Though she now lives in the safe, comfortable environment of one of our communities, Theresa once suffered religious persecution for her Catholic faith in Communist Party China. Through her past trauma, Theresa was eventually inspired to share her story through her writings, which eventually brought her peace and helped her faith evolve.
Read our conversation with her about how she navigated her past experiences and eventually found peace through the process of writing her book.
Your faith is a huge part of this book. You write about Jesus’ love for you soothing your loneliness as a child, despite coming from a non-Christian family that believed in traditional Buddhism. How did you become a Christian at such a young age?
Through all the trials, the root of my faith is in my childhood. When I was 8 years old, I was not treated well by my parents. I needed love. And I heard the hymn “Jesus loves all children” at primary school, run by Protestants. It was very good and all the teachers there were fair, and they loved us. I interpreted that as: because they follow Jesus, they can love me. So, at the very darkest hour of my life, I still can remember when I was a child and how I felt when Jesus loved me.
When did you first realize you wanted to write a book about your experience?
I came to America in September 1990, and soon after that I began to go to Catholic church. There were two things that urged me to write a book. The first thing is when my family was living in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago, I went to a church where the Father, the parish priest, wanted to ask me about my experience in China. So, I briefly told my story, including not only how we suffered, but why we suffered.
And, the second thing is when my family moved to Hinsdale I went to St. Isaac Jogues Catholic Church. There I joined a weekend retreat, during which they gave me a topic for review and wanted me to tell my story. So, I wrote a 3-page article and told the whole truth about what happened in China, how we suffered because we were forced to make a choice between loyalty to the Vatican and loyalty to our country. I realize most people in America sympathize with our suffering, but they don’t know why the Catholic church was particularly persecuted in China. After reading my story, they were impressed and suggested I write a book. That was in October 1992.
What was the process like for you finding a church community?
When I first came [to America], I went to a Catholic church. Then later, I found in the newspaper that the Baptist church close to where I live had a Bible Study, so I joined that. I went to both churches and then, at one point, I attended a Protestant church. Gradually, I freed myself from the perception that there’s only one true church of salvation. So, now I just go to churches I can walk to. I don’t care for denomination anymore.
What was the most challenging part of the writing process? The best part?
When I was writing my book, my purpose was to make clear how the government made us suffer so much. But while writing, I was writing it like a biography, from childhood to later. I struggled with certain parts of my personal life, but in the end, I didn’t edit it out. When it got to my family life it was too personal, but it turned out to be the best part because it made a lot of my readers cry. The parts with my family tragedy reflect the background of the cultural revolution at that time.
What were some of the primary emotions you felt while writing this book?
I felt energized because when I wrote this book, I thought I need to let people know outside of China what happened in China, the whole truth. I don’t take sides with the Church or with the Communist Party, because that’s what really made the Catholic Church the most persecuted, more than the other churches. There’s no mass arrests for the other churches, even protestant churches. But, it energized me because by writing this book I had my reflections that helped to free me from the one-church perception. I feel free with my religious beliefs now. I’m closer to God even.
What things have your readers said to you that made you feel good?
When I was writing the book a lot of my friends said if I went to traditional publishers I would be 99% turned down. On a cruise I met a writer who recommended self-publishing so I did that. I really didn’t know the difference, but what I’ve realized is that many people won’t pay attention to self publishing. But, people are doing the most marketing for my book. According to people talking, all the readers I know said they bought it as a present for their friends or they’ll share it with their family. In the [Embrace Living Community] building, many people will buy it. I didn’t do any marketing, but I’m happy because when I wrote it I said I don’t think I can do marketing, but if 10 people can read my book, I’ll be satisfied.
What advice would you give to others who may want to write about similarly traumatic experiences?
For personal traumatic experiences, it’s very hard to decide if you want to share them or not. Sometimes the traumatic things you don’t like to share, but [if] you share them I say, be truthful and sincere.
You can purchase Theresa’s book here: https://amzn.to/2AEhpba
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