Saturday, April 07, 2007

Grand Mathematician

Here is an interesting testimony of some of the miracles that God has been doing in my life, with regards to mathematics. I wrote it for Ps Derek Hong of Church of Our Savior, because he was preparing a sermon on Christians in the marketplace and had heard of my testimony from another friend:

It began in Dec 2002, when I was a freshman at Stanford. I was taking a maths competition called Putnam which university students from all over the US take part in. I was doing question A5 and was thinking about it for a long time but could not get the answer. I realized that God is the Greatest Mathematician in the universe, so I decided to ask Him for help. After some time, when I was looking at a sequence of number, I heard His familiar gentle inner voice telling me "Go forward 4 steps, go back 3." I doubted for a while if that was Him. After some struggle, I decided to give that suggestion a try. When I looked at the sequence by jumping forward 4 numbers and going back another 3, I found a pattern. This pattern allowed me to solve the problem. After the competition, God asked me if I would give Him the glory for His helping me with the questions, and I said I would. When I told my friends about how God helped me with the competition, not many believed me but it was a start. Three months later, I got the results for the competition, and found out that I was ranked 40th in the whole of USA. I was so thrilled.

During my second year at Stanford, I took a really difficult maths class called Modern Algebra which was for graduate students. I spent many nights trying to solve the problems, and it took me a while to remember how God helped me at the Putnam six months before. Again, I asked God to teach me to do the problems. While I did not get any clear words from him about the solutions, there were many times when I would suddenly see the link between different parts of the problem less than 5 minutes after I prayed. At the end of the term, I scored an A for the class. I was so thrilled. God was teaching me that He can help me with my Mathematics in more ways than just speaking the solution to me. He was teaching me that I have to humble myself before Him to ask Him for help, and stop thinking that I was invincible in solving all the problems by myself, but that with His help, indeed we can solve all problems. He also started showing me that since young, He has been the One guiding and teaching me as I grew in my mathematical gifting.

During my third and last year at Stanford, I did a 3-month math exchange programme in Budapest, Hungary. The programme is famous for stretching the students in their problem solving skills. During that term, my mind was not so much on the programme, because I was more worried about trying to graduate that year. I wanted to write a good research thesis to improve my chances of getting into a good PhD programme. But I was so desparate because I did not understand the material the professor gave me, nor did I have any new ideas to work on. Then, God asked me if I would give up my thesis for Him, that I would be contented not writing any thesis at all, or to sacrifice my thesis in the case He wanted me to be more involved in ministry. I struggled for many days before committing my thesis to Him. I reminded Him that He had promised me 1 year back that I would go to Berkeley for PhD. Berkeley is THE top maths school in the US. I complained that if I do not have a thesis, I would not be able to get into Berkeley. He said nothing in reply to my complaint, but I felt a peace that He had everything in His hands. During that term, God told me to take part in the Putnam again. I told Him that Putnam is a self-glorifying competition, and I was too busy with my thesis to take part. He asked me if I thought it is possible to glorify Him instead of myself through the competition, and I said yes. I asked Him if He would once again show me the solutions to the problems as He did 2 years ago. He said that He would rather I work hard practicing for the competition. Thus, I spent all my energy practicing, focussed on glorifying Him with the competition than glorifying myself. I would try my best, and this would glorify Him, even if I did not get 40th again in the competition.

During that time in Budapest, the professor for my combinatorics class gave some really difficult problems. There are two incidents of God's miraculous help. Once, there was this problem I could not solve for days. I gave up on my own strength, and prayed to the Grand Mathematician for help. While I was in the toilet, He spoke loudly to me, "COUNTING". Immediately, I set off to try all sorts of counting proofs but after a few days, I still could not get the anwer. I was doubting if I had heard God wrongly when I suddenly had an idea to look up the chapter on "Counting" in my textbook. And there it was, the first theorem in that chapter, is the problem I am trying to solve. So I just copied the solution. When the professor returned the assignement, he said only one person solved the problem, and that was me. He said it didn't count though, because I had used the solution in the textbook! I was so thrilled, because I realized that not everyone could tell that it was a "Counting" problem. Without His help, I could not have known where to find the answer!

The second time was a few weeks later. Again, I tried to depend on my own strength and gave up trying to solve a another problem. I asked Him to help me again. By now, God had taught me to "Watch". In other words, the answer often does not come immediately but I have to be waiting and watching on Him for it. One day I was walking to school when I saw a sign along the street (see attached picture). I kept staring at the sign and I did not know why. After I reached home and was trying to solve that problem, God asked me what I saw today. I told him about the sign. He asked me if it reminded me of anything. I thought for a while, and thought it looked like a tic-tac-toe board. Suddenly, I remembered that there was a theorem nicknamed the Tic-Tac-Toe Theorem in my textbook ( I applied it to the problem and immediately, the proof came right out of it. I was so thrilled. When the professor returned the assignment, he said that only two people solved the problem. One person solved it the standard way which he had in his official answer sheet. The other person solved it using a new way that was so short and ingenious that he was going to include that in his answer sheet. The second person turned out to be me.

These two incidences and some others convinced me that God was going to see me through my PhD and research career. Meanwhile, I hope that my encounters with God will challenge people to think about His reality and personality, especially in a world where God is relegated to fairy tales, or made to seem like an indifferent and angry dictator. To end my stories above, in Budapest He gave me new ideas for my thesis, allowing me to finish the project. As for the Putnam exam, I solved 9 out of 12 problems. When the results came out three months later, I got 13th place in USA. It was Stanford's best Putnam results since 1981, and Singapore's best Putnam result. When I graduated that year, I was also given a research distinction award by the Stanford maths dept for my thesis work. All this left me in awe with God for His goodness. And yes, I got into Berkeley eventually.

Now that I am in A*STAR, I have had other experiences of God helping me to solve my math problems. He continues to assure me, that in these Last Days, He will pour out even more than these on all His children, that He will bless them with the incredible new discoveries. However, we need to continue to humble ourselves before Him, to allow Him to use us than for us to use Him, to seek intimacy with Him first than to seek the research solutions, and to continually hear His voice in all areas of our lives.


yining said...

Hi Shaowei! I'm emailing a copy of your testimony to my dad =)

Clare said...

Hey there, I joined XA the year after you left, but Glen sent this out to us. That stuff that God has done in your life is amazing. Thanks for the encouragement.

Cherlin said...

Keep up the good work.

yeu@nn said...

Amay-zing! Shaowei, hi! Yeu Ann here... haha... just want to say I'm super-encouraged by your testimony of how the Grand Mathematician helped you... thank God! =D