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Mary-Ma’s Story of a Double Surprise


As my mother was coming to visit us from China in September, I decided to ask my father, who does calligraphy, if he would be willing to write a few Bible verses for us so that we could decorate our new Calvin Seminary apartment. I knew he would probably resist.

My father does not believe in Jesus Christ and has belittled and demeaned my adult conversion and commitment to follow Jesus. As a retired military officer whose mind has been hardwired by atheist Communist propaganda, my newfound faith is foolishness to my father.

Over the phone, he grumbled at my request, but I persisted until he reluctantly jotted down the Bible verses I read to him.

After my mother arrived in Grand Rapids, I eagerly unwrapped the rice paper drawings she brought from my father. We were surprised to find three extra calligraphy works besides the ones my I had requested.

I read the ancient characters: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” This is the good news of the Christmas angels found in Luke 2:14. I was stunned. I had never given this verse to my father. But it was so lovely, and in the stamped signature in red I made out the name Zhang Deyu.

As soon as I was able, I phoned my father and asked about this author, Zhang Deyu. According to my father, he is a famous calligrapher in China. When I searched his name on the Internet, I learned that he had once donated his calligraphy works to a Christian-founded organization with which my husband and I are also connected. Could he himself be a Christian?

For my husband, Jin, and me, this makes the piece of work not only a surprise gift but also a surprise and encouraging answer from God to my many prayers for my father’s salvation—God seems to send believers to befriend him!

Mary-Ma Li and Jin Li came to Calvin Theological Seminary in 2012 to grow their newfound Christian faith and study Reformed theology in order to someday return to their homeland China and begin a Reformed seminary. Both were accomplished scholars before their conversions and are now dedicating to God their intellect and passion for the Bible, just as their historical mentor John Calvin did more than four centuries ago. With eager earnestness, they are offering their hearts to God to do his work in the world he so loves. Their current area of research is the home church movement in China. On January 24, 2013, they welcomed a son into their family and happily named him Calvin.

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