The International School of Wuxi is a for profit international school employing Christian teachers who use Bible for illustrations and have a humanities class each day where the children learn about “The Book.” The rooms look a little like US Sunday School classrooms. It’s all open and above board. The students are from the international business community, most from non-Christian homes, who chose this school because of caring teachers, excellent education and reasonable fees. The outcome is that all students interact with Christianity though no one is pressured to convert. The government doesn’t really care since it is not Chinese students.
A key reason for their growing enrollment is that the cafeteria food is outstanding as we found out when they served us lunch. Rick explained his abstaining: he and Andrea were doing a three day fast to seek the LORD’s face as they decided the next step in their relationship. How interesting that here we were staying with Rick at this pivotal moment.
After Rick finished teaching, we went to his house to unpack before we walked to supper at a local eatery. I delighted in hearing the old men playing their traditional Chinese instruments in the park as we strolled along the canal. Rick was impressed that I was able to pick up an Erhu while I was in Taiwan and play it easily.
The church in Wuxi is an English language fellowship which is part of the registered or Three Self Church. It’s the same as Thanksgiving English Fellowship, whose retreat I spoke at. That means it’s totally legal. Some have great concerns about the government’s involvement in the churches. One odd thing is that one can only use the building during meeting times. Even the pastor can’t go to the building unless it’s a scheduled service. On the other hand, there are supposed to be no religious activities outside the church building. The oversight does add a level of bureaucracy to things, but it certainly doesn’t lessen their zeal for evangelism and ministry.
The choir crowded into an apartment for their practice. It was a very international group, all in English and done with great fervor. The neighbors got to hear some good gospel singing.
The couple who drove us to the practice only recently came to Christ, she about 18 months ago, he about 10 days ago. Possessing an automobile shows that they quite well to do. Since Rick and Andrea are fasting to make decisions about possible marriage, the conversation turned to what a man must have to be qualified to marry: Job, refrigerator, bed, of course. But at their level having one million RMB (about $150,000) in the bank and paying the woman’s parents one hundred thousand RMB (about $15,000) up front. That doesn’t count the cost of the wedding which can run tens of thousands of dollars for the elegant costumes and an elaborate sit down dinner for many people.
Friday, May 8, 2009
We slept on a relatively soft bed, the only time on our whole trip. That combined with air-conditioning gave us really good rest.
We got up early to join Rick and Andrea as they broke their fast together with Rick preparing breakfast for Andrea. We talked deeply about decision making and issues around marriage. I surprised Andrea by asking her what strengths she brought to their relationship. She typically thought long and deeply before she answered. It was super to be a part of the process as this godly couple searched carefully for spiritual wisdom.
The fourth and fifth grade classes combined to do a drama for the rest of the elementary school. The Pharisees had messed up the people’s dancing. Jesus (Rick) came along to show them how to dance again. It was really fun to see them enjoy doing the play. Then they sat down and Rick connected the dots to the real work of Jesus.
While the students went out to recess, I took time to pray with Rick and Andrea. After lunch, Julia escorted us to the train station. I thought she would just drop us off and take the taxi back to the school. How culturally ignorant I can still be!! She not only came to sit with us, but purchased a pass to help us get down to the train. She even talked to the attendant to ask her to watch us so we would not miss our stop. An American part of me felt a bit mommed. I really can do it myself. But the wiser part of me appreciated her helpful spirit and concern for us.
Sherry’s knees don’t do well with all the stairs and the need to rush to get to the train. At least when we got to Suzhou we could take our time. It was really good to see Sophia’s smile when we got to the exit. She and Chet, her fellow professor, were able to change our ticket back to Shanghai while we waited in the shade on the nearly 100 degree afternoon.
We went to St. John’s Church to meet the lead preaching pastor. He’s only a year out of seminary, but brings a well trained intellect plus a deep passion for reaching people for Jesus. His own conversion story was deeply moving. He was a committed member of the communist party but experiencing a lack. He didn’t know it was a spiritual hunger. He just knew he was looking for something. In the night he had a vision where a glowing man appeared. The man said in Chinese, “I am what you are looking for. My name is gospel” with “gospel” in English. He didn’t know the word at all, but quickly looked it up in a dictionary. It didn’t take him long to connect with Jesus.
We walked down the canal to the old main street of Suzhou. It was quite the place. After walking for a half mile or so, looking at all sorts of sights, we needed to get a taxi to get to Sophia’s super best Suzhou style restaurant. But no taxis on the street. Sophia and Chet kept trying to shoo the pedicab fellow who was quite persistent about wanting our business. I intervened and soon we were in two pedicabs. Our fellow was soon wiping his brow as he pedaled us the half mile in
the afternoon heat.
After a marvelous supper, we went to the other church for the English language Bible study. The fellow teaching was a great guy, but was not able to get down to the beginner level of the students. He kept deferring to the professor (me!) but I resisted the temptation to take over!
Saturday, May 9, 2009
I let Sherry slept in since we’d had to get up early and gone late the previous two days. Then we went to Sophia’s apartment for breakfast and catching up. We hadn’t seen each other in a dozen years when she moved from Portland. Lots of stories of what God is doing through Sophia and Ernesto in China and in Peru, Ernesto’s home country. As we talked, we discovered that her daughter and son in law and their three children are members of Grace! I know them casually, but not as Sophia’s daughter. Small world indeed.
The afternoon was quite warm as we went to change some RMB for dollars. That can be done only in a few places without losing lots to money change fees. Then we went to the high class part of town to indulge Sherry’s desire to shop for silk. The stroll down the walking street was better for sipping some fresh coconut milk directly from the husk.
The silk shop had LOTS of beautiful silk items. I guess that’s shouldn’t be too surprising. The attendant lady was very glad to see two Americans doing socialized shopping, the best way to enjoy. Soon there was a pile of wonders. We started adding up to find the total about 1050 RMB and we had only 900 RMB in cash. No credit cards in China. Sophia said, “Not to worry” and began talking about a “quantity discount.” The lady just tapped the total. “Prices are posted,” she insisted. They took the pile to the manager. He had the same response. Sophia shrugged her shoulders, picked up the cash and headed out the door with me dragging our suitcase behind me. “Just a moment,” the manager called. Soon we were walking out with the precious pile less our 900 RMB.
As the taxi took us to the train station, we passed a huge pagoda in the central part of the city. I asked about the religious activity of the Buddhist and traditional Chinese religions that had been ruthlessly repressed in the Cultural Revolution. Pretty secular Sophia said, agreeing with others I’d asked. But there’s a lot of life under the surface. There are lots of monks at the Pagoda. One high tech guy was on a trip with some scientists. They visited a large temple in one of the cities. The highly educated scientists were soon bowing and burning incense.
We went into the train station with no idea which of the several directions would get us to our train. So I went to a police officer, showed him my ticket and asked directions in careful English. I know men aren’t supposed to do that, but I do. He queried me in careful Chinese. I said I didn’t speak Chinese, shaking my head sadly. He proceeded to give me directions in careful Chinese. Fortunately he pointed too so I could follow. Then I saw the sign with our train number.
The train was delayed 25 minutes so we rested and watched the crowd of people before making the quick rush when they finally opened the gate. Up more stairs. I saw the sign that said car 3 was down the stairs to the left. Sherry saw the sign that said track three was to the right. I was surprised that I was pretty crisp with her. Despite heat and stress, there’s no good reason for that.
As we got off in Shanghai station Jason called to give me a number to call so John, our dinner host, could tell the taxi driver how to get to their house. It took a while to get through the long line. As we neared the end of the long line, I suggested that Sherry talk with John while I put bags in the trunk. That’s when she let me see she was near tears from all the exertion of the day. I held her for much of the 40 minute journey. Dinner was in one of the ex-pat villas. I was glad to see the inside of the very nice place.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
On our last day in Shanghai we decided we needed a breakfast “burrito” from the street vendor. When I came to the stand, they recognized me and were very careful to get the preferred ingredients. They tried to converse, asking something. I caught SMIC, the big company that owns the living quarters. But there was no language in common to explain that I didn’t work there. So I stuck my arms out, doing an airplane charade. Who knows what they understood, but there was lots of laughter.
The church service started at 8:30. I was a little surprised that the place was less than half full. We sang some songs and then Jason introduced me. I was surprised to see every seat filled and people going back down the stairs because there was no room. That’s common in all the churches in China, I understand. Getting permission for new buildings or extra services in existing buildings is very difficult. But people keep coming to Christ.
I simply don’t know how to say good bye to people. I’m a long term relationship guy. Leaving means never seeing most of the folk again. Fortunately there is Facebook and I have some new FB friends.
I picked Matthew’s brain as he took us to the airport. He’s highly enough connected that he was with the celebrities in the Bird’s Nest at the Olympics, so I wanted to hear his perspective. He told me that on the whole China’s leaders are neither hostile nor positive toward Christianity, but they are hostile to secrecy. That makes for a difficult tension, but one where pursuing friendships works better than going underground, he thinks. The leaders are looking for things that stabilize the country and typically Christianity does that with its emphasis on family and submission. Things were different 25 years ago, of course, when repression was brutal. But China is changing. A significant number of high leaders are quietly Christian. They don’t want to be embarrassed. In fact he’s more positive on the future of China than on the future of America.
He also helped me understand that with 1.3 billion people competing for a place in society, things can be heartless. People aren’t publicly polite as Americans usually are. They won’t respond to a smile on the street. With so many people, you are invisible without a connection, but connections come easy. So something as simple as buying a breakfast burrito gives me a positive connection with the couple, something they’d like to deepen. We could be friends for life.
We bought some Shanghai dumplings in the airport as we waited to take our familiar seats on the 747. As we waited, I heard a fellow coughing a lot in a throat clearing way. I assumed he w
as Chinese. But he turned out to be American. My prejudice, sadly, is still alive! And he sat just ahead of me so I get to know him well. In his restlessness, he often put his hands behind his head, grabbing onto the back of the seat and into my space. Amazing how I resented him taking part of my precious inches.
Much of the flight was given to paper grading, which is a little awkward on the airplane tray table, with the coughing man’s seat leaned back. But I persevered and was able to finish as we approached San Francisco.
I took time out to watch “Marley and Me” with Sherry. I loved the story of their family. But they were quite successful in getting me to hate Marley, so there were no tears in my eyes when he died. Or perhaps I am the cat lover?
Getting home was great. Sleeping in our own bed again is the way it should be. But it’s only for two days. Then we are off to Kansas City for Donn’s graduation.
I got an email sharing the very good news that Rick and Andrea engaged. They’ll be married in Portland in July.