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Journals Snapshots of China
Following the bad news coming out of China sometimes leaves me feeling hopeless, as the clampdown on freedom seems to grow day by day. In those times it’s helpful to recall the radical, powerful testimonies of how God has turned hearts toward Him. In 2016, I sat down with Christy and Nathan Chester (engaged at the time) at a Beijing Starbucks to hear Christy’s testimony of how she went from being a girl in a town of 3,000 to one of the top female weightlifters in the country to a child of God seeking to use her talents to share the gospel. Christy Chester is a Chinese national who took her husband’s last name after marriage.
Christy’s life trajectory changed while doing morning exercises at her elementary school in a small town in China’s Hunan province. Scouts showed up looking for students with physiques suitable for weightlifting and handed them dumbbells to test for strength. The scouts were impressed by Christy and two others, and sent the three of them to a special athlete training school in the city of Loudi, more than two hours away. At the age of 12, Christy lived away from home and could only go back for two days each month.
A little more than a year later, a weightlifting coach from Beijing came to Christy’s school scouting for potential athletes and happened to see Christy training in the corner. He liked her bubbly personality, found she was hardworking, and decided to bring her to Beijing to train in a special program for talented young athletes at the Beijing Sport University. At 14, Christy moved even further from home to the bustling capital city of Beijing.
There, Christy spent her days training and studying. Training began at 6 a.m., followed by classes in the morning, and then more training in the afternoon. The rigorous daily schedule meant that studying took a back seat to weightlifting training, and Christy and her classmates would often be too tired to stay awake through class. In the four years Christy spent in the program, she wasn’t able to go home once, and she only got three days off for Chinese New Year.
Working with world-class trainers, Christy excelled in weightlifting competitions, ranking No. 1 in Shanxi province and No. 8 nationwide in her weight category. After four years, Christy felt she had reached her peak athleticism and decided to retire from her weightlifting career. Without the intensive training taking up her time, she poured her energy into studying. She majored in sports education at Beijing Sport University, spent weekdays at the library, and spent her weekends working a part-time job. By the time she graduated college, she was at the top of her class and was automatically accepted into the school’s master’s program.
In 2012, Christy was working at her part-time job at the fast-food chain KFC when she saw a foreigner come in with several other students to buy soft-serve ice cream. She started talking with them to practice her English. The men were part of a Christian ministry for college students, and they invited Christy to a Thanksgiving event. Soon she began attending the group’s weekly Bible studies. Christy, who had never heard of the name Jesus Christ before, thought her new friends were nice, and she was curious as to why people who came from good backgrounds, worked at goods jobs, and attended good schools still needed Jesus. She started to read the Bible every day, and even though she didn’t fully understand it, she knew that it was full of truth. In 2014, she professed faith in Christ and was baptized.
Her faith grew as she watched her church community support her during her preparations to compete in bodybuilding while studying for her master’s degree. While weightlifting only requires having the power to lift, bodybuilding requires strengthening of each muscle as well as sticking to a strict diet to cut down body fat. On days when she was physically spent from training, her church friends came to massage her sore muscles, run errands and do chores, and cheer her on at competitions. “I feel God brought me to Him through different people’s witness,” Christy said. “Every time I compete, I feel God’s love through the service of my Christian brothers and sisters.”
“Every time I compete, I feel God’s love through the service of my Christian brothers and sisters.”
After getting her master’s, Christy started working as a personal trainer at a Beijing gym. Along with helping her clients get fit, Christy sees her job as a ministry opportunity. Although she can’t directly evangelize at work, she’s found that by genuinely caring about her clients, some have become interested in her faith and she’s been able to invite them to church.
In the future, Christy and Nathan hope to open their own CrossFit gym that can double as a space to hold Bible studies, discussions with non-Christians, and even church on Sundays. The Chesters are both involved in CrossFit, with Christy holding the title of the top female CrossFitter in the country.
“She sees God’s special plan in her life,” Nathan said of his wife. “She sees how God chose her and brought her to Beijing, and now she can go back to her hometown with the good news.”
Christy agrees: “I have to give thanks to God. Sometimes I think my life is really unbelievable.”
Lavish lavatories: Using the public toilet in China used to be a sketchy affair with dirty squatty potties swarming with flies. But starting in 2015, President Xi Jinping called for a “toilet revolution” to build clean restrooms. Now it’s gone too far the other way, with fancy toilets popping up around the country: Some restrooms use facial recognition to dispense toilet paper, and others include Wi-Fi, phone chargers, and flat-screen TVs. China’s tourism chief recently asked local governments to stop competing to create five-star toilets.