by Keri Willard-Crist
Th.M. graduate Jing Wei didn’t become a Christian—or even hear the gospel—until after college, when she moved from her hometown of Wuhan, China, to Singapore. “In China, one more Christian equals one less Chinese,” she says, summarizing the cultural climate in the 1930s. Even today, remnants of that ethos remain, driving a wedge between Chinese culture and Christianity. Because of this, Wei hesitated almost two years before being baptized. On the morning of her baptism, Wei’s mother faxed her a letter pleading for her not to go through with it. It wasn’t until that day that Wei learned that her maternal grandfather was a Christian. “His friends liked him very much, but they dared not be very close to him,” Wei says of her grandfather, whose social separation was the price he paid for his commitment to Christ. “The whole family kept my grandfather’s faith a deep secret,” she says. After nearly a decade, Wei’s parents are now supportive of her faith, even if they don’t subscribe to it themselves. Wei doesn’t blame them for their reluctance. “They’re curious,” she says. “They cannot understand how I can be both Chinese and Christian.”
In college Wei studied Chinese language and literature. She earned her first master’s degree in Chinese philosophy. “Chinese philosophy has so much knowledge and wisdom about life,” says Wei, who wrote her master’s thesis by applying Wang Yang-Ming’s philosophy to a study of human nature in Confucianism. For Wei, studying how the religions of the East ask deep questions about human nature helps ground her as a Christian. “Like Calvin said, ‘Knowing God is also knowing humans,’” says Wei, paraphrasing section 1.1.1-3 of John Calvin’s Institutes. Yet Wei’s faith has expanded her studies beyond human nature. “I have to talk about its source, where it comes from,” says Wei, which is why she traveled to the United States to pursue an education in Reformed theology.
Wei appreciates the theological, vocational, and cultural diversity of the students and faculty at PTS. “I’ve learned that diversity helps me discern who I am, where I’m from, and where I should go,” says Wei, who even gleans lessons from the architecture of PTS itself. Wei recalls sitting in Miller Chapel one morning during worship and gazing at the “grandeur” of the worship space—the large organ set in ornate woodwork. In the middle of comparing Miller Chapel to the simple wooden beams of Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan, where she earned her M.Div., Wei was able to put herself and her theology in perspective. “I am a person of simplicity,” she says. “That’s a kind of self-knowledge. But at the same time, I can appreciate what I don’t have and praise and give thanks for it. God is both simplicity and grandeur. While I’m at PTS, I celebrate God’s grandeur.”
In a similar way, Wei seems to have learned as much about herself and God through how she differs from other students at the Seminary as through how she fits in, a process that hasn’t always been easy. “I’ve benefited a lot from this kind of journey,” she says, speaking about the difficulty of feeling like an outsider at PTS, a feeling that may not differ greatly from her experience as a Christian in China. “I’ve learned a lot more about faith from the people I’ve met than the books that I’ve read,” she says. “God leads different people in different ways. I have become more and more open to accept difference and diversity, and I have a more clear appreciation of my own culture and faith.”
Wei planned to return to China after she completes her studies, which may include doctoral work in theology in the United States or abroad. “My dream is to teach in a seminary in China, but I don’t know how God will open a door for me,” she says, observing that preachers and pastors in China are sometimes ill equipped for ministry because they have fewer opportunities and resources for study. She wants to train a new generation of Chinese Christians who are both fully Christian and fully Chinese. “I think God wants me to help people like me who become Christians,” says Wei. “I’m a living example that a Christian identity doesn’t destroy my loyalty to my culture.”