Loneliness visits us all at times. It’s why we leave the television on in the background. It’s the reason we can’t drive without the radio on or ever set down the phone. The quiet lets the lonely cries of our heart ring out. Lee Yih heard those cries often while growing up.
“I was ashamed of being Chinese,” Lee says. “In Mount Joy, Iowa, there were no other Chinese people apart from my family. I wanted so much to fit in.”
Lee would grow up never knowing his biological father. And when his mother remarried years later, that marriage struggled as well.
“My mother blamed me for the difficulties. Behind closed doors my stepfather said, ‘It’s either him or me.’ So I got shipped to Taiwan.”
Lee fought the move. He was 15 and already struggling to make friends and fit in. Living in Taiwan, in a culture he neither knew nor appreciated, would only drive the loneliness deeper in his heart.
But Lee’s mother, desperate to save her marriage, ignored her son’s pleas.
Caught between two cultures, he had none to call his own. He had no template to forge his identity around. Estranged no matter where he lived or whom he surrounded himself with, he searched for answers, and he thought he would find them through material success.
“My dream has always been to be rich and successful,” he says. “I grew up in a single-parent family before that was fashionable in America. We lived in a little apartment above a bar. I was so ashamed of that apartment. I knew I wanted to be rich. That was my way to get respect, to get power, to get things that I wanted.”
Lee returned to the US as a young man, studied finance, married, and set out to pursue the American dream, but his plans got derailed by the Vietnam draft. The Army sent him to man a radar site in Germany, watching the Russians.
“I was at the low point in my life in Germany,” he says. “I’m in the Army, watching a radar screen for Russians who never came. I have no meaning to my life. I’m stoned all the time. And my marriage was also starting to fall apart.”
Having never seen a marriage that worked, Lee struggled to know how to relate and function in such a relationship. At one point his wife, Miltinnie, told him she was going to leave him.
That’s when they met a couple named June and David Otis. They became quick friends. The Otises invited them over to their house frequently. They were different. They reached out when no one else would. One night over for dinner, Miltinnie asked them to explain.
“Why are you guys so different from other people?” she asked.
“We are different because we have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” they answered.
“What does that mean?” Miltinnie asked.
It seemed a strange answer to Lee too. He had known about God since childhood, even attended a Lutheran parochial school, but he had heard nothing about a personal relationship with God. The way June and David described their faith that evening shocked him and made him uncomfortable.
“I wanted to get out of there,” Lee says. “But my wife got so interested in what they were saying. They started talking about Jesus as if He was a friend or a college buddy. She listened to what they said that night, and she started to change.”
The change continued over the following weeks and months as Miltinnie became more involved in learning about Jesus. Eventually he followed her to gatherings at her new church. He expected to get what he always had: stares, rejection, politeness, but no connection. But these people were different.
“These guys became my friends,” he says. “I just felt the love of God. It was so strong. It just overwhelmed me. I could see it in everybody’s eyes.”
This wasn’t the God he’d grown up hearing about. This was someone who loved him and who somehow caused these people to love him too. He had no explanation, but the love hit him at his core. It felt unbelievable and irresistible. After one particular church gathering, he went home and talked to this God he wasn’t sure even existed.
“If You’re out there, and if You love me, I’d like to be included,” he said.
This wasn’t some glorious act of faith. It was feeble and simple. All he knew at that point was loneliness. He didn’t know if God wanted him, but if God was anything like this group of people, then maybe He would.
“It’s amazing what happened after I prayed this. I can’t explain it. The world suddenly looked different from then on. I was a new creature. My life went straight up. It was weird.”
Lee Yih left the Army and went on to a successful, financial career at Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Lehman Brothers, achieving all the financial dreams he had held since his youth. At the height of his career, compelled by a divine tugging in his heart, Lee quit his job.
The United Kingdom was about to hand Hong Kong back over to the Chinese. Many Hong Kong Christians feared that the churches that had flourished during these years would be squashed by communist China. So a group of Chinese believers decided to take the church underground to help it survive any coming dangers.
Lee and Miltinnie spent the next seventeen years of their lives in Hong Kong learning how to live that changed life. They lived out their faith every day in the workplace — they both worked in secular, nonreligious jobs — in their neighborhood, and with their family.
What started as a feeble, lonely prayer to a God he hoped would accept him sent Lee Yih on a lifelong quest to love others as God loved him. He found love, purpose and a friend in God.
Taken from “I Choose Peace: Raw Stories of Real People Finding Contentment & Happiness” by Doug Bender. Copyright © 2017 by e3 Partners Ministry. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. IChoosePeaceBook.com