The Christian story is full of dramatic conversions and calls to ministry. When a young, philosophical rabble-rouser heard the voice of a child singing “Pick it up and read it,” he felt compelled to reach for a Bible. When he randomly opened it to Romans 13:13–14, he was confronted by his life of sin and gave his life to Christ.
We know that young man as St. Augustine.
When a law student was nearly struck by lightning during a thunderstorm, he cried out in terror, “Save me St. Anne! I’ll become a monk!” That young man was Martin Luther, and he made good on his promise—then he went on to launch the Protestant Reformation.
And then there’s Xi Zixhi, a Chinese pastor little known to most Westerners—in spite of his profound impact on Christianity in China. The story of his calling is markedly different from most others.
Pastor Xi’s ministry began when he cheated on an essay contest.
Pastor and Mrs. Xi
The Confucian scholar Xi Zizhi was renowned for his wisdom, but all of his learning failed to bring him true happiness. He sought solace in opium, and eventually developed a devastating addiction. Just when Xi’s life seemed to be at its lowest point . . . things got worse.
In 1877, a severe famine struck Xi’s home town. He fell into a depression as he helplessly watched others perish from hunger, disease, and take their own lives in despair.
Meanwhile, two Christian missionaries moved to the area. To reach others with the gospel, they held an essay contest, complete with prizes for the best essays written on Christian themes. Xi’s wife knew her husband was brilliant, and she urged him to enter. He did, penning four essays—which he slyly submitted under different names.
To his surprise, three of his four essays won! From that fib would develop a long Christian ministry that would leave an enduring impact on Xi’s country.