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Sunny Zhao, a senior who grew up in China, was taught in school that there is no God, and she thought anyone who believed otherwise was superstitious. But at Cal, a friend invited her to join the Kairos fellowship. She took Course 101, and during winter retreat she learned that in order to enter the Kingdom of God, she needed to be Born Again. "Grades are not important compared to Jesus dying on the cross," she said.
Jennifer Dong says she's "thankful I no longer have to place my life's worth in how well I do in school."
But the acceptance also comes with feelings of unworthiness for some.
Senior Cindy Wu said she picked business as her major because of its competitive academic environment. But her roommate told her that God doesn't expect you to be perfect. Wu said she is still "learning to love God and accept his love without feeling guilty."
Yan Hui Zeng grew up atheist in China. "Jesus Christ died on the cross, but what did I do in return?" she asked. "It's time for me to return to God as a prodigal daughter."
Don't let studying get in God's way
Even non-believers might understand the attraction of Acts2Fellowship's Friday night Bible study session. It's part concert, part stand-up comedy, part lecture, and part therapy session. And everyone's incredibly friendly.
Before it began, as this Korean-American reporter sat alone, it only took a few minutes before several young women introduced themselves and asked my name, year, or who I was friends with. Even after learning I was not a co-ed but a reporter, they were eager to find out more and share their stories.
Two Korean-American students told of how they rebelled against their Christian upbringing as teenagers, but felt free to choose Christianity for themselves at Cal. Another said that her family initially feared her coming to liberal Berkeley would corrupt her morals, but that, upon arriving, she found it wasn't difficult to find like-minded conservative Christians like herself. All spoke of finding Acts2Fellowship through friends or roommates.
By the time it began, the 429-capacity room was nearly full.
They started the evening singing contemporary Christian rock songs with reaffirming titles such as "Salvation Is Here," "Everlasting God," and "You Are God Alone." The Korean-American pastor, dressed in blue jeans and a V-neck sweater, led the students in song with his acoustic guitar, flanked by a student band and backup singers. Hear the sound of the generations, making loud their freedom song, they sang, clapping their hands and swaying back and forth, reading lyrics displayed on a screen with images of floating clouds and sunsets. On a nearby wall hung a giant poster of the Periodic Table of Elements.
When the pastor began his lecture, the students dug in their backpacks bringing out notebooks and Bibles. He reminded them of the key verse of the year: Philippians 3:8. "Did anyone memorize it yet?" he asked.
A few raised their hands. He called out the first name of a male student sitting toward the back, joking about his engineering major. The student stood and recited the passage from memory: "What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ."
"It's impossible to earn our way to heaven," the pastor told the students, as they jotted down notes. "The only way to heaven is through the cross of Jesus Christ."
Interspersed throughout his explanation of the passage, the pastor kept things lively by relating things to students' cultural experiences. He likened the Apostle Paul to the "guy in the Korean newspaper" who "your mom points out, who goes to Harbard," he said, laying on a thick Korean-mom accent. Later, he compared God's power to that of Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, when the white-haired wizard releases King Theoden from the spell of the evil wizard Saruman. "God releases you and you can be healed," he said.
Then he got serious again. "What is life all about?" he asked. "The one thing that's certain about everyone's life here is that we're all going to die. We're all sinners, and we're all going to die and face our God one day." He acknowledged that this might sound harsh to some. "I'm not trying to be a morbid prophet, I'm not trying to scare you," he continued, adding, "Shouldn't we try to find a way to salvation?"
One way to achieve that, the pastor said, is by not letting too much studying get in the way of your faith.
"We have to evaluate the worthiness of your goals," he said. "I'm not saying to drop out of school. But if you place a high value on these things that lead you away from God, that's foolish. Those things don't last. Wouldn't it be better to make an eternal difference? You'll have an eternal relationship with God and can give that to others."
Later, he clarified his motive: "My goal wasn't to get people to stop studying," he said. "Some people have a hard time seeing that. ... I'm trying to get them at balance. As Christians we should do our best at workplaces and at school, but GPA isn't everything."
In his talk, he assigned the students a goal: "To get to know Jesus a little more this year than I did last year." Knowing God isn't about intellectual knowledge, he said. You can't know God by Googling, he added, but rather through experiential and personal knowledge.