About three months into my stay in Taiwan I had finally settled into a routine. I was studying 20 hours of Chinese a week, had found a part-time job teaching English, had made some friends at school, and had started attending the English ministry at Bread of Life church in Taipei. I was content studying Chinese with no goal in mind but learning the language. I had made many friends through school and church who were in the country to learn the language and were also in between schooling or careers. Still on survival mode, I didn’t have the energy to think about my future.
But soon I discovered another fight awaited me.
Walking the streets, I had sensed a dark cloud above me, surrounding me. It was an uncomfortable presence which I had attributed to my stomach aches, pollution, or living in a big city. My mind was not clear. Constantly barraged with negative thoughts, my thinking was confused and fatigued. I remember feeling particularly ugly and being preoccupied with the clothing I saw being sold on the streets. They were not my style, but I thought I needed to buy something to make me feel better about my appearance. I became self-conscious and obsessed. I started to carry around a pocket Bible that I would read on the bus when my mind felt particularly battered. I’d read a verse and just meditate on it. I’d even do this while standing up.
One afternoon my mind felt especially tired. I had a long, crowded bus ride and had been meditating on verses from my pocket Bible. I had just gotten off the bus and had walked into a busy outdoor marketplace where clothes and trinkets were being sold.
A thirty-something lady approached me and told me she saw me on the bus. The first thing I noticed was that she looked at me with eyes askance. She couldn’t look me straight in the eyes. Something was off which I attributed to social awkwardness or neediness. I felt sorry for her. The conversation went something like this:
Lady: “What were you reading on the bus? Was it the Bible?”
Me, surprised because it was very small: “Yes.”
Lady: “Are you a Christian?”
Me, excited because I thought God might be leading her her to me to share with her: “Yes. Are you interested in God? You can come to my church.”
Lady: “OK. Where do you live?”
Me, pulling out a notebook and writing down my address, thinking she needed someone to talk to or wanted to learn more about the Bible, eager to help: “Here’s my address. I live near the church.”
Lady, somewhat randomly: “Are you a college graduate?”
Lady: “That’s surprising, by the looks of you I would not have known that you are educated.”
Me: Silent, thinking she must think I do not look very smart and didn’t know I had just graduated from Stanford.
Lady: “Why are you in Taiwan?
Me, feeling spiritual and at my best: “To share God’s love with Chinese people.”
Lady: “You should go home. You won’t do any good here.”
Me, shocked, silent, confused, thinking maybe I should go home. I was struggling. What good was I doing there? Wanting to change the subject, I began focussing on the music being played in one of the shops.
Lady, noticing my listening to the music: “Do you like to dance?”
Me, thinking that I have always loved ballet and but was shy to admit it: “Yes.”
Lady: “The way your body looks, I would have never thought that you could dance.”
I realized she was not asking for help. She was attacking me. She was attacking three vulnerable places few people knew about. One, that I struggled with my self-worth having just graduated from Stanford and feeling I didn’t have much to show for it. Two, my desire to share God’s love with Chinese. Three, doubts about my physical beauty and ability to dance. How did she know those three secret thoughts?
My face must have turned pale because the lady then proceeded to ask, “Aren’t you scared that you gave me your address?” “No,” I lied as I said goodbye and quickly started walking away. I went straight home and called my church care group leaders, an older couple from Singapore for help. For the first time in my life I had met someone, something evil. Someone was out to get me. I had an enemy.
I knew spiritual warfare existed but that day I learned that spiritual warfare is personal. I had an enemy that wanted to bring me down. I told my care group leaders about the lady, the dark cloud and the negative thoughts. They prayed for me and counseled me. Fortunately, they had experience dealing with such things.
Enemies attack weak areas to bring their opponents down. The “lady” told me I was stupid, useless, and ugly in order to debilitate me. Maybe I’d get depressed. Maybe I’d give up on my Chinese and go home. With the help of friends I was able to fight back. Those thoughts, however, would return. Over the next couple of decades I would hear them elsewhere. I would begin to agree with those lies. I would speak them to myself. In my search for career, self-worth, and identity, I’d become my enemy.