In the spring of 2014, at the age of 14, PeiQing Guo traveled to Virginia from his home in Beijing to visit an aunt and younger cousin — who attended a private Baptist school. The trip served as a precursor to check out American education. PeiQing and his parents realized it would be easier to enroll in a U.S. college if he first attended an American high school.
Those plans accelerated by the summer after PeiQing’s mother — a chemical engineer — transferred to Shanghai for university research. His father traveled widely managing agricultural businesses. In need of a guardian, PeiQing’s parents agreed to send their only child (born under China’s then one-child policy) to live with the Virginia relatives. PeiQing obtained a F1 student visa in only 2 months.
PeiQing had learned to read and write English in China, although he hadn’t spoken the language much. He quickly became a fluent speaker by watching a lot of American television programs. After overcoming linguistic barriers, PeiQing found classes and homework at Roanoke Valley Christian Schools to be much less demanding than his education in the Chinese capital. His parents paid the tuition, figuring it would set their son on a pathway to a better higher education than he could obtain in his homeland. Raised in an atheistic environment, PeiQing had no religious understanding when he arrived in Virginia.
American students and their families befriended PeiQing. After a series of minor conflicts with his aunt, he decided to move out. Another family — Rusty and Melody Rich — agreed to host him, with his parents paying $800 a month for rent, food, and transportation.
“I ate more than $800 worth of food a month,” jokes the stout Guo, who has a wry sense of humor. “I played sports.”
The Riches, with three sons of their own — Tennent, Carter, and Alec — treated PeiQing like one of the family. That included mandatory church attendance on Sunday morning.
“God really loved me through this host family,” Guo recalls. “They genuinely cared about me.”
Consequently, Guo started to show an interest in the Christian faith of his newfound family.
“It was a long process to believe there might be a Creator out there who designed the earth,” Guo says. “Becoming a Christian was a gradual but steady process.”
On Easter 2018, during his senior year in high school, Guo was baptized while living with the Rich family.
Guo picked Virginia Tech University to continue his education because of its close proximity to where he lived. Baptist church pastor Tim Ragan recommended that he get involved in a college campus ministry to strengthen his faith. Guo connected with Chi Alpha, which has 400 students involved at Virginia Tech.
“I fell in love with the people and the welcoming environment,” recalls Guo, who is known as “Benny” because many Americans seem to have difficulty pronouncing PeiQing. During his sophomore year he began leading a Bible study small group. In his junior year, he facilitated a discussion-based group for international students.
“Chi Alpha helped me understand what it really means to be a Christian and what Jesus is asking me to do,” Guo says. “Discipleship was a new concept for me.”
Virginia Tech Chi Alpha intern director Johnny B. Rebman and his wife, Amanda, have mentored Guo the past two years. Rebman, who also co-led an international ministry on campus with his wife, spent hours with Guo in one-on-one settings discussing Scripture.
“I stressed the need for Benny to spend individual abiding time with the Lord, not just in community with other Christians,” says Rebman, 27.
This spring, Guo graduated from Virginia Tech with a computer science degree. This fall, he will begin a one-year Campus Missionary-in-Training internship at the school in Blacksburg. He says CMIT will help him to learn responsibility regarding what God is calling him to do.
Guo will be one of seven Chi Alpha interns at Virginia Tech and the first ever international CMIT at the school. Rebman believes Guo will connect well with foreign students, who comprise 11% of the 34,683-member student body.
“Benny is extremely sociable and he loves talking, even though English is not his first language,” says Rebman, who has an engineering degree from Virginia Tech, but entered full-time vocational ministry after being discipled by VT Chi Alpha director and U.S. missionary Anthony J. Saladino. “He can raise conversations with anyone about anything.”
Guo says his goal-driven parents don’t particularly mind his conversion to Christianity because he graduated with a good GPA. He says they are more interested in him finding a wife and having a baby so they can become grandparents.