Buddhist Family in China
I came from a Buddhist family. My devout mother had a prayer room in our house. In that special room, she had an altar with different statues of gods that she worshiped daily with prayer and incense. She meditated every morning and prayed at noon and at sundown. On special feast days, both my parents fasted from meat and seafood. My mother was a total vegetarian and would not kill even an ant. She was very generous with any beggar who came to our house and never sent anyone away empty-handed.
My parents had ten children; I was child number eight. At the time I was born, we lived in a big house in Shanghai, China. Our grandmother and two uncles with their families, all of them Buddhists, lived with us. My father wanted the best education for his children, because when he was growing up, his family was too poor to provide a higher education. My mother never had the benefit of school. She had bound feet and was taught at home how to sew and cook. My sisters went to a Catholic school in Shanghai.
In 1947, when I was six years old, my parents traveled to Hong Kong on a business trip. At that time, Hong Kong was a British Colony. English newspapers were available everywhere. When my father found out that the situation in China was getting seriously dangerous, he quickly telegraphed to his brothers back home, urging them to leave as soon as possible. Unfortunately, my two uncles and their families did not realize how serious the situation was in Shanghai, so they decided to stay.
It was God’s providence that our family got out of China right before the Communists closed the door for the next 30 to 40 years. My siblings and I left with one little suitcase each, flying to Hong Kong in the nick of time. The Communists took everything my father owned in Shanghai: his two houses and his company. Both my uncles’ families, meanwhile, suffered tremendously under Communist rule. One of my aunts, who was a devout Buddhist, was put into a hard labor concentration camp for many years.
Baptized in Brazil
In 1953, when the Korean War started, my parents decided that it was no longer safe to stay in Hong Kong, so with the help of a Catholic priest, he got permission for all of us to move to Brazil. My father thought that Brazil would be safe from the Communists because it was a Catholic country. The priest told my father that, if he was baptized Catholic, it would be easier for him to get his immigration papers. So my father was baptized as a matter of expediency, but he remained a Catholic in name only. He did not know God nor Jesus at the time.
Since they were academically better than the public schools, my two younger brothers and I went to Catholic schools near our home. My brothers went to a Jesuit school, and I went to a French nuns’ school. Soon, the Jesuit priests found out that we were not yet baptized and told us to ask our parents for permission to be baptized. My father considered this a serious decision and thought that we should wait till we were 18 years old. But somehow God had already put this desire into our hearts, so we begged our parents to let us be baptized. I was 12 years old, and my two brothers were 10 and 8. We were the first children in our family to become Catholics.
The Jesuit priest gave us one private lesson before we were baptized. He told us about the Trinity. I remember well how he drew a triangle on a piece of paper and showed us that the three angles were Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Together they formed a triangle. He said that it was OK if we did not understand it, because it is a mystery. Somehow, in our childlike faith, we just accepted it without question. Then he taught us to pray the Our Father. That was the only lesson we received before we were baptized.
On our First Communion day, my parents bought me a beautiful long, white dress. I definitely looked like a bride of Christ. I still have a picture of me in the dress, taken in the front of our house. My two brothers were handsomely dressed in their white shirts and navy blue suits. This was the most memorable day of my young life, I felt like a beloved child of God. From that day on, I could talk to God the Father as I did to my own father.
Every Sunday, we three children would ask our father if he would go to Mass with us. He always said, “Yes.” The church was at the end of the street, close to our home. The four of us would walk there, and my father would always bring his missal so he could learn Portuguese. We knew that in his heart he was not praying, because he was still a Buddhist at heart. My mother never went to church with us. She couldn’t understand the language, and for the time being, she remained Buddhist.
One day, shortly after I was baptized, I was coughing a lot and noticed blood in my handkerchief. My godfather, who happened to be a doctor, told my father that I had tuberculosis. Since this was a highly contagious disease, he quickly quarantined me from my siblings. That was the loneliest and most depressing time of my teenage life. My body rejected the medication that my doctor prescribed, and as a result, I thought I was going to die, as had St. Therese of Lisieux, the “Little Flower,” who had contracted tuberculosis as a young adult and only lived to the age of 24.
But God was with me during this illness. On a Monday morning, too sick to go to school, I was in bed alone. Looking out the window, I saw the blue sky. I remembered telling God that I was too young to die. I had not seen the world yet. Tears were streaming down my cheeks. Then I heard God saying to me, “Lily, you will see the world.” Somehow, in my heart, I knew from that moment on that I would be healed. And God did heal me; He kept His promise. “Heal me, Lord, that I may be healed; save me, that I may be saved, for you are my praise” (Jeremiah 17:14 NAB).
Inner Conversion in the U.S.A.
Because of my illness, I was too far behind in my schoolwork to go back to the Brazilian Catholic school. My father hired a British private tutor to teach me English at home. Soon I was able to go to the private British school where my two older sisters went. I studied hard to pass the examination to attend college, so that I could go to the United States. In 1960, I went to St. Mary’s College (now University of St. Mary) in Leavenworth, Kansas, where all my sisters had attended before me. My father sent us there because he knew that the Sisters of Charity would take good care of us. All my four sisters were baptized while they were students there.
I will be forever grateful to my history teacher, Sr. Mary Paul, who took me under her wing. Every week, she invited me to go to her office, where she spent an hour visiting with me and teaching me about God. My faith grew quickly under her private tutoring. To show how little I knew about Catholic faith at that time, I remember asking her, “In heaven, will there be ice cream and movies?” She was kind enough not to laugh out loud, but what she told me in reply, I will never forget. She said, “Lily, in heaven we will know God’s infinite love for us. You will be so happy and content in His presence that you will not want anything else.”
It was at St. Mary’s College that I celebrated my first Christmas. That was when I learned about the wise men who went to Bethlehem in search of the newborn King of the Jews. When I was a child, we never celebrated Christmas. In fact I never heard the story of Jesus’ birth in detail until I was at St. Mary’s. I did not have a personal relationship with Jesus or know much about Him. I remember my first Lenten experience, during my freshman year, when I was praying in front of a large crucifix, looking at Jesus suffering and bleeding on the cross. Suddenly, I realized how much Jesus had suffered for my sins because He loved me so much. I was deeply touched by His great love for me.
In fact, by the end of my sophomore year, I wanted to be a nun. But deep down I knew my parents would reject this idea. Also, I knew most likely I would not be accepted into any religious order because of my health history. So I told God that, if He really wanted me to get married, I had three requirements: first, he had to be Catholic; second, he must be Chinese; and third, that he would be tall and handsome. That was like finding a needle in a haystack. There were very few Chinese who were Catholics, and most Chinese men were short. I finally met my husband while studying at Cornell University for my master’s degree. Every time I went to church, there was this Chinese man sitting behind me. Eventually he asked me out for our first date. He took me to a nice restaurant, and the minute the music started, I discovered, to my surprise, that he was a really good dancer. From that moment on, I knew that I wanted to marry him. After the wedding, we settled in California. We had two children, and we had them both baptized Catholic.
After my children were old enough to attend school, I was for the first time invited to go to a Bible study at a friend’s house. The more I studied the Bible, the more I learned about Jesus. During one of the Bible studies, the ladies were all talking about the Holy Spirit and the gift of tongues. I did not know much about either of these two subjects. In my heart, I told God that I did not want to have that gift, because I did not want to talk like a drunkard who does not know what he is saying.
Shortly after that day, on a Monday morning, I arrived too early to play bridge at a friend’s house. I sat in my car and started to pray, and to my surprise, suddenly I was praying in tongues. Instantly, my heart was filled with joy. God’s presence was so real to me at that moment that I could recall every detail of it to this day. From that time on, I began to invite the Holy Spirit into my life. For me, the Bible became a love letter from God. Every word seemed to be written for me. Since then, I have taken one Bible study after another. It seems like, the more I study Scripture, the more I thirst for God’s word.
Deeper Conversion through Travel
In 1987, I went to the Holy Land with my sister Helen. It was the most memorable trip either of us has ever experienced. Fr. Mike Murphy and Sr. Grace Ann led a group about 50 parishioners and their friends and relatives from our St. James parish. We started every morning with Mass at different churches. The first Mass we celebrated was at the cave where Jesus was born. We sang Silent Night, The First Noel, and many other Christmas songs. The presence of God was palpable inside that cave. Another special service was celebrated by the Sea of Galilee. For an altar, the priest placed a white tablecloth on a rock, and we had our communion service right at the place where Jesus had taught His disciples. During the Eucharist, I heard Jesus asking me, “Lily, do you love me?” I said, “Yes, Lord.” And He told me to feed His lambs. I realized at that moment that Jesus was calling me to serve Him.
When I returned from this trip, my church was just starting the RCIC program (instructions for children who are becoming Catholic), and they needed two people to teach the children. Our deacon’s wife, Joan, and I volunteered to help start this program. Every week, I would spend an hour in adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament, asking God what I should teach the children. I had not received much basic education about Catholic catechism as a child, but every week I would get ideas and suggestions from God during that hour. I also taught third grade Sunday school for eight years while my children were growing up. It was a very rewarding experience. I knew that I was doing what God wanted me to do.
After my husband retired, we volunteered to join the Peace Corps for two years. We were assigned to serve in the Slovak Republic, which had been a part of Czechoslovakia. My job was to start a hospice for them. I helped to raise money by organizing concerts and rummage sales. After two years of working hard on this project, finally Hospice Center became a reality. We had a ribbon cutting ceremony with champagne. But this is not what God had in mind, for shortly after I came back to the U.S.A., the Slovak government closed it down. All that hard work came to nothing.
While I was in Slovakia, a priest came to visit me. Actually, I saw the priest at church every morning, but had never had an opportunity to talk to him. To my surprise, his visit was to ask me to raise money to remodel a chapel in the middle of the hospital compound. At first I was rather upset with the priest for asking me for money. But as I prayed about it, I heard Jesus say to me, “Lily, would you give me the money if I asked you for it?” I said, “Of course, Lord.” Then Jesus said, “It was I who came to ask for your help.” So I quickly sent out an email to all my family and friends, asking them to help with the remodeling of the chapel. And the money came pouring in every week. Two years after we came back from the Peace Corps, I received a post card from the priest with a photo of the chapel, all remodeled and finished. I realized that, when we do God’s work, everything is easy and effortless.
My husband and I bought one-way around-the-world airplane tickets for one year after we finished serving the Peace Corps. We went to Greece, Hungary, Croatia, Thailand, Singapore, China and Taiwan. We then came back home to California in time to spend the holidays with our family. Our intention was to travel the other half of the world after we had our physical checkup which was recommended by the Peace Corps.
Unexpected Journey of a Different Kind
We were, therefore, totally unprepared when my doctor told us that I had cancer. Our dream to travel around the world was cancelled. After surgery and three months of chemotherapy, my husband, to whom I had been married for 33 years, suddenly died of an aneurysm in his brain. It was only with God’s grace that I survived that difficult time. Later, as I was telling God how helpless I felt without my husband, I informed Him that I didn’t even know how to take care of my own car. God gave me a mental image: I saw a limousine drive up; it stopped right in front of me. The driver got out, opened the door, and told me to get in. To my surprise, the driver was Jesus! “Do not be afraid,” He said. “From now on, I will take you places you have never been.”
From that moment on, I had a great sense of peace. What’s more, I was confident that God had healed my cancer as He had healed my tuberculosis during childhood. My oncologist had wanted me to participate in a clinical trial; without it, she feared that I might not live much longer. But before my husband died, he had said, “No, I don’t want my wife to suffer any more.” After he passed away, I honored my husband’s intuition and the sense of peace God had given me. I neither sought nor needed additional treatment. I believe that the Lord has healed me completely. It has been seventeen years since I had cancer, and I have been cancer free ever since. “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 NAB).
Retired and widowed, I prayed about what to do with my life. I realized that my experience of being sick could be useful to the Lord. As a result of my cancer and tuberculosis, I had great compassion for the ill, the weak, and the elderly. I began to bring Communion to the homebound. I prayed to God and asked Him what else He had in mind for me to do. Finally, I had a sense that He was calling me into a healing ministry: not only to bring Communion to the sick, but to pray with them for healing as well.
This decision was confirmed in a remarkable way. I remember walking into our parish’s chapel to pray. Out of the blue, another parishioner, a friend of mine who was there, asked me if I would help her start a healing ministry. I was stunned. God had spoken to her the same as He had spoken to me. She had told Him, there in the chapel, right before I walked in, “But Lord, I can’t do this on my own. If you really want me to do this, I need two people to help me!” I was one of the people who entered the chapel, and we soon encountered another woman who also discovered that God was calling her into this healing ministry.
For a whole year, we three met once a week and prayed together, listening to the tapes on healing by Fr. John Hampsch. One of the women told us to wait on the Lord, and He would guide us on the right path. In 2002, the Christian Healing Center at Oceanside, sponsored by St. Ann Church, contacted her, asking her if she knew any people who might be interested in becoming prayer ministers. This healing center was ecumenical, so that Christians from all faith traditions could experience Jesus’ healing touch. All three of us volunteered to help them. Today, I continue to volunteer at the center three days a month. I am always amazed by the many healings and miracles I witness there.
Since then, I have taken as many classes on healing as I can. I even flew to Jacksonville, Florida twice to learn from Francis and Judith MacNutt, who are the founders of Christian Healing Ministries. I took all four levels of classes that they offer. While I was volunteering at Christian Healing Center, I also took the course on the 26 Healing Miracles of Jesus offered by the Order of St. Luke. This was a requirement before we could pray with people at the healing center.
In 2007, we were finally able to launch a healing ministry at our own St. James Church. We now have healing Masses four times a year and offer healing prayers every week after the 9 A.M. Mass on Sundays, as well as several other times each month to accommodate parishioners’ busy schedules. In addition, we help teach and train healing prayer ministers from nearby churches.
One Sunday, a mother brought her child forward for prayers. She asked us to pray over her son’s ear, because he needed surgery. A few of us laid hands on the boy. After we prayed with him for several minutes, he told his mother that his ear was healed. Shortly after their next doctor visit, the boy’s statement was confirmed. The mother and the son came back and relayed the doctor’s news: his ear was healed; he no longer needed surgery. This is only one of the many healings that I have witnessed while praying with people. I am grateful to have seen Jesus’ healing power repeatedly in this manner. Yet, even after all my years of praying with people, my hunger for Jesus to heal has only increased. The more I pray with people, the more deeply I sense how much God desires our complete healing, in our mind, body, and spirit. “They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:18 NAB).
Since I became a prayer minister over 15 years ago, I have learned to listen to God more and more. Pauline, one of the prayer ministers at St. James Church, prayed over me one day and saw a pen above my head. She told me that God was calling me to journal. Since that day, as I read Scripture each morning, I have listened to what I feel God is revealing to me through the readings. I then write my reflections in my journal. By spending this time alone with the Lord each morning, I now feel closer to Him and realize how much God truly loves me.
For those who are wondering whether any of my other family members are still Buddhist, I am happy to report that every one of my siblings, except for my oldest brother, are Christians today. One of my brothers married a Baptist; he goes to church with his wife. My third sister also married a Protestant and is now active in her Chinese non-denominational church. She used to bring my parents to her church every Sunday. As a result of this, both my parents were converted. My mother was baptized at 90 years old. Praise God!