My Eyes Have Seen God (II): Journey to Full-Time Ministry
From the book “My Eyes Have Seen God” by Sun Tao Hsieh—Taichung, Taiwan
In the previous installment of this testimony, Elder Sun Tao Hsieh relates how he came to know and believe in the true God. Soon after his baptism, the Holy Spirit moved him to make a vow to the Lord―read on to learn how this eventually led him onto the path of full-time ministry.
On August 2, 1947, which was a Sabbath day, I attended the spiritual convocation at the church in Chiayi, Taiwan. After the service, I went to pray in the prayer room. The Holy Spirit filled me and, in my prayer, I made a vow to God that I would one day become a pastor. Afterwards, I went to find Elder Yichen Chien, who had been sent to help with the spiritual convocation.
When I told him I wanted to be a pastor, he asked me, “How long have you been baptized?”
I replied, “I studied the gospel for one month and received baptism almost a month ago.”
After he heard my answer, he could not stop laughing. But, at the same time, he did not want to discourage me in what he must have seen as my extreme naivety.
Despite his vow, Elder Hsieh did not immediately become a pastor. Instead, he became a school teacher in Tungshih, an urban township in eastern Taichung County, where there was no True Jesus Church. There he met his future wife. They married in 1950, and had two daughters soon after. Both children became ill soon after birth, and both could not be healed by medical doctors. By the mercy of God, Elder Hsieh’s eldest daughter was eventually healed through intercessory prayers. However, his second daughter, diagnosed with a congenital heart disease, remained fever-stricken and underdeveloped, despite many intercessory prayers.
Before the summer break in 1952, it occurred to Elder Hsieh during a prayer that perhaps God did not want him to live in Tungshih. There was no church in Tungshih, and because of the traffic and distance, he could not regularly attend church services at a nearby town. Elder Hsieh recalled how God had never ceased to have mercy on him in the past five years since his baptism. Perhaps, through this long period of trials, God was compelling him to leave this town to keep his faith alive. So he applied for transfer to a school in Huwei, where there was a True Jesus Church. Through God’s guidance, Elder Hsieh’s transfer was granted and the family moved to Huwei in September 1952, where his wife and children eventually received baptism.
HONORING MY VOW
During a prayer in June 1954, I recalled a Bible verse: “When you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay to pay it; for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and it would be sin to you” (Deut 23:21). This verse reminded me of the time when I first got baptized: whilst attending an evangelistic service at the church in Chiayi, I had vowed to God that I would dedicate myself as a pastor.
I told my wife of my vow, the Scriptures’ teaching, and how God would demand its fulfillment. I said, “I believe our daughter’s affliction must be God’s doing. Otherwise, how can we explain that our first daughter became well through the laying on of hands and prayer, but the same method has not worked for our younger daughter, even with the ministers’ help? If this is the case, I must fulfill my vow; otherwise God will hold me accountable.”
My wife and I prayed together. I told God, “O Lord! If you are holding me to account for the vow I made, I will surely make good on it. Please grant us clear, unambiguous proof by lowering my daughter’s temperature. If her temperature does not go down by tomorrow, then I will take this as a ‘no.’ O Lord! If there is some other reason for the illness, give us some time so we may examine ourselves further. O Lord! Please look upon our affliction with compassion and hear our prayer. Amen!”
Miraculously, my daughter’s temperature immediately dropped. In over two years since her birth, this was the very first time her body temperature had been normal. I said to my wife, “This is a sign, beyond the shadow of a doubt. I’m awestruck with fear. The God we worship is truly a genuine, living and awesome God. If I don’t follow through with my vow and God’s anger flares up again, where can we possibly hide? I must dedicate myself as a minister.”
My daughter was healed. She recovered her health extremely quickly. She was transformed from being skinny to looking plump, from being bedridden all day long to sitting, crawling, squatting, standing and walking. All of her organs began to develop normally. Praise the Lord for extending His merciful hand to save our beloved daughter from the verge of death! I shall never forget His abundant favor and wondrous grace.
When I was still teaching at Huwei Elementary, my colleague’s eldest daughter suffered from postnatal heart-valve failure. Her condition was less serious than my daughter’s. She did not suffer from a constant fever so she could sit and walk. By the time she turned twelve, she was malnourished and stunted. She looked as if she were only seven or eight years old. In comparison, my daughter’s congenital heart failure was more severe and gave rise to worse symptoms; yet, after the Lord’s healing, she was able to develop normally.
A few years later, I watched as my daughter ran back from school, and recalled the doctor’s earlier warning about not letting her run in her condition. After she regained her health, I did not see the need to forbid her from running. Since then, she has grown up, married, and given birth to three healthy children, without experiencing any problems. These events remind me once again that God’s power of healing goes beyond any doctor’s clinical experience. I am grateful to God for being so compassionate towards us, and not letting our daughter become a lifelong heartache.
ENROLMENT INTO THE THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
According to the public school regulations of the day, if an employee wished to resign during the semester, they had to submit a resignation letter six months in advance. I submitted my resignation accordingly, and it was promptly accepted. So I only received half a month’s pay during July and no salary in August.
Coincidentally, this was also the time when the General Assembly in Taiwan started to enroll its very first batch of students for its theological seminary. The two-year program consisted of theological training in the first year and practical training in the second. I submitted my application immediately. I did not notify my mother, nor did I discuss the matter with my in-laws. Since God had already made His wishes plain, I did not hesitate and no one could dissuade me. Rather than informing them and facing stiff opposition, I thought it would be better to act first and let them know afterwards. As expected, as soon as they found out, they were completely opposed to my decision, arguing that my children were still young.
I took the entrance examination in early August. First came the written part, followed by several short sermons, and lastly, an oral interview conducted by fifteen examiners.
The chief examiner, Elder Yichen Chien, asked, “In the first year of the theological seminary, students are paid a stipend of only NT$200 each month. Will that be enough for you?”
At first I thought, Why bother asking? Obviously this is not enough. But I figured that if I told him this, he would tell me to go home. I was already past the point of no return, so I answered, “God will provide.” My answer did not mean I had other sources of income. Perhaps this response sprang from the movement of the Holy Spirit.
Deacon Chungtao Lin was moved by my answer and shouted, “Hallelujah!” as if to encourage me.
My monthly salary as a public school teacher had been NT$500 a month, with additional subsidies in the form of rice, cooking oil, salt, coal and other necessities. Though it did not provide a rich life by any means, it offered an adequate livelihood. Once I became a theological seminary student, my monthly pay dropped to less than half of my previous income. Taking into account the loss in food subsidies and the NT$20 of tithes I needed to offer, how could we possibly survive on NT$180 per month? But thank God, we managed by relying on His grace and holding firm to our belief that He would always provide.
EVERYTHING HAS ITS TIME
To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to throw away;
A time to tear, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time of war, and a time of peace.
Looking back on the various events that unfolded over the journey of my faith, I find this passage quite fitting to my own experiences. Had I resigned from Nanshi Teaching Academy earlier, my older sister, who brought me to church, would not yet have believed in the Lord when I visited her. If I had visited later, her initial evangelistic fervor could have grown cold and she might not have preached the gospel to me. As for fulfilling my vow to become a minister of God, had I done so earlier, there would have been no theological program for me to enroll in. If I had waited until later, the next seminary enrollment did not happen for another five years, and that enrolment targeted rural students, rather than city-folks such as myself. Just imagine, at the time, I was familiar with less than half of the Bible and lacked pastoral knowledge and related skills. If I had not undergone full-time theological training, how could I have met the challenges of being a minister?
When we ponder why the people of Israel were willing to leave Egypt and why their desire was granted, we read in the Bible:
Then the children of Israel groaned because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry came up to God because of the bondage…
And the Lord said: “I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey.”
(Ex 2:23b; 3:7–8a)
If the golden age inaugurated by Joseph had continued, such that the Israelites remained in a position of privilege in Egypt, they would surely have become comfortable in their situation and would never have dreamt of leaving. However, God’s will was to lead them to the land flowing with milk and honey, to fulfill the promise He had made to Abraham. Thus, God allowed the Egyptians to persecute the Israelites, and He listened to the cries of the Israelites, stretching out His mighty hand to save them.
The fact that I could decide to leave Tungshih and give up a career in teaching have much in common with the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. Every time I think about this, I cry out, “Hallelujah!” and breathe a sigh of amazement at the wondrous nature of God’s plan.
If I had enjoyed a smooth life in Tungshih, I would never have been willing to move to Huwei. I would have gradually indulged in worldly pleasures, acted according to my desires and over time, completely abandoned my faith. Another scenario is if we had moved to Huwei and God answered my prayer to heal my daughter immediately, I might have been grateful for a while, but would not have remembered my initial vow to the Lord. If that had happened, I would not have been willing to leave the field of education and the warmth of my family for the seminary. I would have lived an utterly ordinary and unremarkable life.
As the psalmist says, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes” (Ps 119:71). Also, in Romans we read: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28). These two verses express my own experiences perfectly. Praise God!