'Beyond Human Power'
February 1, 2008 - Many years ago, when I was a high school student studying for my certificate examination, some people came to our classroom and invited us to attend a Billy Graham Crusade at a nearby stadium.
by Dr. Joseph Sung
The results of the high school examination would determine whether or not I could get into college, so I was spending every possible moment studying. When the school’s Christian Association asked me to attend the Crusade, I thought they were kidding. It was November 1975, only a few months from the examination, so I was not intending to go. But the Christian Association was really energetic. They came into every class. They would ask the teacher’s permission to say a few words and then invite everybody to the Crusade. And they kept on doing that so, eventually, I agreed to go for the first meeting.
We took the 15-minute walk to the Crusade, and along the way I saw tens of thousands of people walking toward the stadium—students, adults, older people. When I got there and listened to Mr. Graham’s sermon, I was touched. When he called people to come out to the middle of the stadium, it was a picture that I will never forget. We were in the dark, since it was evening, but the middle part of the stadium was very bright. I saw thousands of people walking from the dark toward the light ... It was very symbolic.
On the first day, I didn’t walk out because I thought I should keep calm and think a little bit more. But I was interested enough to attend again on the second, third and fourth days. I don’t actually remember how many days the Crusade lasted, but on the last day I converted. I decided I should follow Christ.
We were living with my grandparents at the time. My family was Buddhist, and they were fairly committed, especially my grandmother. I remember how she would put on a special gown every morning and pray with a chain of pearls, saying a prayer with each one.
After I was converted, I tried to share my faith with my family. There was a lot of resistance, even for me to attend church, not to mention bringing my family to church. As I began to study the Bible and to grow in my new life, I discovered that I could fully trust every verse in the Bible. In the Book of Acts, it says if you believe in Christ, you and your family shall be saved, but I had serious doubts in the beginning; I just thought it could not happen. When I talked about my faith, people would say, “Well, young man, you can do whatever you want, but you can be sure that in a few years, when you are mature, you will know that what you decided to do now was wrong.”
I’m very happy to say that what they said was not true, because everyone in my family now is converted, and that is nothing short of God’s miracle in our family. Even my parents and my 96-year-old grandmother, who was very close to me, have come to Christ. My grandmother passed away three years ago, but a few years before she died, somebody from our church went to talk to her, and somehow she decided to follow Christ. She gave up her Buddhism, something that I could hardly believe. She was in an elderly home the last few years of her life, and they baptized her in the home.
My family converted around 1997, during a time of uncertainty in Hong Kong. The magazines said Hong Kong was dead. A lot of families emigrated, including mine. My brother was studying at a university in Montreal, so he moved my parents near him. Living in a foreign country without a job, my parents had a lot of time with nothing to do. They missed home and family, and the only good place they could go was the church that my brother attended. Gradually, they paid enough attention to the message of the Bible that they began to believe it, and they were converted. Now, every Sunday my mom will call me early in the morning and wake me up and say, “Hey, let’s go to church. Don’t be lazy.” That’s something that I would never even have imagined 30 years ago.
On my job, I invited people to church, but I did not tell everyone that I was a Christian. I work at The Chinese University of Hong Kong’s teaching hospital, Prince of Wales. I am head of my department, and I worried that people may somehow expect special favors if they knew I was a Christian.
But that changed in 2003, when we had the SARS outbreak. SARS, the animal virus that mutated and transferred to humans, was brought to Hong Kong by a patient from mainland China who stayed in our hospital ward. We sterilized everything in the ward, but from that single patient we estimate 130 people contracted the disease, including doctors, nurses, patients and medical students. On the first day of the outbreak, 30 colleagues came down with fever, and every day more and more people became ill. They got sicker and sicker each day. I saw people deteriorating in a very short time. I saw people dying. In one week, young and energetic men became so ill they could not get off the bed and go to the bathroom. They couldn’t even finish a meal because they were so breathless. They couldn’t talk on the phone to their families. I was really worried that they would die.
At first, we doctors stayed in the nurses’ quarters because we didn’t want to go home and take the disease to our families. After about two months, when I did go home, I kept my family in isolation. The moment I got home, my wife cleaned the floor behind me. I would rush into the bathroom and take a shower and change my clothes. I would eat at my coffee table while the family ate in the dining room. Our daughters were 9 and 6, and we asked them not to come close. But then I left because I just didn’t feel safe. We talked on the phone. We sent e-mails, and the girls would send me their pictures in PowerPoint. That’s how we kept in touch.
Every day I would walk across the street from the nurses’ quarters to the hospital to start my work, and I would have this anxious feeling in my heart because I didn’t know how many of them would still be there and how many would be going into ICU.
After the first week, I saw no turning point. I saw no signs of recovery. I knew some of my colleagues were going to die very soon because they were in ICU on ventilators, so I talked to my close colleagues one morning and said, “Well, maybe this is the time that we should come down and pray. This is beyond human power, beyond everything that we can do.” So, that was the first time that I declared my faith to everyone and invited all the Christians to come to my office to pray for those who were sick.
The office I was in at that time was a bit small, but about 15 people crammed into it to pray. I knew them, but I hadn’t known that they were Christians. We started to pray for our colleagues, and from that day, every morning around 11 o’clock, after we did our first rounds, we would gather in my room for prayer.
The first time we prayed, we told God that we didn’t want to see anybody die because of our ignorance about the disease. And we were ignorant. We didn’t know what we were dealing with. After we started praying, we saw the work of God in our department and throughout Hong Kong. We saw people get better, and suddenly they started telling me they’d become Christians. It was incredible.
I had a classmate from medical school who brought his own chest X-ray to me. He was a family doctor, and he contracted the disease from a patient, so he took an X-ray of himself and said, “Joseph, do you think I have SARS?”
I said, “No question.” His hands were shaking. He had a very high fever and was breathless. He required intubation and ventilation, so he was admitted. After three weeks, I was still dealing with other SARS patients when I got a call from him. He said, “Joseph, I’m leaving today. I’ve recovered.” Then he said, “I’ve become a Christian.” I said, “What?” He said, “Yes, I’ve become Christian.”
His wife had called him at the hospital and told him her entire church was praying for him. He told me he had never attended church, and for many years his wife had been trying to bring him to Christ, but he never listened. This was the first time that he could sit down with nothing else to do but read the Bible. He observed what was happening in Hong Kong and in the hospital, and he accepted Christ. Now, he’s probably the best Christian doctor in town. He told me that he prays for each one of his patients. What can you say, except that this was God’s work in Hong Kong—and He did it without us even realizing it.
God has a plan for everyone, not just me. There are so many other Christian doctors and nurses who worked with me during the SARS outbreak and prayed. God wants us to do something for Him; that’s why He puts us in certain positions or situations. Whether or not we respond is our choice, but we are all part of His plan.