to work in the fields.
He graduated in 1975 as valedictorian of his class and president of the Student Council, but, since he had no recommendations for college, he accepted a position to teach middle school in his town after working on the collective farm for six months. To his surprise he enjoyed teaching math, chemistry, and physics and thought he would probably do that for the rest of his life.
But only a year and a half later in 1976 the Cultural Revolution ended and the precious opportunity for education was again available. In 1977 he took national college entrance exams and was chosen by Nanjing University in eastern China for study in geology.
"Going to university was not as it is in the United States," Frank explains. "The government subsidized education and decided what they needed, choosing students accordingly. Nanjing was a good university and I was chosen to be trained in geology. I did not want to study geology, but if I had refused that admission I would have lost the opportunity to go to college."
After graduation from Nanjing, Frank entered the Chinese Academy of Science in Beijing, where they paid him a stipend to study metamorphic rocks and gave him an opportunity to study at the University of Toronto, where he earned a Masters Degree in geology and geochemistry.
Before coming to Toronto, he had married a dentist in 1983. But by 1987 when he entered the University of Illinois in Urbana to work on his Ph.D., his marriage was in trouble. His wife could not get licensed in the United States and was forced to work in a restaurant. Her anger grew as Frank's studies kept him away much of the time. Unsatisfied with her life, she left Frank. They divorced in 1990, eventually leaving him with a three-year-old daughter to care for.
"It hit me very hard," recalls Frank sadly. "But I was determined to get up and walk again under my own steam. I was not a Christian, but I was strong psychologically and thought I could rely on myself. I didn't think I needed any help from religion because I was a successful student. Why in the world, I wondered, would anyone become a Christian?"
CAN YOU PROVE TO ME THAT GOD EXISTS?
He had been challenging his Christian friends with that question for years, in fact ever since a professor in Toronto invited him to church one Christmas. Frank was stunned; in China, only the uneducated had any use for religion. How, Frank mused, can such an intelligent man believe in God? He decided that North Americans must be emotionally needy; Christianity was a religion for Westerners.
He was even more surprised when he discovered Mainland Chinese friends attending church in Toronto; when they invited him to go, he accepted out of curiosity. He liked the message and thought it a good strategy to try to persuade people to be nice, not cruel. But how, he asked himself again, can these people believe there really is a God?
The Lord began to turn Frank's heart around in 1989, when he watched on television as the Communist government slaughtered his countrymen like animals for no reason in Tienemen Square. "I saw then that humans must believe that life is valuable; to do that, one must believe in something above and beyond themselves. Then I began to wonder just what that 'something' might be."
Trying to determine what religion would be good for the Chinese people (not himself), Frank traveled to Taiwan. There he studied Buddhism and decided it would be a good religion for a variety of reasons - it stressed kindness and, unlike Christianity (which was so exclusive), Buddhism included everyone. If religion could keep people from being ugly to each other, Buddhism would do nicely.
Upon his return he read extensively in Buddhism and probably would be a Buddhist now if God had not sovereignly intervened to bring several people into his life. While working on his Ph.D. he met Anna, whom the Lord was drawing to Himself, too. After getting his degree in 1994, he began work for an environmental company and lived in a house with a Chinese Christian couple who held Bible studies and invited him to church. Their marriage was also in trouble, but he was impressed with how happily they lived together after they became Christians. Amazed by the positive influence of Christianity on family life, he realized that, because they were Christians, this couple's marriage would not end in divorce.
Meanwhile, Anna had accepted Christ and encouraged Frank to read the New Testament. As he read through the Gospels, he had scores of questions; one of the main ones was how anyone could prove the existence of God. His biggest barrier remained the first sentence of the Bible: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."
"I was a geologist and knew that science could explain the planets, the stars, the universe," says Frank. "I didn't need God to explain the existence of 'the heavens and the earth.' But how can one be a Christian and accept the Bible if one cannot accept its first sentence?"
Late in 1994, he and Anna attended a Chinese Christian Conference in Chicago. For the first two days, Frank heard nothing that interested him. But on the third day the preacher electrified Frank when he said, "Unbelievers always ask, 'Where is God? Prove Him to me.' I cannot prove God to you. But can you prove that there is no God?"
"I had never considered such a thing," says Frank, laughing. "It really got to me. I realized that faith is not science but is beyond science. Therefore, we cannot use scientific methods to determine it. I began to see that we have no logic to prove or disprove God. To believe in Him is a choice. I chose to be happy and joyful as a Christian and accepted the Lord December 28, 1994."
A BURDEN FOR HIS PEOPLE
Frank quickly became involved in Bible studies and the Chinese church. The Bible study leader was a busy graduate student and, just three months later, asked Frank to help with the group. Frank refused, feeling that he didn't understand Scripture well enough to lead other Christians. Unperturbed, the leader said he would help Frank before each lesson, so Frank gave him a shaky "yes." As it turned out, the leader never did have time to help, but Frank lost his fear and simply read the Bible and asked questions for the group to discuss.
"As it turned out, we all learned together," Franks recalls. "I think we had better discussions because I did not know how to teach well and I asked many questions, too. God gave me a burden to share the Gospel with seekers and lead them to Christ. I saw people with the same marital problems I had and I tried to lead them to Christ and a better family life."
One year after he became a Christian he attended the same conference, and God called him to full-time service. But Frank balked because he knew that preachers were usually poor and he wanted to be wealthy. Shortly thereafter he and Anna were married in 1996, and they both began to pray for understanding concerning Frank's calling. A Chinese pastor in Chicago paid for him to attend a Chinese summer program in Washington, and he began to sense God calling him to seminary.
Anna found a job in Greensboro, North Carolina, only two hours away from RTS/Charlotte. In addition to his RTS studies Frank preaches, conducts Bible studies, and ministers to Chinese intellectuals on several college campuses. He also will come to any church that wants help starting a ministry to Chinese intellectuals (see inset).
"God is using him tremendously around the country reaching Chinese intellectuals, especially on college campuses," says RTS student Greg Conover. "He possesses so many gifts, among them excellent preaching skills, a superb intellect, and a huge heart for the Lord."
Besides his ministry in North America, Frank also goes to China to train house church leaders and to reach intellectuals. "We are beginning to see Bible study groups in Chinese universities," Frank reveals excitedly. "This is significant because intellectuals have great influence in China. The house churches that are growing so fast have many uneducated people and very few intellectuals. We want to change that."
We pray that many churches will band with this soldier of Christ to minister to Chinese students and scholars within the United States. You'll be missionaries to China as surely as if you had gone there yourselves.
Reformed Quarterly, Volume 19, Number 1