A single sentence can change a life. Angela Yuan learned this the hard way, her heart shattered when her cherished son spoke just three short words. The proud, atheist mother simply wasn’t ready to hear “I am gay.” She fumbled for a response, but the pain was too sharp, the shame too intense. Finally, she made up her mind. “You must choose. You must choose the family or choose homosexuality.” He made his decision. He packed his bags, he walked out of the house, and he was gone.
This is where we must begin as we tell the story of Christopher Yuan and his mother, Angela. Almost all of the men we will encounter in this series, “Christian Men and Their Godly Moms,” were born into Christian homes, born to mothers who loved God and who raised them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. But this tale is different because Christopher was born to atheists, and before God could do a work in him, he would have to do a work in his mother. Before God could save Christopher, he would save Angela and, through her, display the power of a persevering mother.
Out of Atheism Into Life
Christopher Yuan grew up in Chicago, Illinois, the youngest of two sons born to Leon and Angela. Angela was born in Shanghai but grew up in Taiwan. Her father was a merchant marine, and her mother a politician and career woman. With such busy parents, Angela and her siblings were left in the care of nannies and grew up craving the love and attention of their parents. Even as a child, she determined that she would commit her life to a husband and children, to give them the warm family life she had never experienced.
Leon and Angela met in college in Taiwan, came to the United States in 1964 for graduate school, and were married the following year. Soon after, Leon received his doctorate in physical chemistry while Angela worked as a bank teller to support him. After Leon graduated, she turned her attention to the family, giving birth first to Steven, then to Christopher. Then when Leon returned to school for his doctorate in dentistry, she worked the night shift as a kidney dialysis tech in order to care for her boys during the day. They opened their own dental practice, and it quickly began to thrive. It was a family business with Steven and Christopher helping after school. The boys were clever, well-behaved, and accomplished. For a time, the home was full of hope. This was their dream come true.
But over time, Angela and Leon grew apart, and their marriage grew cold. At the same time, they began to notice a lack of motivation and direction in the boys. Steven graduated from college, only to run off and reject his upbringing. Angela’s last hope was Christopher, and for a while, it seemed like her hope might be well-placed. He was accepted to dental school in Louisville and earned good grades. It would not be long before he would graduate and join his father’s practice.
And then those three little words destroyed all of her hopes and dreams. Leon had stumbled upon a hidden stash of gay pornography, and Christopher had been forced to admit what was true. Though he had been hiding it from his parents, in graduate school he was already openly living as a gay man. Angela gave him the ultimatum, and Christopher gave his goodbye: “It’s not something I can choose,” he said. “I was born this way.”
This was too much for Angela to bear. She made a plan: go to Louisville, say farewell to Christopher, and end her own life. But before leaving, she chose to visit a chaplain—an inexplicable decision for the avowed atheist. He spoke kindly to her, offered what encouragement he could, then handed her a booklet. The next day, while on the train to Louisville, she dug into her purse and pulled it out. She began to read of the love of God and of his desire to save people to himself. She read a statement that cut her to the core: “Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.” On that train and through that booklet, she understood there was a God and that she belonged to him. When she arrived in Louisville, she was a Christian. She went to Christopher’s school, and rather than bid him farewell, simply told him, “I love you, no matter what.”
Angela immediately bought a Bible and committed herself to reading it and to praying. She soon realized that her foremost concern should not be Christopher’s sexuality but his soul. She would pray that God would do whatever it would take to save her son. She promised to persevere in prayer until God answered.
A Reborn Mother
Christopher, meanwhile, was spending most of his time in the gay clubs and, just three months from graduating dental school, found himself facing expulsion. Leon and Angela flew to Louisville to discuss the situation with the Dean. To Christopher’s surprise, his mother told the Dean that it was not important whether or not Christopher would become a dentist but far more important that he would become a follower of Christ. Education and career were now far less important to her than that her children would follow the Lord.
Infuriated, Christopher turned instead to organizing parties and events for the gay community. He was wildly successful and soon traveled across the country, befriending the rich and famous. A series of failed romantic relationships gave way to a lifestyle of partying and uncontrolled promiscuity. First he tried drugs, then dabbled in dealing them, then rose to become a prominent supplier for dealers. The years went by. He was living the high life as a fixture in the gay community, as popular and well-liked as he could hope to be.
Little did he know that Angela had been praying. For years, she had been earnestly pleading with God to save her son. She had converted an unused shower in the home to a prayer room and spent so many hours praying and studying her Bible each morning that her knees became hard and calloused. She committed every Monday to prayer and fasting, and once even fasted for 39 straight days. She enlisted hundreds of friends to join her in interceding for her son. While Christopher was partying, she was praying. In particular, Angela prayed that in some way and for some reason, Christopher’s friends would desert him.
Then one day the DEA showed up at Christopher’s apartment and charged him with a long series of drug offenses. He was sentenced to six years in federal prison. And immediately, just as Angela had prayed, his friends deserted him. He was utterly alone, facing six years of hard time. With no other recourse, he picked up the phone and called home. “Mom … I’m in jail.”
Angela responded not with despair but with thanksgiving. After all, she had prayed that God would do whatever it takes. And he had. She decided to begin counting her blessings, to deliberately, prayerfully record reasons to be thankful. She scribbled the first one on a piece of machine tape hastily pulled from a calculator. “Christopher is in a safe place, and he called us for the first time.” That list would grow and grow. And she would continue to pray, to fast, to persevere in her pleas to God. God began to answer.
On his third day in prison, Christopher walked past a pile of trash and noticed a book lying there. He picked it up and found it was a brand new Gideon’s New Testament. With nothing better to do, he went back to his cell and began to read. He read it through, then read it again and again. It began to make sense. He began to even join a friend to study the Bible together. And then he received sudden, devastating news: a blood test had shown he was HIV-positive.
A short time later, he was transferred to another prison, where he found these words scribbled on the underside of the top metal bunk: “If you’re bored, read Jeremiah 29:11.” He did, and for the first time considered that he—even he—might have a hope and a future. “For the rest of my life, I was going to live with this felony on my record—like a permanent stain branded on my soul. But with God it seemed I had no record; I had no debt to be paid; I had no shameful past. I wanted that. Just the possibility of hope and a future seemed to brighten my gloomy cell and improve my dreary morning. Maybe I actually did have something to look forward to.”
Christopher’s conversion to Christ was not something he can narrow to a specific moment in time. But it was soon undeniable that he had come to trust Christ for his salvation. He began to long to tell others about Jesus and even to preach the gospel within the prison. He soon understood he would have to deal with the matter of his sexuality and, searching the Bible, determined that to honor God he must first establish his true identity. “I am not a gay Christian or a straight Christian. I am not a Chinese Christian or a male Christian. I am simply a Christian. This is my main identity.” He determined he would diligently pursue holy sexuality, which is one of two paths, either faithfulness in marriage (between a husband and wife) or chastity in singleness.
And how did Angela respond to Christopher’s profession of faith? “I wasn’t used to Christopher talking about God so much—and so naturally. Each time he mentioned God, it was almost a shock. Only eight months earlier he was still expressing complete and utter animosity toward God and Christianity. Eight months! I could hardly believe it.” In one sense, the answers to her prayers had been coming for years, yet in another, she could only marvel at how quickly and completely God had answered.
Eventually, he served his final day in prison and was set free. He immediately began studies at Moody Bible Institute, then Wheaton College Graduate School, where he earned a Master of Arts in Biblical Exegesis, and finally Bethel Seminary, where he received his doctorate. Today, he teaches at Moody and travels internationally to speak at churches, prisons, and college campuses. As for Angela, she travels with Christopher, covering all of his speaking events with prayer. Christopher sees her as an integral partner in ministry: “Mom is and will always be my prayer warrior!”
Mothers, you too may have come to know Jesus later in life, after your children’s years at home. You too may be enduring the sorrow and pain of watching your children deny the Savior you have come to love. Learn from Angela that God is working in the midst of the pain. And learn from Angela that God works through the prayers of a mother. Often the best ministry for your lost children is the ministry that they will never see—private, faith-filled, daily prayers in the closet. And what got her through those years was the daily renewal in God’s Word.
There is no doubt that God used Angela’s prayers—her pleading, persevering prayers—to save her son (and as it happens, her husband and her father). First God pulled Christopher away from his reckless lifestyle and shallow friends, and then he drew him to himself. “Like the persistent widow, my mother bombarded heaven with her prayers,” he says. She relentlessly bombarded heaven until God answered her pleas, until God responded to her perseverance.
Information from this article was drawn primarily from Out of a Far Country by Christopher & Angela Yuan. I also relied on several video testimonies from Christopher, Angela, and Leon. You can follow Christopher on Twitter and Facebook.