- My Semester Abroad by Xiu Li Zheng
During my semester at Michigan State University, I learned about Hell from the preacher at Wells Hall. Every afternoon he would shout at me across the courtyard that I was going to go there and I would almost spill my tea. But I didn't spill my tea—I would force myself to stare at my shoes and ignore him like everybody else: the boy who was going to Hell because he was homosexual, the gray-haired professor who was going to Hell for wearing headphones, the girl who was going to Hell because she had words on [End Page 25] the backside of her pink sweatpants.
I didn't know what Hell was. I had only heard the word one time before, in China, in a film that Yao and I had watched for our American Cinema class. I don't remember the name, but there was a character in the film who was a TV news reporter and shouted in the middle of a broadcast, "I'm mad as Hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" It caused everyone else in America to open their windows in the middle of a storm and shout it as well. I wondered afterward what kind of word "Hell" was, to make people act like that. I asked Yao.
"I don't know," she said. "I know it's from Christian religion."
That was probably all she thought about it, but I had been proud so far to have understood everything about American language and culture. I read books in English and received top marks in all of my American Studies classes. What if Hell was really important?
I went to the government church the next Sunday, but it was very tiresome and nobody said anything about Hell. I didn't go so far as to attend an underground church. One girl I knew had done that for several weeks in a row and then disappeared.
So I had to satisfy my curiosity with what I heard in America from the Wells Hall preacher. I learned something new about Hell from him almost every day. I learned that Hell was a place where people could go after they died—which didn't make very much sense. I also learned that Hell was a very bad place to be and that it had a whole lake made out of fire. You could never, ever get out. I learned that Hell was where the devil lived. I was familiar with the devil, but I had not known that he was real.
After a while, I became very afraid of the things that the Wells Hall preacher was talking about. I really did not want to go to Hell. I found myself thinking about Hell all the time and sometimes I would have nightmares that I was in Hell and that the devil was hurting me. I tried to talk to my roommate about it. She was American, but she just said not to worry about it.
One day, after reminding us all that we were going to go to Hell, the preacher said, "But believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved."
I was so relieved. There was something I could do, something I could believe so that I wouldn't have to go to Hell! I dropped my tea on the ground and ran all the way across the courtyard, pushing people out of my way and when I finally laid my hands on his shoulders it was like turning on a light switch when you are becoming afraid of the dark.
"Please!" I said, "Please tell me, who is Lord Jesus Christ?" [End Page 26]
The preacher looked at me like I had hit him in the face with a hammer. Then he lowered his Christian Bible from where he had held it high in the air.
"How to find him?" I asked.
For the first time ever, the preacher had nothing to say. I was so angry. I shook him and began to speak louder and louder. "I do not want to go to Hell...