Editor's note: This is the second of two articles on Kim Hayes's experience with one family she first met while serving them in pregnancy help, and with whom she would develop a lasting relationship. Shaomin and Martin, from China, came to the Ohio pregnancy help center where Kim volunteered in 1994. They had many difficulties which they saw as obstacles to giving their unborn child life. Click HERE for the first part of their story.
On April 20, 1995, a beautiful boy was born to Shaomin and Martin. They asked me to name him because, “He doesn’t belong to us,” they said, “he belongs to you and God.”
So, the baby’s name is John, which means Jehovah’s gift. He instantly became the pride and joy and focus of their world. Martin and Shaomin continued to be dear friends of my family.
But there were still many things to work out, especially seeking to secure their firstborn child, a daughter who remained in China with family members.
Martin had actually been a dean at an engineering school in China. Really, Martin needed to find work as a chemical technician or in mechanical design using AutoCAD to adequately utilize his training and skills.
Shaomin had been a math teacher in China. As layers of information were peeled away, it was clear the next step was to seek political asylum to protect them from ever being turned over to China.
In the summer of 1989, Martin was among the students who protested at Tiananmen Square. He was caught on tape by a media source speaking out. This led to his arrest, and then he spent two years being “re-educated” by the Chinese government.
So horrific was the torture and fear of those two years that Martin would not speak of it to his family.
As I prepared for this writing not only could his children not recount any of this information to me, but they both await eagerly to read it to learn more about their own family’s history and what led them to becoming Americans.
One of the faithful prayer groups and many donors offering support to my friends were coming from our home church, Westerville Christian.
One friend there, Susan Banks, worked at the time for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Through her contacts, she reached out to the office of John Kasich, then U.S. Representative for Ohio, to help Martin and Shaomin seek a path to citizenship.
Kasich’s office was instrumental in documenting Martin’s case and in the end, we had a great celebration of the couple’s citizenship at the church (complete with U.S. flag, cake and so much joy).
A family separated
Now that they were citizens, Kasich’s office further pursued the proper channels for getting their daughter released to the U.S.
This process took much longer. She was eight years old when I first met Martin and Shaomin. I couldn’t imagine the heartbreak of being separated from your child and not know if or when you would see her again.
To protect their daughter, family members would all tell the same cover story to her so she would never be in danger of saying the wrong thing about where her parents were and perhaps call unwanted Chinese government attention to their family.
Martin and Shaomin’s daughter Yun and her grandmother were residing in the apartment Martin and Shaomin had lived in as well, and with Martin and Shaomin’s disappearance there would be threats of their eviction. Yun knew there was talk by the local schoolhouse that they would be losing their apartment.
For Yun it was many years of not understanding the situation. Years of being given vague answers about whether she would ever see her parents again. This drove my prayers and the prayers of so many others.
The main story Yun recalls being told was that her dad had received a scholarship from a university in Ohio. She may have sensed there was something more going on, but she accepted this as the reality at that time.
When the day finally arrived in July 1996 and Yun got off the plane from China in the Columbus, OH, airport it was surreal. She was obviously overjoyed to see her mother and hugged her.
Yun was also delighted to see her baby brother for the first time. Our whole family waited with Martin as Shaomin signed a document from the guardian who delivered Yun to her. As they approached us, my daughter Kayleigh greeted Yun and introductions were made by Shaomin.
Lots of smiles, so much joy! Our oldest son, Kellen held out a gift to Yun and she shyly received it. Shaomin continued to point out each of us and our names. Yun was a bit overwhelmed by the presence of these strangers and halfway hid behind her mom.
Then it got awkward. Martin stepped forward to only receive some angry comment from his daughter in Chinese as she held onto her mom and moved on toward the terminal. Martin laughed nervously and said, “She said I am not her daddy.”
While it was heartbreaking to see this little girl’s confusion, anger and pain, there was so much joy in simply having the family together safely. It would not take Yun long to learn English and learn to embrace being an American girl.
Recently in talking with Yun she recalled the present she received at the airport.
She said, “That was the first present I had ever received, and I just kept staring at it thinking, ‘my first present.’”
Martin did end up with a job utilizing his chemical engineering expertise. Soon they would buy their own home and have two cars. They were even able to buy a restaurant in Lancaster, OH, and Martin would go help Shaomin with running it when he had time off from his job.
Yun’s primary responsibility was caring for John while their parents commuted back and forth to the restaurant. While this was perhaps a tough life for two young children, it did act to bond the siblings who remain lifelong close friends.
Financially the family would do quite well. They experienced the American dream and opened another Chinese restaurant in Athens, OH. It was called Yun’s Palace. John was six and Yun was a teenager. This time they moved to the same town.
Both children learned well the value of hard work. John would test beyond his years causing the school to move him up a grade level halfway through the school year.
The 1998 season of the Touched By An Angel television program featured a two-part episode titled, “The Spirit of Liberty Moon,” (season 4, episodes 26 & 27). I bought the family a copy of the episodes to give to Martin and Shaomin. Apparently when they played it, Martin left the room and would not finish watching.
It was too real. The episode depicted a family that was separated by the events at Tiananmen Square and the father being placed in a “re-education through labor” camp. The father becomes sickly under the harsh and abusive conditions, which included torture to attempt to get him to “confess” his crimes and denounce his actions.
Obviously, it was my hope that viewing this show together would be an opportunity to open up a dialog about their own family history. Instead, the silence continued.
There were many arguments over the years between Martin and Shaomin or with his daughter. He would call me, or a few times I visited their home, and we would have very long and open conversations.
It amazed me how tolerant of my directness Martin was—often it occurred to me how desperate he wanted everything I stated to be true, but he couldn’t allow it. Something held him back.
Mostly I detailed the depths of God’s grace.
We would go to the Scriptures; I would use real life examples or various parables to clarify. The stopping point would inevitably be when I would press in on how he needed to let go, accept forgiveness and trust God.
Working through the pain
Martin clung so tightly to his secrets surrounding what had been done to him.
Every now and then I would ask if he had told his family about what happened to him at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party and the answer was always the same, “They don’t need to know.”
There was deep fear and humiliation tied to the whole thing. The psychological warfare leveled against him built an impenetrable wall. Repeatedly I tried to help him understand how he was continuing to allow them to hold power over his life—a power they could only maintain with his consent.
In 2002, when Yun was 16, the family was in great turmoil and came altogether to my home hoping I would help them change their daughter’s rebelliousness (which I believe they thought was merely a function of her now being an American girl).
For more than an hour I listened to them yell at one another. So much hurt on their faces.
Finally, I called for quiet and calm.
I looked at Martin and said, “Does she know why she was left alone in China? Does Yun understand why you came to the U.S. without her?”
His eyes dropped; he wouldn’t answer me.
So, I looked into the eyes of this precious girl and began to detail for her everything I knew. By the time I finished, tears were streaming down my face but thankfully I have mastered the art of being able to talk while crying.
They were all quiet. I would love to say this resolved everything.
However, you cannot erase a decade of hurt with one story. It also would have been so much better if Martin would have been willing to give voice to what was shared. Instead, he remained stone silent, looking at me as if I had betrayed a sacred trust.
Since they had come to me asking for help, I did not believe it was wrong to share the information. Martin had been given five or six years to tell what had happened. No doubt he suffered deeply from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Yun would continue to demonstrate a rebellious spirit and decided she needed to get out on her own, so she joined the military. It was there she would gain so much confidence and learn to overcome the challenges life had given her.
Martin’s silence and attempts to battle his demons alone took a toll on his emotional, physical and spiritual health, as well as his marriage and relationships with family members.
In May 2005, the couple once again sought my help.
Their arguing had escalated, and both were ready for divorce. Shaomin arrived first and I spent four hours with her. When Martin arrived, we had two more hours together.
Their focus was on money. The rage they expressed toward one another made it impossible for them to listen to each other. My own kids were in the basement and they could hear the screaming from there.
But money was not really the issue, it was the distraction. They both had proven they could build a fortune in a short timeframe and were able to sustain on little to nothing in the meantime.
Shaomin had agreed with me that even if Martin had all the money, God was able to take care of her and her son.
The real oppression still was rooted in Martin’s secret world. He held the pain inside like it was an idol to worship—faithfully committed to serving its demands.
All this time and Shaomin still did not know what Martin went through in China (other than the few things I had told the family three years earlier). The only reason I knew was because I read the document which was submitted to our government as he sought political asylum.
She knew he was part of the Free China movement and that is all. The unspoken rule they all seemed to “obey” was that is “all she needed to know.” But when it is the very information Martin had used as his lens for every relationship, it was exactly what Shaomin and the rest of her family needed to know.
A lengthy process
Prior to this meeting, I had insisted Martin watch “The Passion of the Christ.” This became part of the conversation that day. Finally, he was able to visualize much of what he had read in the Bible and acknowledged that Jesus could understand Martin’s own beating and torture.
But in the next breath Martin suggested that Jesus probably was just tired of this awful world and that is why He died. Again, he questioned motives—even God’s—so why would Martin ever be able to trust anyone (this included his wife, children, everyone)?
Shaomin was still very limited in understanding the Bible. Wrongly I had trusted that she had access to the Chinese Bible I had given them years prior. She said that Martin did read it, but she had not, so I did end up getting one for her.
Because of our many conversations and her participation previously with some Bible study groups, Shaomin knew that Jesus came to save us, and He is God’s Son. She understood about asking Him into her heart to be her Lord and friend.
That day in preparation for Martin’s arrival I had taken her through the life of Joseph (from the book of Genesis) to show her God’s work in the midst of hard times. We talked about how God uses what the enemy meant for evil and turns it for our good. Shaomin’s life was already filled with very real examples of this.
This meeting did not end with a “happily ever after” solution. It was more painful revelations rather than reconciliation. My husband Jeff came home about the time we were wrapping up.
Martin pulled Jeff aside pleading with him to find Shaomin a job at the bank where he was employed. It was so obvious to both Jeff and I that Martin still loved Shaomin deeply.
However, Martin’s failure to be able to adequately express his love for his wife had destroyed their marriage. It would be another casualty of Communist oppression. They may have enjoyed freedom in the U.S., but Martin was far from experiencing freedom in his heart.
In the winter of 2005, the family would move to Florida. Martin and Shaomin began living very separate lives, but when I would speak with him on the phone, he would update me on the family, very proudly bragging about his children as if everything was fine.
Once my friends moved to Florida, I heard little from them.
In 2012 Martin was diagnosed with colon cancer which was already stage four by the time he had sought medical attention. The doctors believed he had no more than six months to live.
Martin did not tell me about the cancer, and I found out he had died while reaching out to Shaomin during the holidays. It saddened me so to not have been able to be there for my friend.
There were so many years of praying for this family and even when I was no longer part of their lives, I knew God would faithfully hear my prayers as I asked that there would continue to be Christians speaking truth to them and especially to Martin.
Tweet This: There were so many years praying 4this family & even when I was no longer part of their lives I knew God faithfully heard my prayers 4them
He heard the truth of the Gospel so many times, I feel certain he could have reiterated it to anyone who might ask him to explain it.
So, while I never specifically heard Martin confess having accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior, I chose to believe God’s word (which Martin was always open to hearing) did not return void.
In fact, I eagerly await seeing many family and friends in heaven one day soon and expect my dear friend, Martin will be there.
To my delight, I learned that during his final months of life, Yun reconnected with her dad. They would have weekly conversations and she would visit whenever she got leave.
Not only did a lot of healing happen between daughter and father, but she said Martin had changed.
“He transitioned,” stated Yun. “He wasn’t angry anymore. Dad had always been okay with going with us to church and he liked to listen to the Scriptures, but after his diagnosis he changed.”
Then I asked her specifically if Martin had accepted Christ as his Savior and she said, “He did.”
Yun continued, “He told me, ‘I should have been there more for you. I should have paid more attention to you.’”
What a joy to hear her report! What a blessing to know Martin experienced not only reconciliation with God but reconciled with his precious daughter. God granted him twice as much time as the doctors predicted and Martin passed in November of 2013.
Yun has a husband and a son. She told me that her son is a lot like Martin, “Calm, relaxed and sweet.”
Yun continues to love her family and has learned to love her new country. She has served in the military for 12 years and was given special recognition in 2020.
John has a master’s degree and got married. His life is filled with many joys and he is enjoying his career and his marriage.
Shaomin is gratefully delighting in an amazing life in Florida. She loves Jesus. I know she prays for her children and thanks God for them.
She wrote to me in an email, “You know since I met you, I start learning God’s word and I can’t live without (it). Remember John name you gave to him told me God’s gift to me and truly I very proud (of) my son.”
The last time we got to see one another was on Mother’s Day, 2018. Shaomin and John came to Columbus and she insisted on taking my family to dinner at a way too expensive local steakhouse.
She has such a generous heart. None of us ordered enough food to her liking so then she ordered multiple appetizers to make up for it (I cannot even imagine what the final bill was).
This January I asked John if he knew anything about his father’s oppression at the hands of the Chinese government and his escape from China.
He stated, “Not much, just everything that I learned from you when my mother and I visited Columbus a couple of years ago. For my sister, I believe she was staying with my Aunt and other relatives in China, but I don’t know much else.”
John also noted, “I do know that he (Martin) hated the color red, but don’t know if that was related or not.”
When I asked John about his sister Yun, he answered, “I’m absolutely proud of her! I know her going into the military was a huge source of conflict, but with everything she’s been able to do now I’m just incredibly proud of her.”
Whenever I retell the story of what God did in the lives of Martin, Shaomin and their children, I am reminded what a joy it is to be used by God.
Once again, as I have seen so often in my life, you cannot out give God—I’ve tried and failed enormously!
What a blessing it is to know this dear family!