Stolen Phones and Finding Hope

Natalie and Ruthie on the top of a mountain in China

“Thanks to my Heavenly Father and Lord Jesus Christ for calling me His daughter, leading me out of darkness into his wonderful light, protecting me, and never leaving my side. Without Christ as my personal Lord and Savior, my life would be void of the richest gifts and relationships — and I would never have arrived at this monumental day where I stand before you to become a Ph.D.” Dr. Natalie Han

On Tuesday, my dear sister Natalie presented her thesis before a board of Vanderbilt engineers and officially became Dr. Natalie Zhaoying Han, achieving her lifelong dream of receiving her doctorate in America. Her accomplishments are astounding (click here if you missed “An American Dream” part 1 of her story), but today I want to write about an even more astounding aspect of her life: her journey from an atheist communist party member to a daughter of Christ.

September 2006 Starbucks on 21st One ordinary fall day of my senior year at Vanderbilt, I met Natalie at Starbucks near campus. We shared a cup of coffee, accomplished our goal of allowing her to practice English, and said goodbye. On the way out the door, I invited her to come to a Bible study I was hosting that evening and she declined. She was outwardly against Christianity and told me of her atheistic worldview and belief in the Chinese Communist party. I never thought I would see her again. She never thought she’d see me again.

Two hours later, her less-than-enthused face appeared at my apartment door—not what I expected from someone who had a Damascus road conversion and suddenly decided to attend a Bible study with “narrow-minded” Christians. “God…?”

We had identical cell phones and my lack of attention horrible attention to detail caused me to steal her cell phone. I apologized profusely, but just before she left I said, “Well, we’d still love to have you now that you are already here…” my voice trailed off thinking how I probably conformed to a stereotype of evangelicals who resort to anything—even stealing cell phones—to get people “converted”.

But she stayed for Bible study.

And week after week, my bubbly Chinese friend from Inner Mongolia showed up at my door to talk more about God, life, relationships, and how they all intersect. She openly expressed her opinions about how she didn’t want to believe in a God who allowed pain and suffering for so many people.

Natalie and I were drawn to each other despite the vast differences between our upbringings, nationalities, cultures, and not to mention our first languages. We began pulling all-nighters together in her office on campus and one in particular I will never forget is when we both learned of our love for dancing. To techno. It was at least 3am and we got up on top of the desks and danced our hearts out. The janitor came by and scolded us for the volume of the thumping, screeching sounds, and we collapsed on the floor laughing. People started calling her “The Chinese Ruthie”, because we are remarkably similar in personality.

One night, we sat on my couch and she opened up to me about a very painful experience. Life-altering. Traumatic. I was the first person she told. As happy and carefree she came across externally, Natalie was wrestling in very dark places. I sat there overwhelmed with emotions of anger and of sadness. I didn’t tell her at that moment, because I didn’t want to take away from her story, but I knew exactly how she felt. We never know why God allows evil to come into our lives, but at that moment I had another piece of my “why” question.  God brought me out of my pain, so I could walk with Natalie through hers.

I almost wanted to stop talking to her about God, because why would she believe in a God who didn’t step in to stop her from what she endured? After all, her biggest argument against God was all the suffering in the world.

But against all logic and reason, on October 31st, 2006, Natalie sat –balling her eyes out—in my car outside of the same Starbucks we sat just 8 weeks prior. She asked Jesus to be her Savior and came into His arms, knowing He would never let her go. Not because she thought trusting Him would bring an end to her suffering—but because she saw the beauty of His life displayed on the cross FOR HER. She walked from darkness and confusion into light – glorious Light that never promised life would be easy, but promised to never, ever leave her. She was adopted and became a Daughter.

Natalie felt a weight lifted—the emptiness she’d battled for all these years—she now had a purpose greater than herself, her studies, and her ambitions.

Her pain did not magically disappear. In fact, for years she still agonized at times and wanted to give up her PhD because it only served as a reminder of what she endured. But she didn’t give up. God didn’t just leave her in a broken world – He provided hope of a perfect life beyond the one she lived in now.

For the past five years, Natalie and I have become closer and closer friends. We’ve

In Natalie’s hometown, Natalie and I wore traditional Mongolian clothes

traveled to China together and seen people—across the world—come to know Christ. Just this past June, she stood beside me on my wedding day.

Why does God allow suffering? We don’t pretend to know the answer.  But we can say with confidence God used our pasts to bring us together and further His Kingdom of love and healing here on earth. And maybe to let you know you are not alone. While pain and heartache and suffering and sickness and death will still remain on this earth, there is Hope. He died for you. Trust Him. Believe Him.

Natalie and I grew up on opposite sides of the world, spoke different languages and lived in far removed cultures. However, God knew the pain we would both endure separately, and fashioned a plan for us to meet and share the beauty of His healing with many others.

What a detailed plan that we even bought the same phones. Amazing. I like to think of us as limping towards the Promised Land of heaven together, where we are ever cognizant of our wounds, but fixing our eyes on the Savior who gave His life to set us free.  May you too find Hope amidst whatever life brings — because He longs to know you.

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17 Responses to “Stolen Phones and Finding Hope”
  1. Chana Keefer says:

    Beautiful record of the “God-stances” our Heavenly Father arranges to reach his precious, hurting children. So happy for both of you-and for this post that will reach many others struggling with the same questions.

  2. ruthie! you are such an inspiration (in that outfit). I love this story. You two are so lucky to have each other as friends. :)

  3. Brayta says:

    Tears are streaming down my cheeks!!! One word for this story, Who God is and what He does: INCREDIBLE!!!!!!

  4. Ruthie D. says:

    AMEN! Please share this post with friends. We want our story to encourage many others.

  5. Tatuu says:

    Wow!!! I cried. Isn’t God amazing? His ways are higher than our ways.

    • Ruthie Dean says:

      His ways are truly unbelievable-always greater than we could ever imagine. The most amazing part of the story is how God used something Satan intended for harm, to further His glory.

Check out what others are saying…
  1. […] A- in Beginning Chinese can only be attributed to my friend Natalie Zhaoying rescuing me from failure. She gave me great confidence in my ability (something she later […]

  2. […] from 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. If you missed either part of her story you can read about her here and here. I accomplished what I only dreamed of as a […]

  3. […] 2 Bible studies  (‘the good’). I already had my ‘ministry’ mapped out. But after stealing her phone accidentally, I recognized that while I thought I knew who God wanted me to spend my time with my Senior year, […]

  4. […] God Isn’t Punishing You […]

  5. […] year before, I’d met Natalie and led her to Christ. Her faith had such a deep impact on my life that I applied to move to China […]

  6. […] (Columbia, Cambridge, Harvard, Tsinghua and all the best schools you can imagine). Me being from “Inner Mongolia University” cannot even be found Stanford school list, so I was from this “unlisted school” when […]

  7. […] come not in what I’ve planned, but when God wrecks my plans and swings open the doors to His. Natalie is just one example. The thought of becoming a missionary was enough to make me break out in hives, […]

  8. Ruthie Dean says:

    […] spent a lot of time with my friend Natalie this weekend & we naturally talked a great deal about marriage {she’s dating a great […]

  9. […] Natalie and I celebrated her “6 year birthday” together. After the race, we all received a wine glass and had vineyards from all over the area offer wine tasting right at the finish line. Glorious! […]

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