Back From the Brink
By Zhao Guangming, China
At the beginning of the 1980s, I was in my 30s and was working for a construction company. I considered myself to be young and fit, treated people with loyalty and respect, and did my work responsibly. My construction skills were also top-notch, and I was sure that I was going places in the company and that, once my career really took off, I would be living like a prince. This was my goal and so I stayed with the company and worked hard for many years. But despite my impeccable character and professional skills, my efforts never seemed to be recognized by the company, which is something I never understood. The top salary grade in our company was grade 6, but my salary never got above grade 3. I watched a number of colleagues, who had neither my skills nor had worked in the company as long as I had, get pay raises, but it never happened to me. I was puzzled and resentful about why they got raises and I didn’t. Finally, one of the colleagues who I got along with quite well gave me a tip: “In this company, the most important thing is to butter up the manager and at least wish him a happy Chinese New Year, and do the same at other festivals.” On hearing this, I finally understood the real reason why I had been overlooked by the company, and the injustice of it made me furious. But although I hated those sycophants in the company, and had even less time for those who did little work but still got wage rises and promotions by using underhand methods, I needed to firm up my standing in the company and so I had to adapt to these unwritten rules. So the next time Chinese New Year came along I “expressed my heartfelt good wishes” to the manager and was immediately promoted to team leader.
As team leader, I became even more conscientious and responsible in my work. I would go to the construction sites to strictly supervise and direct the work to make sure it was being done up to standard and that the project targets were met. I also kept worker safety in my mind at all times, and my work attitude and professional guidance were universally praised by the workers in my team. But none of this mattered much when it came to keeping or firing team leaders—what counted most was the value of the gifts each team leader gave to the manager. To keep my job in the company, I had no choice but to go along with this law of survival, which allowed me to experience deeply the cruelty and helplessness embodied by the saying “survival of the fittest.”
In the years that followed, economic reforms and a loosening of restrictions by the government led to large-scale development and construction projects being undertaken all over China. My company thus began to allocate projects to individuals, which meant that the team leaders had to compete for the contracts. This led to even more wining and dining and giving of gifts, with each team leader trying to outdo the others. Whenever we team leaders heard that a work unit had a project up for tender, we would scramble to grease the wheels by getting our gifts to the relevant people in the unit as soon as possible. So as to avoid offending these unit leaders’ tastes, we would rack our brains to think of the best gifts and the best ways to give them: Some people put gold inside of fish or chicken stomachs; some gave cash; some gave gold jewelry or diamond rings. I also got caught up in this culture of bribery and spent many hours thinking of what gifts to give to toady up to these people. Eventually, I won a contract with much difficulty, but no sooner had we started work than officials from the Construction Bureau, the Construction Design Institute, and the Bureaus of Quality and Technical Supervision—as well as local cadres—all came along to “supervise and direct the work.” They said there was this or that problem with the site, that such and such was not up to standard, and after a whole morning of inspections we still couldn’t start work. I immediately invited them all out for a boozy lunch at a classy restaurant, a meal which cost me thousands of yuan. And at the end of the meal, I still had to give bribes to each one of them, ranging from 2,000 yuan to 10,000 yuan. It was the only way to get their ratification and approval for work to begin. But even after work started these supervisory agencies still regularly sent inspectors to inspect the project. They called these inspections “routine” but in fact they were just another excuse to squeeze us for more money. Every time they honored us with their presence at the worksite, I would busily rush about, arranging meals and drinks to entertain them, and these supervisory agency directors even found reasons to get me to go with them to shopping malls where they would shop for designer clothes and expect me to pick up the bill. Sometimes they were even bold enough to say they were hard up and ask me directly for cash to spend. In order to keep the project on track, all I could do was grind my teeth, swallow my anger, be nice to them, and just take the hit. Even worse was that for a long time I had to accompany these agency directors out on the town. Because of drinking to excess over a long period of time and having an irregular sleeping pattern, I ended up with stomach problems and high blood pressure, and I felt utterly exhausted. And so, when the project was finally completed and I had been paid, I discovered that I’d made nearly no money at all. I really could have cried. Faced with such a hard way of life, I thought to myself: “Why is it so difficult for me to make money by relying on my skills and hard work? How come the leaders of every single department in the national system are so corrupt?” I felt extremely helpless, but I had no other choice but to pin all my hopes of making money onto these officials. I had originally reckoned that building good relationships with them would also mean building the foundations for the development of my career, and it never occurred to me that all I was doing was sinking deeper into a slimy pit of sin and wading through a hopeless situation.
In 1992, after a complex and difficult process, I won the contract for a construction project in the city, and I estimated that the project would earn some money for me. Just when I was enthusiastically putting my all into preparations to start work, my manager told me that I had to first build a private villa for each of 4 city officials. He said this was a good opportunity regarding my career development, and that doing a favor for the city officials would guarantee that I would never have to worry about money in the future and would soon be living the good life. With a heart brimming with hope, I took out a loan from the bank and also borrowed money from friends and relatives, getting the money together by all means possible, to raise enough capital to build the 4 villas. But just as the building work was nearing completion, some senior officials from the Commission for Discipline Inspection showed up, and I had to spend more money to smooth things over and shield the four city officials. But in the end, all of my efforts were unable to keep the long arm of the law away from them: Because the four officials were suspected of accepting bribes and being involved in corruption, they were dealt with by the inspection authorities. All of my painstakingly laid fine plans went up in smoke, and the 4 unfinished villas were confiscated by the authorities. I was in debt to the tune of several hundred thousand yuan which I had no way to pay back, and an inexpressible bitterness sat in my belly like a heavy rock.
In my state of helplessness, I could only pin my hopes on another construction project. In order to pay off my debts I started to do something that I’d never done before in my whole career, the thing I was most unwilling to do—cutting corners and using inferior materials. Instead of using national standard steel I started using 2nd grade stuff, and instead of bundles of 6 rebars in the concrete I started using bundles of 4, thus reducing my steel costs by a third. I also mixed inferior concrete to further reduce my overall costs. To be honest, every time I did this my heart was in my mouth because I was terrified that the quality of the finished construction would be seriously affected. And when I heard reports of shoddily-built constructions all over China that had collapsed and killed, injured and bankrupted so many ordinary citizens, I would get particularly anxious and would often have nightmares. It even got to the point where the sound of thunder was like an announcement of my impending doom, perhaps by being struck by lightning or something. Fear stalked me every day. This situation caused me to eventually fall ill, and I was beset by frequent dizziness, headaches, and insomnia, all caused by my high blood pressure. I was, both physically and spiritually, a wreck, and life became a living hell for me. This is how I lost myself in worldly trends and sank deeper and deeper into that slimy pit of sin. To my surprise, when the project was half done, the unit I was building it for refused to pay me as had been agreed in the contract. The loan I’d gotten from the bank wasn’t enough to cover the workers’ wages, so I had no choice but to take out a high-interest loan with a loan shark. After many more setbacks, I finally found out that the contracting unit had long been in debt and had no way to finance the construction project. Another of my projects had failed, and I racked my brains for a way to make some good of it. I was totally exhausted and was living in a state of despair. Then I heard the news that a team leader in another company who had won a construction project had taken out a huge loan and was unable to repay it, and so he had ended up hanging himself. It felt like I too was standing at the gate of hell and that I was sinking into desperation. After that, the creditors started coming to my house to get their money back: Some of them lay on my bed and refused to leave, while others kicked up a fuss and threatened me. I was as polite and humble as I could be with them, and I felt totally humiliated. Even my closest friends and relatives thought that I was unable to repay them and started turning against me. It was during those days that I truly came to appreciate how fickle human relationships can be. I recalled all those years of hustle and bustle that had not only left me penniless but had also left me physically and mentally exhausted, and with debts of several hundred thousand yuan to boot. I looked up at the sky and let out a long sigh and said, “Heavens, this is just too hard. I really don’t want to live any longer!”
Just when I was wavering at the gate of hell, the kingdom gospel of Almighty God reached my ears. I saw these words of Almighty God: “Today, since I have led you to this point, I have made fitting arrangements, and have My own aims. If I were to tell you of them today, would you truly be able to know them? I am well acquainted with the thoughts of man’s mind and the wishes of man’s heart: Who has never looked for a way out for themselves? Who has never thought of their own prospects? Yet even though man is possessed of a rich and prismatic intellect, who was able to predict that, following the ages, the present would turn out as it has? Is this really the fruit of your own subjective efforts? Is this the payment for your tireless industry? Is this the beautiful tableau envisaged by your mind? If I did not guide all mankind, who would be able to separate themselves from My arrangements and find another way out? Is it the thoughts and wishes of man that have brought him to today? Many people go their whole lives without having their wishes fulfilled. Is this really because of a fault in their thinking? Many people’s lives are filled with unexpected happiness and satisfaction. Is this really because they expect too little? Who of the whole of mankind is not cared for in the eyes of the Almighty? Who does not live in the midst of the Almighty’s predestination? Whose life and death come from their own choices? Does man control his own fate?” (“Chapter 11” of God’s Words to the Entire Universe in The Word Appears in the Flesh). When I read these words, I became utterly convinced. I really felt that our fates are not in our own hands. I thought back over the previous years, about how I’d planned and calculated for my own future, but nothing had worked out for me. I’d put my all into earning lots of money and living a superior lifestyle, but not only had I not made any money, but I’d also wasted heaps of it. I’d never once imagined that I—who was once someone of note—could end up in such a pitiful state of poverty. Why was it that I’d worked so hard for my future and yet had encountered one failure after another? It was because the fate of every person is not in their own hands but is in the hands of God. Everything is ruled over and predestined by God; good fortune or misfortune is all administered by God. From the bottom of my heart I could feel that these were the words of God, and I couldn’t help but cry out to Almighty God: “O God! In the past I didn’t know You. I tried to rely on myself and on man’s power but ended up in a hopeless situation. Today, I have finally understood that the fate, and the life and death, of every single person is in Your hands. If this situation hadn’t befallen me, I wouldn’t have come before You. O God! I thank You for saving me from the brink of death and for giving me the courage to face life anew. From now on, I will submit to Your arrangements concerning the path in life I should follow.”
After that, I started living the church life. The environment in The Church of Almighty God was completely different from that of the outside world: The brothers and sisters had simple, straightforward relationships with each other, and treated each other honestly without any sign of pretense, infighting or scheming. Everyone would read God’s words and sing hymns in praise of God together; at gatherings, the brothers and sisters would be honest and open with each other, would fellowship about their own experiences, deficiencies and difficulties, as well as about their understanding and knowledge of God’s words. I felt that every gathering I attended was fresh, new, and full of vitality. There was no estrangement or suspicion between the brothers and sisters; everyone understood each other and knew each other well. I felt an unprecedented sense of relief and freedom there and I felt more relaxed and happier than I had ever felt before. At the same time, God guided me to understand why I had lived in such suffering over the past few decades. I read these words of Almighty God: “There is an enormous secret in your heart, of which you have never been aware, for you have been living in a world without light. Your heart and your spirit have been wrested away by the evil one. Your eyes are obscured by darkness, and you can see neither the sun in the sky nor that twinkling star of the night. Your ears are clogged with deceitful words, and you hear neither the thunderous voice of Jehovah, nor the sound of the waters flowing from the throne. You have lost everything that is rightfully yours, everything that the Almighty bestowed upon you. You have entered an endless sea of affliction, with no power of rescue, no hope of survival, and all you do is struggle and rush about…. From that moment onward, you were doomed to be afflicted by the evil one, far away from the blessings of the Almighty, out of reach of the provisions of the Almighty, walking down a road of no return. A million calls can hardly rouse your heart and your spirit. You slumber soundly in the hands of the evil one, who has lured you into a boundless realm without direction or wayposts. Henceforth, you lost your original innocence and purity, and began to shun the care of the Almighty. Within your heart, the evil one steers you in all matters and has become your life. No longer do you fear him, avoid him, or doubt him; instead, you treat him as the God in your heart. You began to venerate him, to worship him, and the two of you have become as inseparable as body and shadow, committed to each other in life as in death. You have no idea from whence you came, why you were born, or why you will die” (“The Sighing of the Almighty” in The Word Appears in the Flesh). “Satan corrupts people through the education and influence of the national governments and the famous and great. Their nonsense has become man’s life and nature. ‘Everyone for himself and the devil take the hindmost’ is a well-known satanic saying that has been instilled into everyone and has become people’s lives. There are other words of life philosophy that are also like this. Satan uses each nation’s fine traditional culture to educate people, causing humanity to fall into and be engulfed in a boundless abyss of destruction, and in the end people are destroyed by God because they serve Satan and resist God” (“How to Know Man’s Nature” in Records of Christ’s Talks). So the reason why I’d exhausted myself and made myself so miserable hustling and bustling in this world over the last few decades was because I’d been living by Satan’s rules of life, such as, “One’s destiny is in his own hand,” “Money makes the world go round,” “Every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost,” “One accomplishes nothing without fawning and flattery,” and so on. By living by these satanic philosophies, I’d had no idea of the existence of God, and hadn’t known that God rules over and arranges everyone’s fate. I had drifted with the tides of this dark world, without any direction in my life or principles of conduct. I certainly couldn’t see that this dark world is ruled over by Satan, and that human society is full of Satan’s temptations, snares and deceit. In order to make money in this dark and evil world, I learned how to flatter and toady up to those in charge and had even secretly used shoddy materials in my construction projects. My conscience had disappeared bit by bit, and I was left without an iota of integrity or dignity. The deeper I sunk into sin the less I felt like a human being. In the end, I didn’t make any money and was left with a pile of debt, and I felt so despairing that I almost committed suicide. I thought of that team leader who had killed himself because of his huge debts—hadn’t he been a sacrificial offering to Satan? And who knows how many other similar tragedies are being played out every day of every year? At that point I realized that the reason why people get in such a state is because of the harm caused by Satan’s poisons, and because of the worldly trends directed by Satan’s rule. When I thought of all this, a surge of gratitude for God filled my heart and I was so grateful for God’s mercy and salvation. God had saved me from the dark world and brought me back to God’s house where I could enjoy His care and protection.
After a period of time, I once again had to face my creditors, and my heart was in great turmoil. When I thought of all the debts I still had to repay, I once again wanted to take on construction projects. I knew, however, that my abilities did not match my ambitions. My high blood pressure problem flared up again, and I was at a total loss about what to do. At one of the gatherings, one of the brothers read some of God’s words for me: “True faith in God means the following: On the basis of the belief that God holds sovereignty over all things, one experiences His words and His work, purges one’s corrupt disposition, satisfies the will of God, and comes to know God. Only a journey of this kind may be called ‘faith in God’” (Preface to The Word Appears in the Flesh). The brother then gave fellowship, saying, “Since we believe in God then we should have true faith in God. From the bottom of our hearts we must believe in the authority and power of God to hold sovereignty over all things, and we should hand everything in our lives over to God. Most importantly, we should learn to rely on God, look up to God, experience God’s work, seek God’s leadership, and no longer hurry around busily thinking we can do it all ourselves. Paying off debts is something that all reasonable and conscientious people do, so we have to be brave and face our debts. We must believe that everything is in God’s hands, and that there isn’t any mountain that we can’t climb. Concerning your debts, you should pray more to God and seek His will.”
Through the assistance of the brother, I now had a way to practice. I found a job on a construction site nearby that didn’t interfere with my attending gatherings or fulfilling my duties, and I began to earn some money to pay off my debts. I no longer just relied upon myself to get ahead. When my creditors came to me for money, I would practice being honest with them and give them whatever I had. I was also able to pay some money back from what I made by selling the crops that I harvested from my farmland. I made a solemn promise to all of my creditors that I would repay all my debts, and after that they didn’t make life difficult for me anymore. When the bank sent people to push me to repay the loan, I prayed to God and entrusted Him with it all. “If I have to do time in prison because I can’t repay that large loan,” I thought, “I will obey all of God’s orchestrations and arrangements.” It was when I submitted to God while experiencing His work that I saw how miraculous His deeds can be, as I saw Him open up a way forward for me. The government announced that all bank loans taken out before 1993 would not have to be repaid, because none of them had been input into bank computer systems and incomplete information meant that some of the loans could never be repaid. Thanks be to God! All my loans were taken out pre-1993 and so my debt of several hundred thousand yuan was canceled. Thrilled, I offered up my thanks and praise to God. I thought: “If I had to earn that amount I’d probably die of exhaustion before I made it all.” This allowed me to personally experience that the fate of every person really is in God’s hands, as is described in these words of God: “The fate of man is controlled by the hands of God. You are incapable of controlling yourself: Despite always rushing and busying about for himself, man remains incapable of controlling himself. If you could know your own prospects, if you could control your own fate, would you still be a creature? In short, regardless of how God works, all His work is for the sake of man. Take, for example, the heavens and earth and all things that God created to serve man: The moon, the sun, and the stars that He made for man, the animals and plants, spring, summer, autumn and winter, and so on—all are made for the sake of man’s existence. And so, regardless of how He chastises and judges man, it is all for the sake of man’s salvation. Even though He strips man of his fleshly hopes, it is for the sake of purifying man, and the purification of man is for the sake of his existence. The destination of man is in the hands of the Creator, so how could man control himself?” (“Restoring the Normal Life of Man and Taking Him to a Wonderful Destination” in The Word Appears in the Flesh).
During my experiences, I became even more sure about Almighty God’s work and my faith was strengthened. In the years that followed, I continued to go to gatherings and fulfill my duties while also working for local construction teams to make the money to repay my remaining debts. Whenever I met someone of good character who was a suitable candidate to hear the gospel, I would preach it to them, and I brought some of the people I had good relationships with before God. Although I was still busy every day, life was different because I no longer lived by Satan’s philosophies and rules, and I no longer followed the evil trends of the world and sought to make it rich and live a superior lifestyle. Instead, I lived in submission to God’s rule and according to His requirements, conducting myself according to the truth, being honest and humane, fearing God and shunning evil. This way of behaving felt open and straightforward, and I began to feel at ease and filled with light inside. Gradually, I began to recover my conscience and reason, and the various ailments that I’d suffered from began to disappear. This year I turned 75, but I’m healthy, I have my wits about me, and I have repaid all of my debts. People who know me well all say they admire me and that I’m lucky. But I know without a doubt that all this is the result of Almighty God’s salvation and kindness. It was Almighty God who saved me from the brink of death, who gave me back my life in my hour of need, and who showed me the right direction for my life. During all these experiences, I truly felt that without God’s leadership we human beings will inevitably be harmed and swallowed up by Satan. Only Almighty God can save people; only the words expressed by Almighty God can lead people away from the bondage of sin and show us how to live as true human beings. Only by accepting the truths that Almighty God has expressed and submitting to and worshiping Almighty God can mankind live in true happiness and have a good future and final destination!