My name is Yuwei Bai (pronounced as You-way Bye), which means “something precious in the universe.” I am from Shanghai, China’s biggest city, with a population of 24 million people. (Texas has 28 million people.) I was not raised in a Christian family, but a Muslim one. However, we were not a typical Muslim family such as you would encounter in the Middle East, who pray five times a day according to the teaching of Islam. The only commandment we kept was not to eat pork, and none of us knew the reason why. It was a “do because I said so” type of thing.
Though a Muslim by blood, I lived a secular life just as anyone else around me. I went to school and studied Atheism and Maoism. However, I had always been curious about religion. I had been to Buddhist temples a couple of times, where I bowed before the golden statues, praying for health and good grades. Interestingly, one has to purchase a ticket in order to be admitted into the temple.
In 2012, an audacious idea occurred in my mind: Why not study in the United States? Following my American Dream, I first needed to register for TOEFL classes to gain eloquence in English. On the way home from class, I passed by a church built in 1874 in downtown Shanghai. Discovering I did not need to pay an admission fee to enter and visit, I sat down in the sanctuary and listened to my very first sermon: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The concept of sin was brand new to me. I had committed no crime and lived as morally as a teen could. The message caught my attention and forced me to return to the church. With my interest in Christianity growing, I wanted to be baptized. However, the church would not baptize me unless I sat through ten classes and collected enough stamps. Consequently, I went to a house church (AKA underground church) that was not willing to be regulated by the government. The first and only thing I told them was, “I want to be baptized.” So, I was baptized in a bath tub.
In September 2012, I came to the University of Oregon to study Business Administration. In the student center, the local Chinese church was giving invitations to students to join their Friday night dinner and fellowship. Who can resist free food? I thought it would be impolite to eat and then leave without participating in the Bible study, so I stayed. In that very first visit to the church, I started reading the Word of God. Drawn into the promise and fulfillment of the Scripture, I wanted to study more about God.
God touched my heart. I watched a YouTube video of the preacher Stephen Tong, who spent his entire adult life sharing the good news of Christ. He said, “I’m 70. I’m old. How long can I serve the Church? Where are the young Christians? The younger generation should take their responsibilities to serve the Church, to go preach the Word.” Tong’s words left me in deep contemplation. I opened the Bible and tried to look for guidance. My gaze fell upon the place where God called Isaiah the prophet. “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying. ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’” (Isaiah 6:8).
I thought, “Isn’t God asking me the same question?” Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? It was my turn to answer God’s calling. “Here I am, Lord. Send me!” I then asked my friends to start calling me Isaiah because I wanted to be like him—to be used as an instrument for God’s work.
I transferred to a local Pentecostal-based Christian college as the initial step of preparation for ministry. Three years of study soon passed. In order to graduate, the students needed to have a church internship. At the time I was serving an ELCA church, but the church was in transition to call their permanent pastor, so they could not provide an intern position for me. I called a list of Lutheran churches, but only one person answered my call. Dr. Daniel Berge was pastoring Immanuel Lutheran Church in Eugene. He invited me for a visit and later called me to be an intern under him. Knowing that I was on my journey to be an ELCA pastoral candidate and ready to move to Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota with my wife Kaitlin, Dr. Berge introduced me to Lutheran Brethren Seminary, and set up a call with LBS President David Veum.
It was a call that changed my life. As I was sharing my background with Dr. Veum, I mentioned that my family belongs to a people group who practice Islam. He asked if it was the Hui people group. I said, yes. There was a long period of silence. A shattered voice came with a sob, “Really? We have been praying for you!”
From the minutes of the September 25, 2003 meeting of the board of Lutheran Brethren International Mission:
“‘Motion Made Seconded and Carried: LBIM adopt the Hui as a people group.’ The board paused for a time of prayer, committing us to the responsibilities of this adoption, especially to prayer before the Lord of the harvest, to raise up workers to be sent to the Hui.”
In August 2017, I enrolled in the Master of Divinity program at Lutheran Brethren Seminary. Spending my first year online, I moved to Fergus Falls, MN in August 2018. I enjoy studying in the Seminary where people are in training to be the hands and feet of Christ.
This all started with that prayer in 2003. My brothers and sisters, I really appreciate your prayers throughout the years, keeping the unreached and nonbelieving people in your minds. Prayer is the purest act of love among the children of God. Our heavenly Father does not neglect our prayers. Please continue to pray that the Lord raise up laborers for the harvest.
Isaiah Bai is from Shanghai, China. He is a second year seminarian at Lutheran Brethren Seminary in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.