DAY 1-4

February 22, 2014

Early yesterday, I flew from Shanghai to Chongqing (pronounced Shong-shing). Arguably China’s largest city, Chongqing is inhabited by more people than Shanghai, vying with Mexico City as the world’s most populated city (in excess of 30 million people). As we approached landing, I couldn’t help but notice the low cloud cover, only to realize it wasn’t cloud cover—it was smog.

I had come to Chongqing in order to meet the gentleman who would serve as my translator for week. Daniel was born and raised in Taiwan to Chinese parents. His parents fled during the early 50’s after the birth of the People’s Republic. We boarded a bus at the airport to make the three hour bus ride to Dazhou (pronounced Da-Joe). Daniel was born into a Christian family, eventually making his way to the US to study for his PhD at Purdue University. He spent quite a few years working in the US before he and his wife decided to settle in Honolulu. He now is semi-retired and works part-time for China Partner as translator for their work on the mainland.

I enjoyed a delightful conversation with Daniel during our three-hour bus ride. When we arrived at Dazhou, Pastor Du-an and her husband met us. They got us settled at our hotel and last night I enjoyed my first meal in Sichuan Province. Imagine feasting on beef tendons, fungus, tofu, turnips and a lip-numbing beef and pepper dish. I must say, it was all quite tasty!

It’s Sunday morning here. Later this morning, I will be bringing encouragement to the believers at one of the larger Three Self Patriotic Movement Churches in Dazhou. This afternoon, I’ll begin three days of teaching at the same church with pastors and lay leaders from area churches. We covet your prayers.

February 23, 2014

It’s Sunday evening in Dazhou. This morning Daniel and I left our hotel and walked a half-mile to the local Christian church, where we joined about 300 Chinese believers for morning worship service. Since our hotel is right in the middle of the downtown area, our route carried us through a seemingly endless array of small shops, which were just beginning to open their doors for business. The pungent aroma of cured meats, raw chicken, boiling turnips, ginger, and a host of other who-knows-what wafted through the air.  We turned off the main road into a small corridor that eventually lead us to the church.

Women pastor a large number of churches in China and this one is no exception. In fact, Rev. Duan has been serving this church for quite some time. She, along with her younger sister (also an ordained minister), oversees a number of churches in the Dazhou region. Rev. Duan also wears several other hats at the regional and provincial level. Between these churches, she is responsible for overseeing a flock of over 3,000 people.

Following a light lunch back at the hotel, Daniel and I returned to the church this afternoon where we participated in “an exchange of ideas.” Approximately 120 people attended. We are here at the invitation of the Three Self Patriotic Movement and the Chinese Christian Council, both of which are registered entities within the bureau of religious affairs. Due to this, our activities while we are here are being carefully monitored. Right now I am planning to be here until Thursday, but we realize those plans may have to be altered at any moment.

Tonight Rev. Duan, her husband and four members of the church, treated us to a “hot-pot” dinner. You sit around a table with a boiling pot in the middle. They throw an assortment of vegetables, meats, spices and seasonings into the boiling pot and then everyone takes their turn dishing themselves.  I was doing quite well with my “eat first, ask later” overseas culinary practice—that is, until Daniel leaned over and whispered in my ear that part of what was in the pot was pig stomach. That’s when I stopped eating and started asking.

We’ll start up again early tomorrow morning. Thanks for your prayers.

February 24, 2014

It’s springtime here and that means a cold damp cloud hangs over the city most mornings. Add to this the grimy industrial pollution that settles in like an uninvited guest and well, you get the picture.  It’s a good thing I brought warm clothing. The church building, along with most homes here are not heated, so I have worn layers of down clothing throughout the day—every day!  More than 100 people are attending and they are blissfully bundled up in their winter clothing throughout the day. As I speak, you can actually see my breath, even inside. Temperatures inside the church building have ranged anywhere between 37-40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Our days are pretty long with a 3-hour session each morning and a 3-hour session each afternoon. I am responsible for all the teaching in Dazhou. Today I spoke about suffering in the morning session and mission in the afternoon. Other members of the China Partner team will join Daniel and me on Wednesday afternoon before we head to Chengdu on Thursday.

Dazhou is a sizeable city, boasting 6.9 million people. But I’ve been told that it’s considered a small city by Chinese standards. That being the case, Dazhou still has a relatively small airport, which has severe limitations. Progress in a city this size is slow in coming. There are very few Westerners here and even fewer western businesses. There are no McDonalds, Starbucks or Pizza Huts (the usual suspects in non-western countries). However, there is a Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Walmart nearby. The local economy seems to be humming right along here as the streets are full of people and the small shops are very busy. The Chinese government would never describe itself as a capitalistic economy for obvious reasons. They prefer to say they are “a socialistic system with Chinese characteristic and flavor.” But it’s pretty clear that capitalism is making headway here.

The streets are crowded but there is never the feeling that the streets are unsafe. Crime, I’ve been told, is usually not a problem here, but as the economy continues to strengthen, it often comes with a price.

There will be two more full days of presentation before we head to another city.

Thanks for your prayers for stamina, grace and wisdom.

February 25, 2014

It’s noon in Dazhou. Daniel and I just finished up the final morning session in this city. We will go back this afternoon for a final afternoon session and participate in the final wrap-up, farewells and picture taking. Tomorrow morning we are scheduled to take a train to the city of Chengdu where we will participate in the second leg of our three-city visit.

Each day I learn a bit more about this very complex, mysterious and alluring place called China. The people have been unbelievably gracious, kind and unassuming. Even though there is a considerable language barrier, their hand gestures and facial expressions tell all.  The things we have been sharing this week seem to have struck a chord with these dear servants. The questions have increased and the interactions before and after the sessions have grown more frequent, open, and fun, as each day has passed.

Yesterday a young woman asked me how Christianity came to China. I had no idea how to answer her question. During my break yesterday I decided to do some research and found that during the Tang Dynasty in early 7th century AD, a Syrian missionary monk named Olopun made his way to China via the Silk Road. Soon after arriving, he presented Emperor Taizong a copy of the Scriptures. A Chinese copy of the Bible was placed in the Imperial library. After the Emperor read it, he decided the Bible was a worthy read and ordered that it be published. Years later, a new Emperor arose. An avowed and devout Taoist, he banished all religions from China. For the next 400 years there was little Christian activity in the country. In 1294 AD a Franciscan missionary named Corvine came to Peking (now Beijing), preached the Gospel, and converted at least 6,000 Chinese and Mongols. After the Ming Dynasty was established in 1368 AD, Christianity was increasingly being viewed as a foreign religion and was once again banished from China.

It wasn’t until the dawn of the 19th Century that protestant missionaries entered China. Famous among them was the English Protestant missionary, Hudson Taylor. Taylor founded China Inland Mission to reach the hearts of the Chinese people in the interior of the country. By 1900, there were more than 600 missionaries serving in every province of China except three. The expulsion of missionaries after 1949 opened up a new chapter of Christianity in China. Today, according to some unofficial records, China’s Christian population numbers about 100 million people.

Last night a large group took us to an upstairs room in a local restaurant. We sat at a round table and laughed and conversed over an 18-course Chinese meal. I’ve never seen so much food in my life. At one point the lady next to me carefully placed something on my dish with her chopsticks. I took one bite and my mouth exploded with heat. I made every attempt not to embarrass myself, but apparently I failed because the table burst into laughter at my facial expression. I think they got a kick out of it because at least I tried.

After dinner they took us down to the riverfront and we walked along the riverfront walkway for a mile or so. The river is lined with mostly high-rise apartments and condos and in multiple places we saw large groups of assorted ages doing aerobic exercises or synchronized dances.

Please continue to pray for us as we wrap-up this part of our journey. We’re off to Chengdu tomorrow. I’ll keep you posted.

Read about Days 5-9 in China