Saturday, May 28, 2011

Maye and Faye’s 2nd Beijing Adventure


Our arrival in Beijing on Monday, May 16th, felt oddly familiar because of our trip less than a year ago.  At the airport the body temperature sensors, the stern look on the faces of the airport security, as well as the curious expressions and then smiles on the faces of strangers when they looked at the two, gray-haired twins made us feel welcomed back.   Since we stayed in the same hotel as before, the room and amenities were a warm relief after the almost 15 hour flight.  We were exhausted and in bed by 8:00pm on our first night in Beijing.  
Our young friend, who had arranged most of our meetings for this trip, asked if we could change our afternoon plans in order to meet a small group at a coffee shop.  We agreed, not knowing this would be another profound God-appointed meeting.  We were taken to a very upscale office park near the Beijing Westin Hotel in the center of downtown.  We were not quite sure what this group would want from us, so we were prepared to answer their questions or give a short devotional—whatever they wanted.  We made our way past the Gucci, Ferragamo, and Stuart Weitzman shops to a coffee shop, much like Starbucks.  Already there were 4-5 women gathered.  We were told that others were coming.  The manager of a department in a major financial company had invited her employees to come to the coffee shop to talk with us.  It wasn’t long before the group began increasing until there were about 19 employees eager to hear what we had come to say.  Quickly we decided to share our personal stories with them.  I began by telling them how I came to know God.  At the end of my talk, I invited anyone who desired, to pray with me, asking God to come into their lives.  Several in the group, including 3 young men, indicated that they had prayed with me, and their supervisor later told me that she would follow up on them.  Next the group wanted Faye to tell them about her career in human resources.  She told them about her successful career and her drive to perform her job in a perfect way.  The nods from those listening to the translator let Faye know that she was on target with the personal career ambitions of those listening.   She went on to tell them about how her marriage failed and how she got her life back on track, giving God the place of priority in her life that He should have had all along.  We offered to answer questions, and the group asked about how to know God is in your life, how to integrate your faith with your career, how to explain Christianity versus evolution, which was asked by the manager who had invited her employees.  This former Buddhist, now Christian, wanted to know how to answer that question when she is asked to proved her faith.   We left after almost three hours with this group.  We had proclaimed Christ in a very public place in the center of a city known to be hostile to Christians, and yet God’s love for the Chinese people cannot be stopped by anyone.  
WOMEN’S WEEKEND RETREAT—Girls getting together!
Our young friend had been planning a weekend retreat for some of the Christian women.  The cost for the retreat was prohibitive for most of them, but generous women in the US had provided money for the retreat.  We took a taxi from our hotel to a large shopping area where about 20 women were waiting for us.   Our group was soon joined by other women, making the total for the retreat about 50 women.  Many of them had brought their children along because they did not have anyone to care for them at home.  A bus arrived, and we all boarded for the retreat site.  It was dark by the time we reached our destination, and since there are no street lights outside the city, we had no idea where we were!  It was clear that we were now at a large conference facility with several connecting, one story buildings.  Each building had a single hallway with rooms on each side.   It would be morning before we would see that there were many, many of these buildings.  I wondered if perhaps this facility might have been built to house some of the Olympians, but no one seemed to know for sure.
By the time we arrived, our young friend only had time to give a short devotional and assign us to our rooms.   The room that Faye and I shared was satisfactory and very roomy compared to the typical Chinese’s bedroom.  We were glad we had brought along extra water.  We only drink bottled water when we are in China, as most of the water is very impure.  Plumbing in our bathroom seemed to drain into pipes underneath the flooring.  All the water is recycled, with its impurities into water for plants and other agricultural products.   When we got into bed, we realized that the nice bedding that we had observed upon entering the room was covering the hardest mattresses in the world!  Sleeping on the floor would not have been anymore uncomfortable.  Faye did not sleep at all, but I was able to sleep on my back except for the headache when I awoke.  Breakfast was in a huge dining room and consisted of some unusual breakfast foods.  I had my bowl of rice and a roll. 

As we went through our presentations on Saturday, we also were getting to know the precious Chinese women who had come on the retreat.  I met Emily, a young woman who has been a Christian for less than a year.  She works as a translator at the Kenyan embassy in Beijing.  She was assigned as my translator, and we found that we had much in common.  Although a young woman, she was recently divorced and was recovering from the battle of depression that came from a failed marriage. 
Faye and I gave the same talks that we had given at the CBC a couple days before.  Many women shared their testimonies of how they had been helped by knowing how God wants to turn our trials into blessings, and how we can learn to dance with God by allowing Him to lead in our lives.  At the end of the retreat, three young girls indicated that they had prayed to receive Christ.  All three were in Faye’s group.  We will be praying for those who will be following up on these new sisters in God’s family. 

Between the presentations, our young leader had offered the opportunity for the women to give testimonies.  For Faye and me, this was one of the highlights of our trip to China.  Although there were tears as each one described her life before becoming a believer in Jesus, each woman ended her personal story with smiles and joy in her voice.  It is clear that these are victorious women who have overcome many obstacles.

There were other opportunities to talk with the women who wanted one-to-one time.  I talked with a young elementary school teacher about her divorce and her misconceptions of how God views divorce.  So many of these young women have been divorced, and I sensed a strong need for divorce recovery training for them.  They need to understand divorce from a Biblical standpoint—that God forgives and has a future for them. 

Most of the women who were attending the retreat were professional women.  A woman in Faye’s group is starting a management consulting business and is currently working on her website.  Another girl was a beautiful singer.   There were school teachers, software designers, bank workers, and engineers, and many other professions.   Drawings were held and the some of the women won the shawls and other knitted items that a Texas group makes to give to the Chinese women.  One of the things we have observed again on this trip is the similarities between the Chinese women and American women.  The problems and issues they deal with are the same.  Women face the same issues of childcare, financial difficulties, balancing work and family, marital problems, etc. whether they live in Beijing, China or any city in the US.
On one of our first days in Beijing, we went to the home of Jufang.  By western standards, the high-rise, apartment where Jufang lives, would be modest, however, by Beijing standards, it would be considered luxurious.   A group of about 13 women, mostly young moms, meet regularly at her apartment to give support to each other.  Lynn, our team member from Oregon, talked about what the Bible has to say about parenting.  Some of the women had questions about how to discipline their children.  It appeared that some of them discipline in a very harsh manner, while others use very little discipline with their children.  Now that most of them are Christians, they want to bring their children up to love God, and they wanted to know how to foster that kind of environment in their homes.  Some confessed that they discipline severely, out of frustration or anger.  Some of them told their own stories of being beaten as children.   The women prepared a delicious lunch for us.  In deference to her western guests, Jufang also had forks on the table! 

When we joined Jim and Judy, our Marriage and Family Life staff members, we had a “crushing” experience with the Beijing subway system.  Getting onto and off the train at rush hour was an exercise in “push, push, push,” because of the crowd of commuters.   The host for our meeting, Sherry and her roommates had invited about 17 of their young college, single friends to their apartment to hear Jim and Judy talk about how important it is to include God in decisions relating to dating and marriage.  There is great pressure from the families of young women in China to be married, and many of the questions had to do with whether or not they should date/marry unbelievers.  With regards to how to find a Christian mate, Jim said, “Run your hardest towards God and see who is running beside you.”  He also added, “Don’t seek to find the right person, but seek to be the right person.”  Jim and Judy delicately, but with strong conviction told them of their own dating life and how they made the choice to remain celibate until after marriage. 
Another meeting was held with a group of about 20 young business college students soon to graduate.  We met them in the large conference room of an office building which serves as a house church on Sunday morning.  One of the outer offices held books for the church library.  This group loved to sing, and they sang several songs before the meeting began.  Max was one of the most enthusiastic Christians we had ever met there.  When a scripture reference was given, Max immediately began reciting the verse from memory.  After the meeting was over, he reminded us that it is estimated that there are 1.7 million Christians in China.  He also told us that many of these dedicated Christians get up at 5:00am every morning to pray for China.

Faye and I were so honored to be asked to have dinner and attend an evening Bible study group held at the home of one of the professional women we had met at the retreat.    The meal was mostly vegetables which they had prepared especially for us since the word has gotten around that we like vegetables more than meat!  Our hostess opens her home to 8-10 young women each week to mentor them and help them learn to study their Bibles.  On the night we were there, they were continuing a study of the fruit of the spirit from Galatians 5.  We learned that the Chinese word for gentle does not translate well.  I was able to share with them the meaning of the Hebrew word which shows a picture of strength under control—as we might put a bit in the mouth of a wild horse to bring the power under control.  These women were very intelligent, some working on graduate degrees or employed by embassies or multi-national companies.  They have a great desire to have deeper Bible study.  Faye is going to stay in contact with some of them because they were particularly interested in her business experience in human resources.
On one of our last nights in Beijing we attended an evening meeting at a house church.  Actually these could more accurately be called “apartment churches,” because they are not in houses at all.  Everyone we have visited in Beijing lives in an apartment.  About 13 young women and men had gathered for Faye and me to speak to them.  After our talks, we gave them the opportunity to ask us questions.  Faye met with a young girl who is concerned about finding a Christian husband—a question that we hear often among the young women.  She is getting pressure from her family to marry, but she wants a Christian marriage.  She also wants a husband with money!  The young pastor of this house church and his wife also talked to Faye about their living conditions.  They want desperately to get into their own apartment since they are going to have a child.  Currently, they live in a household with four sets of parents.

Two men came over to talk to me.  Through the help of a translator, one of them asked me if I would teach him to pray.  My heart melted as I shared with him how prayer was like talking to our Best Friend.  I went on to tell him that he did not have to use big words, and he could talk to God at anytime during the day or night.  The other man asked me if in American we ever laid hands on someone when we prayed.  I told him that sometimes this happens.  Then he asked me if I would put my hand on his head and pray for him.  He knelt on the floor beside me while I put my hand on his head and prayed for him as the translator interpreted my words.  When we were ready to leave, he insisted on paying for our taxi fare back to the hotel.  I don’t think I have ever experienced anything so humbling in my life.
Plans were made for us to drive about an hour north of Beijing to speak at a seminary—The China Bible College.  Our taxi driver asked for directions three times before dropping us off at a door where a man waved for us to come inside.  We were greeted by Peter and Martha (not their real names) husband and wife who are the administrators of the school.  We removed our shoes upon entering the tiny apartment and had tea with our hosts.  The students were waiting for us in the basement of the apartment which houses the school, boys on one side of the room and girls on the other.  On our way through the apartment, we noticed several bookcases full of books.  Peter told us that they hope to convert one room into a library and house all of the books in one place.  Peter also told us of their need for more books.  It was clear that every inch of space in the apartment is put to use.  We were also introduced to the sons of the school administrators, very talented young men working on their Master’s degrees at Peking University.  Both had been chosen to attend on scholarships.  The students we met with were in their 1st or 2nd year of school and averaged about 20 years old.  A few of them commuted to the school, while others actually lived in the apartment with the administrator couple.  We were told that they have another facility called The Farm which is further out in the country and houses their 3rd and 4th year students.  They try to keep both schools small (about 20 students each) so as not to draw attention.  The small staff of teachers travels to other apartments to teach also.  Their curriculum includes music, theology, and core subjects in preparation for becoming pastors of house churches in China.  

The students had practiced several songs and sang them very enthusiastically.  It wasn’t important to them to harmonize perfectly, but most important that they praise God with their voices.  They also love to shout a hearty “Amen!” in agreement.  I was humbled as I talked to these students about how their trials could be blessings, knowing that they knew far more about trials and persecution than I would ever know.  Faye gave her presentation on “Learning to Dance with God,” which the students thoroughly enjoyed.  We were invited to lunch which had been set on a table in one of the bedrooms.  The conversation of the 12 of us sitting around the table was very lively and punctuated with much laughter.   Our host led the group in individually thanking us for coming to speak, telling us what our presentations had meant to them.  Getting this feedback directly let us know that we had helped in a small way and perhaps we had even given some encouragement to our young friends.
In the afternoon when we were preparing to leave, there were hugs and thank-you’s all around.  Our new friends wanted to take pictures of us with each of them.  I left the seminary knowing that this was one of the most important days I had spent in my life.  I will never forget those young Chinese Christians, and I pray for their safety and future training as they seek to serve God.

When it was time to leave, we went out onto the street, but could not get a taxi.  A car pulled up that was being driven by a family who had been at the school we had just left.  They insisted that the daughter drive us back to Beijing while the family waited for her to return to pick them up.  The family members got out of the car, and we got in, leaving them standing on the sidewalk until their daughter would return over an hour later.  We tried to give money to cover the gas for the round trip, but our new friend would not hear of it, only saying that we had come to China to do good things, and she wanted to do something for us.  We left inviting her to be our guest at the women’s retreat.
                                                                         WHERE THE GARBAGE IS HIDDEN

On our way back into Beijing our friend from the seminary drove us along a different road than our taxi driver who had brought us to the school earlier in the day.  He had stayed on main roads, but she knew a short-cut, a dusty, narrow road with broken pavement.  It wasn’t long before we knew we were seeing a totally different Beijing than we had seen while in the city.  The first sign that this would be a different trip was the smell of garbage—human, animal, food—every type of garbage one could imagine.  The stench was sickening.  Dogs, eating from the rotting mounds of refuse, were a common sight.  There were also piles of rubble—broken concrete, debris, and rocks which had come from the demolition in the city out to this area to be dumped.   Faye described the sight as a cross between an earthquake and a garbage dump.  We soon realized that all the beautiful modern buildings in the city which had been erected to replace older buildings, as well as the beautiful plantings in the city, come at the expense of these people who live outside the city near these dumps.  Surrounding the dumps, there were shanty houses and hutongs where Beijing’s poorest citizens live.  It was much easier to understand why the young people try so desperately to get into the city.  The worst high-rise apartments we had ever seen in the city did not compare to these broken neighborhoods.  As we drove along we saw open markets on the streets where people were selling wares or cooking with no thought of sanitation.   Tin walls had been erected to hide some of the trash, but in places where we could see behind the tin walls, there were people, living in the midst of all the filth and rubble.
Our young friend had invited us to attend her church on Sunday morning.  This was a very small, unregistered or house church--only 20 people including us. However, she explained to us that they do not want to grow larger. They see their purpose as evangelism. They meet young people, lead them to Christ, disciple them, and then encourage them to go on to a larger church where they can serve. So you can see that they really do get it!  Church began with singing several songs.  Between each song, the worship leader prayed aloud and all of the others prayed along with him out loud.  The same is true when they read from the Bible—they all read the passage together aloud.  Faye gave her presentation “Learning to Dance with God,” and our young friend translated.  When the presentation was over, they went around the room each one telling what they had gotten out of the talk.  It was so rewarding to hear them say how much Faye’s words had meant to them.  One young man said, “Last year you came to watch people in China dance, and this time you came to teach us to dance with God.”  Another young man who has not been a Christian for very long expressed his questions about sometimes not feeling like a Christian.  It was my joy to tell him that his relationship with God is not based on his feelings—sometimes we feel good, and sometimes we feel bad.  Our relationship with God is based on the truth contained in the Bible.  As with most house churches, as soon as the worship was over, they rolled out a table and we all ate together—delicious food prepared by two of the young men who had been present. All those attending were in their 20's, and we had a great time laughing and talking together. Language was not a barrier because there were several of them who spoke English.  Faye and I had to ride a taxi and the train to get there. They don't trust us by ourselves, so someone was with us all the time.

As with our trip to China in 2010, there was also time for enjoying the magnificent history in the Beijing area.  We spend a day at the picturesque Ba Da Ling section of the Great Wall.  Steep does not begin to describe the climb to the top of the wall.  We spent time shopping at the Silk Market—bargains, bargains, bargains!  At the Silk Market we saw an older woman with gray hair who was picking up aluminum cans.  She saw us and began pointing to her gray hair with a big smile on her face.
On one day, we decided to take a guided tour of several attractions in Beijing.  We were able to go to Olympic Square to see the Bird’s Nest, as well as the Cube used in the 2008 Olympics.  Our tour guide told us that all the profit from the games went exclusively to the government.  Since the games, these amazing facilities just sit unused, empty, and the government sees no value in opening them up for the Chinese people to use.
Some other interesting facts about Beijing that our guide told us:

·         As a result of the Olympic Games, the average salary for a Beijing worker has risen 3 times what it was before.  The average monthly salary now is $1400 a month.   It takes about 20 years to own an apartment, and then the Chinese citizen has a 70 year lease.  Our guide told us that it is very difficult to live in the city.  He lives about 2 hours out of the city and gets up at 4:00am to work his 12 hour per day job.

·         At the age of 55 for women and 60 for men, the people of Beijing are given a card which entitles them to free public transportation and free admission to any park or attraction.

·         Although Beijing has a very modern rail and subway system with four major rail stations serving the four quadrants of the city, you still see workers laboring under the most primitive of methods.  For example, I saw two men using a pole on their shoulders to balance the weight of a large heavy sack.  Workers using stick brooms are a common sight along the clean streets of Beijing.

·         The national flower is the peony, but I’ve never seen a peony in Beijing!  Lots of beautiful roses, however!

Other sights we visited were:  Silk Museum, Panda Zoo, Lama Temple, Porcelain Museum, and a hutong—a primitive, maze-like, walled village, with very narrow streets.  As many as 2,000 people can live in one hutong.  We toured the hutong by rickshaw and had lunch with a local family.  Imagine my surprise to have a 2-liter bottle of Coke put on the table!  We also took in a Chinese Acrobatic Show--how do you make a body do that????

Being at the China Bible College showed me a great need in Beijing.  I would love to return to do more work there.  Peter expressed the need for more teachers who will come and spend time with the students, doing more intensive Bible study, perhaps a study of a book of the Bible.  I know I have never seen more done with such a little amount of money.  I hope I will be able to raise some funds for the CBC before my next trip.  The need is so great, and I can’t think of a better way to support this great movement that is going on among China people.  These young believers are truly the future of China.

The Chinese are incredibly generous people.  Everywhere we go, they want to help us.  The family who gave up their car for their daughter to drive us back into Beijing and her statement about wanting to do something for us, the precious women at the retreat who would not allow us to carry our own bags, as well as their refusal to take any money for dinner, all show their deep humility.  We even had one woman who asked the young friend who made all our arrangements if she could take us to her dentist because she knew that dentist in our country were very expensive!  The Chinese culture values humility and our Chinese friends express their gratitude frequently for our small inconvenience of coming to teach them.
I haven’t traveled the world, but I have been amazed at how easy it is to communicate with the Chinese people.  I only know a very few Chinese words (hello, thank-you, no, thank-you), but I don’t think anyone I have passed on the street hasn’t respond to a smile.  Of course, it doesn’t hurt that there are two of us, and the Chinese seem to be fascinated with old lady twins.  There are so many Chinese who know some English, so there is always someone to translate. 

I don’t think it will ever be easy to leave behind these Chinese women whom we have come to love.  They always want to know when we are coming back, and sadly, I do not know the answer except to say, “When God allows.”  Their faces flash across the photo album in my mind.  The young woman at the Silk Market who asked us to give her an English name—we named her “Grace,” and when she asked what it means, I told her, “It means gift because you are a gift from God.”  The bright, smiling faces of the young women who are single but hoping to be married to a Christian man when there are far more Christian women than men in their churches.  The young girl who works at the Silk Market who saw us and said, “I remember you,” as she pointed to the cross she wears around her neck.  The precious family who sat on the side of the road waiting while their daughter drove us the hour back into Beijing.  The hugs and thank-you’s from the seminary students as they said goodbye to us on what we will remember as the best day of our lives.  Sharing God's plan for our lives with young men and women in a coffee shop in the middle of Beijing--God can do anything!


1 comment:

  1. Maye I cannot tell you how absolutely moving your blog on this second China trip was. I loved hearing about all the eager Christian people you met, and the need there seems overwhelming. Most of all I was saddened at how little we here in America understand what it means to love Christ much while we live with little. We are not the blessed here - they are!