For a few days prior to Friday morning I had not exactly been as excited as I normally would have been about leaving but I couldn’t exactly explain why, even to myself. I guess that deep down in my heart I knew that going to Thailand to drink heavily, frequenting topless dancing bars was WRONG but I always seemed to try to blank that out, believing that I was just young and having fun.
Just to go off the subject a bit, I had met a young Filipino girl called Elaine just before Christmas in China (in an Irish bar that myself and the majority of my work mates would go to at weekends). Elaine and her fried Mariel are both singers in a group (very talented singers too).
I had asked this girl out on two occasions, once before Christmas and once after Christmas but she turned me down much to my disappointment. (It turns out this was simply because she didn’t know me very well or the type of person I was but after speaking to her on a number of occasions, and volunteering for singing a few times on stage, she agreed to go out with me) Just this week I had come to listen to her singing three nights, (Mon, Tue and Thurs night). Which brings us up to the present again, Friday morning.
I was having breakfast on 26th floor of the Sheraton Hotel (which is where I stay in Shenyang), and I received a text from Elaine asking me if I wanted to meet for lunch. So, of course I agreed. We arranged to meet around 12.30pm and we went for coffee and then to a Thai restaurant (of all places) for some food. We then went walking round a few Shopping Malls and took a few photographs together. We talked more than we had previously had a chance to talk in the bar and we were both asking questions about each others family and just other general things like favourite movies, music etc. I remember telling her about my brother being a Christian, she asked me if I was a Christian but I said no, and that maybe someday I could learn to be a better person…….
After that, I walked Elaine back to the Intercontinental Hotel where she stays and thumbed a taxi back to my hotel. We exchanged a few messages about how we would miss each other and I tried to cheer Elaine up by saying that 10 days would fly by and that the day I arrive back in China, I would call her right away and we could meet for lunch again.
Anyway, I raced back to my Hotel, grabbed my bags and got a taxi to the airport. I got checked through ok with time to spare and I sat anxiously waiting my flight. (when I say anxiously, I mean butterflies in my stomach because I am not too fond of flying at all). If I’m honest, its because of the frightening thought that if anything happens at 30000ft, and the plane goes down, there’s little or no chance of survival, and I was VERY afraid of dying.
I come from quite a large family, many of whom are saved and I was brought up going to church and Sunday School and taught to believe in God, who lived and then died for us all, that we might live, and who then was resurrected from the dead and ascended into Heaven to be with his Father, with the promise of returning again one day. I was not saved and had never felt convicted enough (well, maybe on a few occasions before but I never pursued this conviction and therefore still remained unsaved).
To go back to what I said previously about being afraid of dying, the reason for this is that based on what I had been taught about the bible, if a person is not saved, then he/she will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven and will be heading on a one way ticket to an eternity of flames, pain and suffering so, needless to say, you can understand why I was afraid of dying.
I boarded the flight (CA 1656, Shenyang - Beijing), seat number 23A (notice how the number 23 appears)…….My date of birth is 23/09/1981, the date I flew on was 23/01/2009, and my seat number on this flight was 23A. Spooky……
Anyway, I geared myself up for take-off and we left the runway right on time at 5.10pm, the flight time being around 1hr 15 mins. I remember thinking, “how am I going to fly the next flight (which was 4.5 - 5 hrs) if I’m already like a nervous wreck on the short flight”. The flight was a little rocky to start which sent my pulse racing a few beats higher than it already was but the last 20 mins of the flight were completely nerve-wracking for me. I thought we were goin down for sure.
There was a very pleasant Chinese girl sitting beside me who, when she saw my face turning the colour of a pint of milk, was very helpful in trying to give me reassurance and make me feel better and I thanked her afterwards and helped her off the flight with her hand luggage.
I remember thinking about God a lot on this flight (whilst practically having a cardiac arrest) and asking him to deliver me safely to Beijing, but I also remember wanting to talk to my brother, who was recently saved a few weeks before Christmas 2008. I wanted to talk to him so much!!! When I got off the flight and made my way through the transfers for International connecting flights for the next leg to Bangkok, all I could think about was God and how I needed to be saved, how I wanted to talk to my brother so much but was a little reluctant to phone him because I thought he might think I was being a bit daft and also how much I didn’t want to go to Bangkok anymore. (In retrospect I believe that was the devil at work - he didn’t want me to call my brother because he knew that today was the day when I was possibly going to be saved).
I sent my brother a text to tell him how rough the flight was and how I didn’t know how I was going to handle the next one to Bangkok. He text me back to say how scary flying can be...and added a little comment to say “when you aren’t saved that is”…….which then prompted me to reply “Will you ask the big man to keep an eye out for me?”
He then responded “I already have kid, but I also asked him that you would experience something that would change your life and bring you to him. Maybe this is it brother.”
To this I replied “Well its very close, that’s for sure”
My brothers next response to my text totally blew me away and I can remember my eyes filling up with tears when I read it, walking through Beijing airport on my own, trying to find departure gate E51.
The text message read. “Well then you’ll be fine because he won’t let you go kid”
When I read those words, I broke down and started talking to God out loud and saying “Lord…….Please DON’T let me go” “I need you, and I need you to take control of my life because I just don’t want to live like this anymore!” Right there at that moment is when I made my peace with God. How fortunate I am to be one of the lucky ones to receive him.
After I composed myself a little (because I’m sure some people were wondering why I was all teary eyed) I told Raymond I didn’t really want to go to Bangkok anymore and I didn’t know what I was going to do when I arrived there and I asked Raymond if I should turn around and go back to Shenyang, at which point he phoned me and told me that God was working on my heart and he was taking away the appetite for the things I once enjoyed. He told me that it doesn’t matter what things I have done in my life, that if I ask God into my heart, all will be forgiven.
I told Raymond that I had packed the Bible he had bought me for Christmas in my hand luggage (I always used to take the New Testament my Grandmother had bought me a couple of years before EVERYWHERE I travelled, and I ALWAYS packed it in my hand luggage but I took the Bible Raymond and Michelle got me for Christmas this time) and he said he would text me a few verses and things to read and think about. (Now remember that last sentence because it will become important later in this story)
Anyway, I had around 30 minutes before I was due to board the plane, and I had a decision to make………was I going to board that flight to Bangkok or was I going to turn on my heels and take my chances in Beijing (even though its Chinese New Year and the hope of finding a flight, train or even hotel to stay in were pretty slim because so many people travel during this week, the biggest festival week in the Chinese calendar). Raymond got off the phone and said he would phone back when he got a chance.
Decision time……..and thinking about it now, the choice was easy because the choice had already been made long before I even boarded the first flight to Beijing, and it was the right choice, I just hadn’t realised that yet - I was never going to board that flight quite simply because God had already decided he didn’t want me there. Praise the Lord!
While all these texts were flying back and forward between me and my brother, I also had a feeling that I should text Elaine back in Shenyang. I told her that the flight was really rough and that during the flight I couldn’t stop thinking about God, and told her it felt like God didn’t want me to go to Bangkok. I asked her if this sounded stupid to her but she responded by saying that it didn’t sound stupid at all, that it sounded great, and she told me to follow my heart….that it would lead me in the right direction. How right she was!
There’s a reason God placed Elaine in Shenyang and that we met and become fond of each other...that was another good reason NOT to go to Bangkok, so that I could spend more time getting to know Elaine.
I guess this was playing in my mind too, not just the fact that in my heart of hearts I knew going to Bangkok was wrong, but the fact that I had met a lovely young Filipino girl in Shenyang and we both liked each other………why should I go and ruin this good thing by hanging around in topless disco bars and clubs for the next 10 days.
So, I turned on my heels, not really sure where I was going to go next but all I knew was, I was NOT getting on that flight and that was the main thing. I made my way back to where I came through security when I spotted the Air China Business lounge, (Being a Star Alliance Gold card holder, I had free access to this business lounge) so I decided to go there in the hope that someone would be able to help me find out how I could get back through airport security and see about getting back my checked baggage before it was too late.
The two girls in the lounge were very helpful, they let me onto a computer terminal where I was able to cancel my reservation with the hotel in Bangkok so that I could minimise the amount of money they could charge to my credit card. The girls then walked me back to security where I had to have my passport visa re-stamped to confirm that I was not leaving China but in fact staying there. I thanked the girls and then made my way to the air China baggage reclaim desk to try to retrieve my baggage.
Alas, I was too late, the bag had already boarded the flight to Bangkok so I then had to fill a form out and was told to return the following day to collect my bag. When I left the Air China desk I wasn’t sure where to go next but I managed to spot a Tourism kiosk where I enquired about making a hotel reservation anywhere in Beijing for the night. Thankfully, the girl told me there was a vacancy in a Chinese hotel not far from the airport and that if I booked it there and then, they would run a free shuttle-bus service which would take me to the hotel. Fantastic I thought, just what I need!
I paid 100RMB (equivalent to £10 British money) as a deposit and then set on my way. I had to wait around 30 minutes for the bus but I didn’t mind because I then went to the 4th floor of Terminal 3 where I was earlier told that I may be able to see about getting a refund on my flights which were scheduled back to Shenyang from Bangkok on 2nd February. Unfortunately, they were unable to help me and said that I must speak to the travel agent where I originally booked the flights which is on the 4th floor of my hotel in Shenyang. I will hopefully sort this out upon my return.
Anyway, I boarded the bus and headed for the hotel. I had to pay another 1200RMB (£120) to get into my room, which was more than I had been previously told but it turned out, some of this room charge was for security deposit (in case anything was broken or stolen from the room) and I would receive some money back upon checking out in the morning (420RMB in fact) so it worked out that the room cost £88 for the night.
When I got to my room, I was texting Raymond………he said he would be busy for about an hour because he had to pick up the kids from school and things so I decided to set up my laptop computer and check my emails. It turns out that the room had no wired or wireless internet connection, (£88 per night room with no Internet connection!) Are you avin’ a laugh??
So I went back to my hand luggage and decided to lift out my Bible to have a read through the book of Romans which the bro had previously said was a great place to start. Here’s where things get even more spooky……..My Bible was GONE!!! Nowhere to be found…….I immediately thought to myself, there’s evil at work here….and I remembered back to what Raymond had said about the devil and how he works……he told me Satan would pull out all the stops to ensure that I couldn’t get close to God, he said he would try everything in his power, he would play dirty, he would hit below the belt and just do anything to prevent me coming to God…….And he was right, because I was SO sure I had packed my Bible in my hand luggage. I have no memory of lifting it back out or even packing it in my main checked baggage. It still remains to be seen where that Bible is. I’ll find out when I get my baggage back or when I return to the hotel in Shenyang.
I immediately text my bro to tell him this and he was shocked but knew this was the devil at work. He told me to say “Get behind me Satan, the name of Jesus Christ my Saviour”, which I did…….several times!!
Then I remembered that when I first arrived in China I had downloaded the full King James Bible onto my laptop so Satan had tried to prevent me from reading the Bible but the Lord had a contingency plan. 1-0 to God! Halleluiah! So I proceeded to read my way through the book of Romans while I was waiting for my brother to call.
A few bible verses stuck in my head as I read down the pages. The 2 verses in particular were……
Romans Ch 3 vs. 23 (again we see the number 23)
“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God”
The next verse which stuck in my head, would you believe it…..
Romans Ch 6 vs. 23 (there really is something about this number today)
“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
This number 23 was sticking in my head all the time now and I text the bro to let him know.
He phoned shortly after and talked to me, where I broke down again and cried and I just wished my brother could’ve been there beside me to give me a hug. He told me to write down a few bible verses to get me started.
Would you believe it, the first two verses he told me to write down were the same 2 verses I have just told you about. How’s that for spooky eh??
Anyway, we talked for another 45 minutes or so on the phone going through Bible verses and just talking to each other the way two brothers should talk. My brother and I have always been very close; yes we have had disagreements and arguments (some verbal and some physical) in the past but I have no doubt this will bring us even closer together and for this I am eternally thankful.
Just to go through a bit of what we talked about, I had previously been to Thailand in 2005 with some friends from work. I’ll not go into detail but I spent 2 weeks getting drunk and visiting strip bars and sex shows which is all too common in Thailand. I knew deep down I was doing wrong but again, I blanked it out and told myself it was all a bit of fun. But during my flight home I was my usual nervous self and I remember saying to the Lord “Lord, if you deliver me home safely to my family, I promise you I will never visit that place ever again”.
And I guess yesterday was a little test that God had set for me, to see if I would actually go through with it and break my promise to him……..How fortunate am I and how glad I now am that I didn’t break my promise to God. In passing this test God has shown mercy on me and has embraced me as one of his own. What a feeling!
It was getting very late, around 2.30am so I decided to give my brothers ears a bit of peace and quiet and head off to bed but before I went to bed I asked the Lord to make me strong in my faith, I told him I am only a beginner, a novice if you like, and that I’m not sure how to pray properly but I have no doubt he will teach me and make me strong.
Raymond’s fiancée Michelle sent me a message to officially welcome me “into the family” and told me to read psalm 121, telling me it is aimed at newly saved children. I read this before going to bed and I thanked Michelle for her prayers because I know I’ve had a lot of people praying for me lately, not least my brother and Michelle, but my grandparents and my good friend Stephen Moore, a born again Christian from Bangor, who was in China with me until half way through 2008, and who I am very fond of. Can’t wait to tell him all about this magnificent experience of mine. He’ll be overjoyed I’m sure.
The thoughts that kept running through my head before I drifted off to sleep around 3.30am were the thoughts of the words in the text message from my brother which broke me when I was all alone in Beijing airport.
“Well then you’ll be fine because he won’t let you go kid”
Its totally amazing how such a simple sentence can move someone in such a way that their life takes a complete U-Turn and a complete change of direction. Thank you Raymond and everyone else who have taken time to pray for me. I am forever thankful.
Just a note to finish on, as I am sitting here in Kenny Rodgers “Roasters” steakhouse in Beijing Airport again today (24th Jan 2009) waiting to collect my baggage from the returning flight from Bangkok, a thought has entered my head about a passage from the Bible which I remember from church as I was growing up and also from listening to my grandparents. I ran a search on this phrase “I go to prepare a place for you” using this downloaded Bible I have on my computer, not actually knowing where this passage came from in the Bible.
The verse(s) which appeared were from the book of John, Ch 14 versus 2 & 3 (notice the numbers again??) Are these numbers a mere coincidence??? I think not.
“In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”
“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”
Now I know God has prepared a place for me and I couldn’t be happier. Its an amazing feeling and my stomach is still turning somersaults and I’m sure it will continue to do so for a while yet.
In closing, there are a few people I’m going to start praying for and I am doing so right now as I sit here typing. Of course first and foremost I will be praying for all my family who are not yet saved but also some of my best friends, people who I know would do anything for me as I would do for them. To mention but a few Olly, Ryan and Norman. They are good people who have hardened their hearts (in the same way I had done), but you know, for all my prayers, these people must make a decision THEMSELVES as to where they want to spend eternity. Now it may take something to break them, the way I was broken yesterday, and I pray to God that he touch their hearts the way he has touched mine.
I now know where I’ll be spending eternity…………………………...do you?