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If you attend the 11:15 worship service at Wheaton Bible Church, you may have been welcomed to the West Worship Center by a pleasant, smiling Chinese couple—Leon and Angela Yuan—and then been greeted by a younger Chinese man, their son Christopher, who may have handed you a copy of the day’s bulletin and directed you to an open seat. You’d never guess, from outward appearances, the road this family has walked or the amazing story of transformation their lives represent.
From his earliest childhood on, Christopher Yuan was marked for success. Raised by educated and affluent Chinese parents, he and his brother were given every opportunity to develop their talents, get the most out of their schooling, and reach their fullest potential. Their mom, Angela, was determined to do everything possible to guarantee that they would excel in academics, in musical performance, and in other opportunities that would showcase their abilities. In reaction to her own lonely childhood—raised by nannies while her mom and dad reached for the pinnacle of their own careers—she was resolute in her desire to “do it all” for her boys.
Scrapbooks overflowing with awards and newspaper clippings about her boys’ accomplishments appeared to provide ample evidence that she had succeeded… until her older son became a young man with a mind of his own—and the once high achiever took full advantage of the freedoms of young adulthood.
Christopher, the younger son, seemed to be tracking fairly well with Angela’s plan, progressing through dental school—until one day in May 1993, a day Angela once described as “the end of my world.” Here’s how she recounted the events of that day in the opening pages of a new book she and Christopher wrote, entitled, Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God. A Broken Mother’s Search for Hope. She writes:
It was May in Chicago. The warmth of spring was starting to wrap its arms around the city we had called home for twenty-four years. But that night we sat in silence, picking at our stirfry with forks as cold and hard as our hearts.
Dinner was miserable, and it had nothing to do with the food. You’d think that after so many years of living with my disconnected but often argumentative husband, Leon, I’d be used to misery. But this night was unusually dismal.
Our younger son, Christopher, was home for a visit. He had just finished his junior year of dental school in Louisville, Kentucky, after transferring from Loyola University School of Dentistry in Chicago the previous fall. Leon, a dentist himself, was glad that Christopher was following in his footsteps. It was expected that in a year father and son would be working together in our new dental office.
Of course, I, too, had been looking forward to Christopher’s visit. Like any good Chinese mother, I doted on our two sons, but Christopher and I had always been especially close. Normally his being at home would keep the tension in our home from boiling over. But Christopher’s presence at the dinner table tonight only elevated our family’s permanent state of emotional strain.
A few days before Christopher had come home, Leon was checking the insulation in the crawl space just off Christopher’s bedroom. On his way out of the crawl space, he saw the beam from his flashlight land on something tucked away on top of the small access opening. He discovered an unlabeled VHS tape in a worn cardboard case, which he brought downstairs to show me.
As soon as I saw the dusty videocassette, I froze. I knew what it was, but everything inside me hoped it wasn’t. The truth was, for six years I had feared that Christopher’s problem had never really gone away.
I couldn’t bring myself to watch what was on the tape, so I asked Leon to do it. He took it from my hand and went into the living room to play it. Finally, he walked back into the kitchen, dropped the tape on the counter, and said, “Yes, it’s that.”
That. He couldn’t even say the word. It was gay pornography.
I immediately thought back to when Christopher was sixteen years old and I found out from his brother that Christopher had had a sexual relationship with a thirty-year-old man. Christopher had contacted the man, who then invited him over. Sure, Christopher may have sought the man out, but no matter how you look at it, this man had used and soiled my son.
Words cannot express what I felt at that time. Sadness and deep anguish overwhelmed me. But I was also furious at the man who took advantage of my son. Christopher was robbed of the chance to be a normal teenager, and what’s worse, I couldn’t tell anyone about it.
I wanted to see this man brought to justice, but that meant making a horrific private matter a public one. And I would not allow Christopher to go through that humiliation. We decided not to press charges, choosing instead to keep the heartache and shame a secret.
Added to the terrible disgrace was constant anxiety. During Christopher’s teenage years, my days were filled with fear. I worried about what people would say if they found out. I worried about how much Christopher was scarred, and whether his future would be affected by this incident.
I especially worried about whether he would become…gay.
Angela’s fears for her son were confirmed that same day, when Christopher boldly told his mom and dad that he was gay, an admission that drove his mother to the point of despair, gasping for air and choking on her tears. But in reality, the revelations of that day were just the beginning of the heartbreak this family would endure as their son, who held such promise, fell further and further into a life of dangerous and destructive behaviors and an escalating role as a user and dealer in illegal drugs—eventually facing devastating consequences.
The title of Christopher and Angela’s book intentionally points to the biblical parable of the Prodigal Son, a story that has a special meaning to the Yuan family—a mom, a dad, and a son who have found their way home.
For Angela, it was her despair over Christopher, and what she viewed as her failures as a mother, that God used to open her heart to the truth. From that point on, she began to pray faithfully for Christopher— through years of waiting—and God began to work, in His own way and in His own time. As Christopher continued a seemingly endless descent—through a lifestyle of homosexual promiscuity, dismissal from his nearly completed dental program, jet-set partying, brazen drug dealing, arrest, trial, conviction and imprisonment, an HIV-positive diagnosis—Angela continued to pray.
The remarkable story of Christopher’s life and how God answered a mother’s commitment to unrelenting prayer is far too long to tell in this space—it’s literally enough to fill their powerful book. It’s a story of transformation, of a lost son whom God, in His grace and mercy, led to Himself. And it is a story that continues to be written, as that once prodigal son, now a graduate of Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College Graduate School has returned to Moody, where he now teaches in the Bible department.
It is also a story that has opened doors for Christopher to speak at churches, college campuses, and other venues around the country—a message that resonates with prodigal sons and daughters, as well as with the parents who love them.
A CHURCH HOME
For the past year and a half, Wheaton Bible Church has been the Yuans’ church home. With many weekends spent traveling for speaking engagements, it was important to them to find a church home where they could worship together as a family.
“Since we’re traveling and ministering so much, we were looking for a place where we could really get fed and be ministered to when we are not ministering ourselves. When we came to WBC, we felt that this was the place,” Christopher said. “We wanted to find a church that fit both my parents and me. We wanted to worship together as a family—that was a big priority for us. I think maybe I could have found a church where I fit in well, and that maybe my parents could find another church that had people more their age. But our main priority was to find a church where all three of us really felt connected.
“Maybe it was a little more challenging that way, but I’m glad that we took the time to look. We as a family feel like God may be beginning a new chapter for us in ministry,” he added.
Nine months ago, Leon, Angela, and Christopher became members of WBC.
WANT TO HEAR MORE?
Watch Christopher, Angela and Leon share their testimony in the June 12, 2011 service.