Monday, September 19, 2011

The In-Between Place

It was my first Sunday back in church since I returned from China.  I had missed three weeks in a row including the weekend I spent in prayer and solitude at the beach before departing Portland. It was wonderful to see my own community of believers again, but to be honest there were some mixed feelings.

On one hand, I am deeply grateful for this large church which has become a place of healing and growth. I love Rick’s preaching (and anyone else who is in the pulpit) and the church’s commitment to mission. I love our home community and the depth of relationships I experience there. Its support of the arts has reawakened the creative side of me. The School of Theology is a perfect place for me to exercise my teaching gifts and share how I do life with God. There isn’t any doubt in my mind that God led Jon and me to Imago Dei Community five years ago.

On the other hand, there are great advantages to being a smaller church, which is mostly what I observed in Beijing. Every person matters. No one is invisible. Every gift of the body is critical to its survival. Even though Mao Zedong was the one who liberated women from misogyny – Mao was the one who said “women hold up half the sky” - the church has benefited from this. Women serve alongside men by teaching, preaching and administrating. They don’t have time to debate gender equality. Instead they assume it because everyone is needed as they focus and serve in the midst of very difficult circumstances.

Discipleship is automatic and always in high gear because growth and commitment are a given rather than an option. And by necessity, leaders are raised from within the community, often after minimal time and training. The leaders are identified by a willing and teachable heart and a commitment to the community. They are committed to team leadership, being called co-workers rather than elders, pastors or deacons. They avoid exalting any one person from becoming a main leader or powerful figure in the church. Visions of grandeur or fame or wealth were not on the minds of those I met, contrary to what I saw in Uganda. This is from my own limited observations and conversations with the Chinese believers so I know that somewhere in China there are exceptions to the above descriptions.

I’ve been trying to understand why I experienced a level of discontentment at Imago prior to leaving, but felt deep contentment and excitement in Beijing. Perhaps it’s because Beijing sounds more exciting than Portland for now but it would eventually lose its thrill if I end up going back more often. Then again, maybe God is calling me to Beijing and not to Portland. Or maybe I’m tired of American church politics or debates that seem to trigger insecurities, discourage parts of Christ’s body or contribute to a lack of balance in the church. Perhaps the condition of the churches in Beijing has clarified for me what is really important and has put things in perspective. Probably it’s all of the above.

I anticipate a period of processing what I experienced in China in light of what I currently experience in Portland. It happened before when I got back from Uganda. I’m sure it’s necessary this time too. After Uganda, my processing led to a conviction that if I ever went overseas again, my small part in the Kingdom would be the training and teaching of church leaders. Having experienced that in China, the conviction is now certain. The location is not.

As I sat in church Sunday and listened to Rick preach on Jacob, my ears perked up. I have always described my life with God as being similar to Jacob’s. When God asks me to do something, I usually resist and end up “wrestling” with Him in prayer until I submit. My typical response is to go “kicking and screaming” into God’s will. Funny, I also have a small limp, except it’s from falling off the roof five years ago.

But Rick hasn’t gotten to that story in Jacob’s journey yet. Sunday’s message revolved around Jacob’s escape from Esau and his “stairway” dream. As Rick worked his way through the passage, it occurred to me that I had another connection with Jacob.  I had never noticed Jacob’s response to his dream before:

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the LORD will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.” (Gen. 28:20-22)

Like Jacob, my initial prayer of belief as a teenager came with conditions. I remember clearly what I was thinking as I said that “prayer.” If there really was a God, then He had a perfect will for my life, a will that must include success (I shared this “success” motivation in an earlier blog). I would accept Jesus as my Savior because I wanted that perfect will. Forgiveness from sin was secondary, especially since I didn’t feel very sinful.

Did I really become a Christian that night? I believe so – I experienced some immediate changes. It was an imperfect faith, but it was enough to establish a relationship with God through Christ. The rest of my journey would entail a constant correction of my initial theology, just as God accepted Jacob’s small faith and did not correct him in the moment after his response to the dream. Jacob’s correction in theology happened through Laban and Esau.

My journey of failure and correction as well as growth and discovery has been long. But just recently, God spoke to my heart after a time of reflection on the last eighteen months in which I learned to rest in Him. During those months, Psalm 46 became my guide as I learned to “be still and know” that God was God. I had to come to a special place, an “in-between place,” as Rick framed it in his message Sunday, where I truly believed that He delighted in me even if I did nothing with the rest of my life.

On this particular day of reflection, God reminded me of my motivation in receiving Christ as my Savior, the motivation of wanting His perfect will, what He had to offer by way of meaning and purpose. It was then I received a deep peace and an affirmation in the Spirit that my motivation to follow Christ had changed in two significant ways. First, through failure and repentance I had come to understand the cross of Christ and my need for a Savior. Second, through rest and repentance I had come to desire God above all else, above His perfect will, above my purpose for life. This in-between place has been transformed into a sacred place, which is what I believe happened to Jacob as he wrestled God for the last time before meeting Esau again.

I know I probably fall back into conditional faith here and there, but I’m finding it easier to find that sacred place and avoid the in-between place. My kicking and screaming is less frequent and less prolonged. I’m still a Jacob who wrestles with God, but then I feel my “limp” and remember to let go of what I think is God’s will and hang tight onto God Himself.

So back to my discontentment…all of those feelings are centered in what I do. But I realize that deep contentment does not come from discovering what I am to do in God’s kingdom, but it comes from holding tight to God Himself and knowing I am secure in Christ. However my journey turns out, especially after this brief trip to Beijing, I am assured that as long as I cling to Christ, the journey will be just as God wills.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Home at last!

Jon, Jerri (full time staff in Beijing), Hope, Peggy, Fangfang
I am now home in Portland! After another delay because of difficulty finding a taxi (we needed 2 taxis to carry the 3 of us and all our bags), we finally left the hotel, got to the airport, and flew 12 hours to San Francisco and then on to Portland. I slept most of the trip from Beijing. If I get to bed at the normal time tonight, I should avoid the jet lag. I hope.

It was wonderful to see Jon and everyone else at home - my mother, son, daughter-in-law, and especially little Ethan and Emma. Life is quickly getting back to normal. And not normal. How does one process two weeks of seeing God in China? Of meeting wonderful Chinese believers who are in great need of encouragement and teaching yet have taught me so much more? I won't miss the traffic and the smog, but I'll miss everything else about Beijing, especially the people. (I'll also miss the looks of surprise when I told them I had 3 grandchildren - they always made me feel young!) I am honored to have been given the opportunity to go and to be used by God there. Thank you to those who prayed. Thank you to those who supported me financially. And thank you for reading my blog posts. I plan to keep this blog open for future posts as I walk this journey with God and consider where He may take me next. On the car ride home from the airport, Jon asked me if I would like to go back to China. I didn't hesitate. Yes! And he agreed I should. What a wonderful husband!

For those of you who are in or near Portland, I am planning a gathering for whoever would like to get more details on my trip or just hang out. Peggy is also in Portland until next Saturday - she has been scheduled to speak at a retreat here and her daughter lives in Lake Oswego as well. I am tentatively scheduling next Thursday, Sep. 22, probably in the evening. Please let me know if you would like to come.

Blessings to you all and thank you for your encouragement and support!

Jufang's group and the Artists' group

It's hard to believe this is the last full day in Beijing for us! It feels like it's been longer than two weeks since it has been such a packed time. Wednesday is proving to be another whirlwind day of speaking and a little sightseeing.

We started out from our hotel to head out to a huge apartment complex that has a number of foreigners as residents. It is nicely laid out with buildings probably 30 floors high built around common spaces with playgrounds and picnic areas. We found our way to the basement of one of these high rises where the rooms had been nicely arranged and decorated for group meetings. It was own by a local Christian Chinese man. The meeting was hosted by Jufang who led a worship time as well as greeted guests when they arrived. Eventually 25 women crowded into our room, another unique experience for two reasons: the age range was the widest yet, from the 20's into the 70's and the group was for married women only. Several of the women were seekers invited by Jufang. She is quite the evangelist. When the shawls and hats were given away by drawing, it turned out that the seekers were the winners. This has happened so many times these last two weeks that we aren’t surprised, and it is fun to let them know that a group of women are praying for the winners stateside.
Jufang and Peggy

I spoke on idols we worship while Peggy followed up with being beautiful to God. Peggy then wrapped our session with the “dissolving” paper activity asking them to write down their idols and any physical features they didn’t like about themselves. A bowl of water was placed in the center of the floor. After praying, everyone placed the papers in the water, not knowing what was going to happen. As the papers dissolved in the water, they gasped. It was a great object lesson.

Afterwards, we went to the common area and enjoyed a potluck lunch. Before we departed, the wonderful women sang us a farewell song “We love you. Jesus loves you.” Peggy and I were amazed at the freedom they had to sing this Christian song loud and clear in this public area.

During the afternoon, Hope took me to see the Temple of Heaven, an ancient site where the emperor sacrificed to a supreme God. We walked around like all the other tourists, but I ended up using the time to get to know Hope, quite a phenomenal young woman. We talked and walked and walked and talked. We laughed at how similar we were. I connected easily with her and I know we’ll continue our new friendship long distance.

 In the evening, Peggy, Jon, Hope, Fangfang and I made our way to another part of Beijing to meet with an artists’ group of 14 young people that gathers for Bible study and encouragement. In an attempt to connect with them, I shared how music is a huge thing in Jon’s family and how art is a part of my life and our church’s life. I talked on idols again while Peggy spoke about worries. We did the dissolving paper activity which the young men and women really liked as usual.

We were able to leave the location at a decent hour, but we ended up waiting and waiting for an empty taxi. It became obvious we needed a plan B. So plan B became the public bus system, and we caught a very nice articulated bus just like the ones we have in Portland. The cost was ridiculously inexpensive – 1.5 yuan or about 23 cents. The subway system is fairly good too and only costs 30 cents. Taxis are more expensive but still not too bad. Most of our trips were fairly close to the hotel and cost anywhere from $3 to $6. Considering the driving in Beijing, the taxis have been well worth it.

I was exhausted when I got to the hotel and thankful that I had packed most of my suitcase a few days earlier so that I could go to bed. It felt a little strange that tomorrow would be the end of my adventure with God in China and the beginning of my trip back to the U.S. Maybe this will be the beginning of a new adventure yet to unfold!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Mawei's house and the tea company group

Tuesday was another memorable day. I started the day at 6:30 a.m. and got back to the hotel at 11 p.m. feeling exhausted but exhilarated.

In the morning, Peggy and I spoke at a women’s Bible study led by a woman named Mawei, with nine women and one man present. The man was the husband of one of the women and didn’t care that our topics (“Beautiful to God” and the story of the woman with the perfume bottle in Matt. 26) were directed toward the female presence in the room. Peggy said this is not uncommon, that Chinese men are not offended by gendered topics. They just like to attend these sessions even if they are in the background. I usually work so hard to include both genders when I speak to a mixed group that it felt rude to me to keep to my notes. Peggy said it was totally fine - he would not be offended, although I wonder if he got a little uncomfortable when Peggy mentioned breast implants. If you think about this group dynamic a bit, there is an advantage to men participating in women’s conversations. Perhaps they would understand us women more like we understand men…or maybe not. ^_^

Mawei’s group of women was really responsive and fun. Afterwards a few of them wanted to take Peggy and me out for lunch at a local Chinese restaurant. One of the women, Anna, was a Muslim from western China near Mongolia. Her facial features were definitely more Middle Eastern. She won a shawl and she understood that winning it would mean a group of women in the U.S. would be praying for her. Near the end of our tasty Chinese lunch, Anna told us that she would consider what we had shared. She said she felt accepted and loved by this group of women. Peggy gave her the “story” bracelet and Anna accepted it!

Us with Anna and her bracelet
BTW, I haven’t explained the “story” bracelets that Peggy sells or gives out. It’s a beautiful bracelet made of pearl and gemstones with the colors of the “wordless” book, an evangelism tool to share the gospel. Hudson Taylor in China used it, and many responded to the gospel because the colors “spoke” clearly. Peggy hired a local jewelry maker at the Silk Market to make the bracelets and she gives them away at the venues while sharing the “Story” at the same time. This is my “story” bracelet – would you like to hear the Story? She also sells them here in China and stateside to raise funds for her trips to China.

Back to my day…After lunch I spent the rest of the afternoon preparing for my evening session in which I was going solo. Peggy had another appointment to go to. I was not feeling very good about my presentation and I confess I was fretting a bit. Peggy kept encouraging me to not be a perfectionist. She has been a wonderful leader and good friend on this trip!

Fangfang and I made our way to a business district and ended up in a prestigious tea company where the host of a women’s Bible study was employed. I saw pictures of her boss with George H.W. & Barbara Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and the presidents of Taiwan and Korea. They must have good tea!

It was a small group of four women, besides me and Fangfang, but I ended up having the best time as I presented “The Story of the Bible.” They were serious students of the Bible but very young in their understanding of it. They admitted that they knew very little of the Old Testament and only studied parts of the New. So I gave them a thematic overview of the whole Bible while at the same time offering specific information that would help them understand the Old Testament. I was glad I brought a Bible with maps as I explained the history of Israel, the divided kingdoms and the pagan nations that threatened them. I gave examples of OT passages that were helpful to understanding NT ones. At the end they expressed surprise at the relevancy of the OT.

During my presentation, I suggested they try doing a “read through” the Bible (if any of you know Dr. Ron Frost, this is his passion). I encouraged them to meet and just read through the whole Bible from beginning to end as fast as they could without comment or interpretation. I had emphasized that the Bible was a “love” story (the Chinese interpretation became “romantic”) between God and his people, and reading it fast with this view of the Bible would be powerful, especially if they did this together on a weekly basis. One of the women, Helen, got really excited and shared that their recent inductive Bible study in the book of Ruth had been very difficult to understand because they did not have enough knowledge or background in the Bible. She felt the read through would be a better way to start in their pursuit of understanding God’s Word.

Later, Helen sent me this email:
Thank you for your time last night and teaching us about Bible story. Your teaching is really helpful and eye-opened to me.  Because of you, I have changed my understanding to the book. It's not just a historical & instruction book, which is a little bit hard to new life like me. Now it's becoming an attractive true & inspiring love story.  Last night I went home very excited and had a sleepless night, planning how to start our study and how much it takes.... Sounds like there's a little voice encouraging me to read the whole story from the very beginning as quickly as possible.  I cannot wait to see what a big picture it is...Thanks again for your feeding us like a good shepherder.

I am on cloud nine! Thank you for your prayers!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Great Wall and Hutong

Monday was the Chinese traditional holiday of the Mid-Autumn Festival. It falls on the day of the full moon and is a celebration of family and friends. A special dessert called a moon cake is prepared for this celebration and it is offered everywhere from restaurants to private homes. It is expected that you bring moon cakes when you visit anyone during the weekend. One can easily end up with bags of moon cakes which may last years if you have lots of friends. It has a filling of lotus seed or a sweet bean paste (very dense). Some have a small yolk in the center while others have various nuts and seeds mixed in the paste. This morning (Tuesday - they must still be trying to get rid of moon cakes) I had a fruity tasting cake.

Fancy entrance in hutong
We decided to spend Monday doing some sightseeing. We went to the Great Wall and to a hutong, a neighborhood section of Beijing that still has the traditional homes and alleyways. Many of these hutongs were demolished to make way for more modern buildings in preparation for the Olympics. The people were paid a hefty sum to move. Our translator and guide, Hope, thought it was funny that the hutongs in Beijing have become a tourist destination. These neighborhoods are all she knew growing up outside of Beijing.

The trip to the section of the Great Wall we were to visit took almost two hours. Unfortunately it was a very smoggy day so the pictures did not turn out as good as I hoped. I borrowed some pictures from Dana, a new friend from Escondido, CA who was here teaching at the Crown University, which is also connected to Global Partners. He went to the same section of the Wall earlier in the week but they enjoyed clear blue skies.

We took a lift chair up to the top, walked a small portion of the wall and then returned down the mountain on a tobaggan slide (this was fun!). On one hand you get your exercise walking any part of the Wall but on the other hand, you feel like you've just smoked a pack of cigarettes because of the smog.

The Wall is almost 4000 miles long and can be seen from space. Started as early as the 5th century BCE, sections of it were still being built in the 1400's CE. We went to the Mutianyu section which is the only location that has a tobaggan ride down. There were guys stationed along the route to watch out for everyone's safety. I think several yelled at me to slow down. ^_^

How would you like to be hanging out at
that corner when an earthquake hits?
We had hired a driver with a Mercedes van to take our team to the Great Wall.  He was an excellent driver - which means he drove fast, passed 5 cars on a two-lane highway with no shoulder, created a fourth lane on a three lane freeway going in one direction, and drove up the opposing lane to the front of the line of 10 cars trying to get into the parking lot of the Great Wall area. And they let him in! Peggy, Jon and I discussed the driving habits of the Chinese. We observed some honking but not excessive, no angry yelling or obscene gestures, no turning signals, minimal driving distances between cars (on all four sides) and crazy merging patterns that looked like a well orchestrated dance of cars at rush hour. We decided to call it "polite chaos."

This city is amazing. Most of the time it is quite smoggy - they call it "foggy" but it sure smells funny for fog. After a rain, the skies clear up to reveal even more of the skyline from our hotel window. On our excursions away from the hotel, I have seen some incredible architecture. They really love to be creative in their designs!

I haven't even begun to tell you about the food which is yummy and cheap. Suffice it to say - I'm not losing any weight and I'm afraid to get on the scale in my hotel room to see if I've gained any pounds. So much for trying to look good for my high school reunion next month in Florida!

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Memorable Sunday

Fangfang, my translator

In this adventure with God in China, Sunday stands out as being the most memorable day so far. Because I am more Asian looking, my translator felt it would be safe to let me visit her house church which meets in her apartment. She picked me up at 9 a.m. so that we could get there by 9:30 a.m. when the worship and singing began.

The room was fairly empty of people when I arrived but I noticed that her living room had been transformed since I last saw it Friday evening. A curtain was pulled aside to show a shallow space behind. A projector was set up for showing the powerpoint slides of worship songs on the wall behind. There must have been at least 60 or 70 chairs set up. By the time the singing started, most of those chairs were filled and there were people standing in the hallway to the side. Though I didn’t understand a word they sang, Fangfang gave me a brief description of the theme. Between each song, there was a brief discourse and introduction to the next song. At the end of the singing, which lasted about a half hour, they all read the Apostle’s Creed together.

Then the preacher was introduced and was I in for a treat! It happened that on this particular Sunday a foreigner had been invited to speak. Her name was Doris Rinell. She was 83 years old and had been born in China to missionary parents who were also born in China to missionary parents. Her grandparents came to China in 1893 at the invitation of Hudson Taylor. Originally from Sweden, she now lives near Seattle. It had been 65 years since she was last in China! And she still remembered her Chinese, which she used that morning! She had come with her daughter and son who recorded her story as she told it in Chinese. It was quite moving to see a room full of young believers, riveted by her story, and to know that they were the living legacy of her grandparent’s sacrifice.

We then had communion, which was deeply meaningful. This church usually has communion on the first week of the month, but apparently something happened so that they had to delay it a week. I was grateful because I miss communion at my church. And then I thought perhaps God did it for me so that I could participate in communion with a people I’ve grown to love. The reality of the Church unseen and the communion of the saints around the world struck me hard.

After communion and a closing prayer, the church celebrated the ministry of a couple, originally from Taiwan but now residing in Houston. They had been sent to China two years ago by their Chinese church there. They were returning home this week. It was obvious from the sharing and gifts of love that they had a deep impact on this community. They were an older couple, about my age, and the young believers looked to them as spiritual parents. Their wisdom and maturity will be missed here.

After lunch was served, Fangfang and I had to hurry to catch a taxi and get to my next speaking venue, Mana church where I had spoken there last Wednesday with Peggy on discipleship. The topic for the afternoon was “The Theology of Sexuality.” About 25 young men and women were present - I think there was only one married person in the room. The response was really wonderful in light of the level of theology I was presenting. Many expressed deep appreciation for a clear and challenging teaching. Fangfang told me she had never heard such a teaching before. I had quite a number of women wanting to talk to me privately, during the breaks (it was a three hour session) and afterwards.

The most significant conversation was with a young Chinese woman almost immediately after our closing prayer. I ended up counseling with her for over an hour. I can’t go into details, but the timing of my session was an answer to the cry of this woman’s heart who had just last week asked for God to send a sign as to what she should do in her situation. Through the topic and the stories I told, she understood that God was giving her that sign. The step she needed to make was clear. I can’t tell you enough how humbled I was by God’s sovereign work of crossing our paths. And it was a brief crossing because she was leaving for Dubai where she lived and worked the next morning. She had only been in Beijing for a few weeks. Please pray for Sunny – she needs strength to do the right thing and she needs to find Christian fellowship and support in Dubai.

I was pretty exhausted when I got back to the hotel but deeply blessed to be used by God. Thank you for your prayers!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Two very busy days

I've had to set aside some huge blocks of time in order to prepare for upcoming speaking sessions. It's especially helpful to Fangfang, my translator, to receive my notes beforehand so that she can look up any unfamiliar words I use and find the Chinese equivalent. For example, I am speaking on sexuality for Mana church tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon and I already know she doesn't know what "pornography" or "masturbation" means. This is going to be interesting...

Teaching on Habakkuk in the Upper Room bistro.
It's been a busy two days. I had to spend all day Friday preparing for Saturday afternoon's workshop on the book of Habakkuk. Then Friday evening, I went to Fangfang's home to meet with some believers from the house church that meets there. After an early breakfast, our team found our way to a Christian bistro where our workshop was being held. I had to miss Peggy and her husband's presentation on biblical marriage in the Saturday morning's workshop in order to prep for Sunday's session on sexuality along with Tuesday morning's session on Matthew 26 (the story of the woman pouring perfume on Jesus). Then I gave my talk on Habakkuk after lunch and I was able to cover the book in two hours. I'm exhausted and want to go to bed, but I also want to keep up with this blog. So if I write anything that sounds weird or I make some typos, please forgive me. I'll fix them later.

Over the last couple days, I've come to observe a few things that are making this trip a memorable one. At Fangfang's home Friday evening, my topic was supposed to be God's rest, but it became apparent that this was not a felt need, at least for this evening. So I decided to drop the talk and do an impromptu Q&A with the five people who came. From the questions that were posed and other conversations I have had, the lack of godly, marriageable men is a huge problem for the women. Hmmm...that sounds like something I have heard at my church. Of course, there are a few differences - the ratio of women to men in these urban churches is five to one. Here's an interesting comment made by a woman in the group at Fangfang's.

Non-Christian men are in general confident and assertive leaders while the men in our churches tend to be weak and not courageous about their faith. But the non-Christian men don't feel a need for Christ because they are strong while the Christian men use their weakness to say they are more humble and realize their need for Christ. It's hard to find strong men in the church.

There was a young man sitting with us at the table while this woman made this assessment. So I asked him if he agreed with her statement. Pause...might be better to sidestep the question. He said he was not ready for marriage. However there was a male leader in the community that was putting pressure on the young men to step up and date Christian young women. Poor guy. How do you choose which woman to date when you are outnumbered 5 to 1? He also added that there was a group of guys meeting with a leader to discuss "how to be a man." I told him our church had had such group meetings as well. Things aren't all that different in China.

Another observation concerns the young women I meet at these venues, whether a house church, Bible study or workshop. Wow! Am I impressed with the women! I have met some incredible leaders with pastoral hearts and administrative skills. And most of them haven't been Christians for very long. Fangfang is one of these amazing women. After being with her a week, I finally had an opportunity to speak with her extensively. She became a Christian 5 years ago. Within 6 months she was placed in leadership and within a year she was preaching, teaching several Bible studies, and equipping other Bible study leaders in the area. Oh, and she has been the taking care of the financial books for her house church. Because her apartment is the location for the church, she often gets phone calls related to church business or needs. On top of that, she teaches English for 3 hours every day. She only recently was able to delegate some of her responsibilities to others so that she could have some margin in her life. Of course, our team filled up her margin this week!

It was in the taxi ride back to the hotel that I learned all this. Before I left her to go back in, I asked Fangfang to think about a question I had and I wanted to know her answer the next day (today). My question was, "What is your greatest need right now?" After the workshop today, Fangfang gave me her answer. While she sat next to Peggy and me in the taxi, she said her greatest need was for a spiritual mother. So both Peggy and I volunteered for the job! I love Fangfang!

With Yolanda at the workshop
I met another amazing woman today at the workshop. Peggy had told me about her earlier this week and said that I would love her. I now know why. Yolanda has been a Christian for only 3 years and she too has been thrust into church leadership. Most of her growth has been self-initiated and motivated. She's a firecracker!
GPiH staff translator

Every time I ask people how long they have been believers, I am amazed at how much they grow in such a short amount of time. To be fair, I know the leaders are also struggling with weak believers who waver in their commitment to following Christ. Yolanda expressed a lot of angst as we discussed mentoring and what frustrates her about the women she is discipling. But I'm super impressed with the leaders I am meeting and most of them are women who haven't been believers for very long.

Tomorrow I get to go to a house church service in the morning - I'm excited to be able to go. From there I'll travel to Mana house church to talk about sexuality. Again that should be about 10:30 pm Saturday PST.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A day of shopping and an evening with the FaithHopeLove church

The Silk Market. Wow! Earlier this week Peggy had taken me to this shopping mecca to introduce me to its craziness and to scope out gift ideas. One hour just about did me in. On this day, we endured four hours of persistent sales people (and that's putting it mildly) and an occasional grab of the arm. I didn't intend to do Christmas shopping but I couldn't resist the great deals. I think there were at least 5 floors and I read there are over 1500 stalls. For a person who hates shopping, this definitely stretched my limits. Peggy was helpful in helping me barter. It was weird - I tried to be polite and kind and rude at the same time. Don't make eye contact. Ignore their sales pitch. Smile. And say, "Not today. So sorry. Not interested." BTW, it's required that they understand English.

Of course, if I can't get all these gift into my bags, the extra baggage fees may not be worth the hard work of bartering and running through the gauntlet. Peggy assures me we will get it home somehow without the fees.

I really wanted a Chinese t-shirt - most everyone dresses quite casual here. I finally found one I liked and got the price down to a reasonable one. Then it was a matter of trying to find the right size. This is where it got depressing. The Chinese are so thin and petite that the size I ended up with was an XXXL! And even this size was tighter than what I like around my midsection. I am definitely less inclined to buy clothes in China.

Getting to the Market and getting back proved to be a challenge. The traffic was horrible! It took us twice as long to get there. I had to close my eyes as vehicles came within an inch or two of the taxi. I'm not exaggerating! The driver made the ride to the Market a little more enjoyable however. He really wanted us to understand his attempts to communicate. He was so dramatic. ^_^ He kept looking back at us though after Peggy explained in broken Chinese that we were from America. He kept pointing to what I thought was his ear. Then it dawned on us what he was trying to say. He had been pointing to his hair. He was perplexed that I had hair like the Chinese but could not speak Chinese while Peggy, obviously a foreigner, was doing a fair job communicating in the language. I get looks like this all the time. Peggy thinks I may have less trouble attending a house church on Sunday than she because of my Asian look (we had been asked to avoid them on Sunday morning because of recent incidences).

The attempt to find a taxi to get us to our evening meeting also proved to be difficult. As a result we were over a half hour late. But the group of young people were so patient and grateful that we had come. The church is called FaithHopeLove. It is a church plant from another that was started by Hope, an employee and translator for Global Partners. She and her roommates had just moved to a new apartment two weeks earlier and were still in the process of moving their new church there. The location was in the outskirts of Beijing and it took a while to even find the apartment complex located within a gated community.

Most of the 4 men and 5 women, not including Fangfang our translator, were ones we had met before in previous meetings. The topic was "How to be a good husband." Peggy was bit perplexed at the topic because there were women present. But Hope insisted that Peggy focus on the men because the women often heard talks on how to be good wives but the men did not hear as much about being a good husband. It also gave the women an opportunity to learn what to look for in a husband. Peggy took the lead on this topic since she had already prepared a talk (she and her husband who is arriving into Beijing as I write this post will be speaking on marriage tomorrow morning). She had to tweak it a bit to focus on the guys. After a couple of the guys had to leave to catch the last subway, I interjected a few brief thoughts for the women about what warning signs to pay attention to when deciding on who to marry. It was a really fun evening. I love the Chinese young people! They are so sincere about their faith and really love their church community!

Tomorrow (Saturday) will be a long day. Peggy and Jon (yes, her husband's name is Jon too and he likes to wear a fanny pack just like my Jon!) will be speaking on marriage for the whole morning. Then I have  all afternoon to cover the book of Habakkuk, the theme being Hab. 2:4 - "The righteous will live by faith." Again, we appreciate your prayers! If you haven't figured it out by now, China is 15 hours ahead of Portland. So I'll be starting my session about 10:30 pm Friday night, PST.

BTW, I finally see blue sky in Beijing today! It's typically hazy because of pollution (though it's not too bad) and yesterday it actually sprinkled and cooled down from the 80's into the 70's. The rain cleared the air for us today.

Blessings to you all and thank you for your prayers!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Mana house church

Tonight's small Bible study group was my introduction to Mana house church which is a community of around 50 believers. With Peggy's help I presented some concepts of discipleship and mentoring to the 3 women and 5 men gathered in a fairly large apartment-turned-church. I will be returning Sunday afternoon to this church to teach on the theology of sexuality and then next Wednesday to teach on God's rest. This is one group that knows Peggy well and loves to have her teams come and teach.

It was a great time because I made time for their responses and questions throughout the presentation. The leader indicated that this was a hot topic and by their questions, I believed him. They were so engaged and fun to be with. Their questions were challenging and revealed they were tracking with the concepts I presented. I soon discovered that my attempts to keep to the big picture was difficult for them to grasp. I wanted to share principles and qualities, not present a whole programs or steps to accomplishing discipleship. They kept wanting the details and we kept wanting to avoid them. But one thing is for sure. They are desiring to be faithful followers of Christ and they have a burden to disciple well the growing number of Chinese that are responding to the gospel.

I'm looking forward to going back again especially to meet more of their members. Thanks for praying for me! Tomorrow is shopping day at the Silk Market and then in the evening we'll be at another house church. Peggy will be leading this one on the topic of "how to be a good husband" and I'll certainly tell them how wonderful mine is! ^_^

Sidebar: Traffic in China is really scary!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Two urban house churches

The last two evenings have been spent in two of the urban house churches I described in a previous post. Monday evening was group of 14 young people including 2 couples. Last night there were 10 women, all in their twenties, led by a young couple. The husband was an architect who was leading this new, month-old church.  I spoke on God’s rest in the second group. Peggy spoke on balancing faith, work and family in both churches.

We had a Q&A session in the first church that was really fun. The more I get to know the Chinese believers, the more I am amazed at how similar their questions are to young people in America and how similar their issues are. One of the husbands whose name means “Little Bear” (to the left of the cross in a blue t-shirt) asked the two main questions of the evening. The first was a confession of feeling great pressure to be successful and make a lot of money. The Chinese men certainly feel this pressure, either from their society in general or specifically from potential mates. In last Saturday’s workshop I spent some time in a conversation with a single woman who had just been asked by a man to be his girlfriend. She had said yes but was confessing to me her doubts because he did not make a very large income as an elementary school teacher.

Peggy confirmed that the women here put a lot of pressure on men to succeed. A master’s degree is not enough; they have to have a Ph.D. The pressure on women is also great. Plastic surgery is often performed on women’s faces and breasts in order to attract the attention of successful men or to gain a good job. The ideals of beauty are a big issue and the “western” look is highly valued here.

Little Bear’s second question was even more surprising though related to the first. He asked what men should do if their wives make more money than they. It appears that the struggle with insecurity and relationships is universal, or at least common to consumer-driven societies. Capitalism is certainly having an impact in Beijing. I walk around the city or have a wild ride in a taxi through rush hour traffic, and I see young men and women who would fit easily in the Portland cityscape. What’s new to Chinese Christians is the tension of finding jobs and supporting themselves in the city where housing is so expensive, and yet walking faithfully and obediently to Christ.

Last night, Jeremiah, the architect/church leader, gave me an example. He said that the Chinese do not wait patiently in lines nor do they follow rules. They like to make their own rules. So any attempt to form lines do not work because inevitably many will rush to the front and try to get in first. But as a Christian who is taught to respect the rules and be courteous and patient in lines, this creates a dilemma. You would never get in. ^_^ (This is a Chinese version of a smiley face!)

My encounter with Jeremiah (back row, first on left) with the second house church was a new experience. First of all the location was in the outskirts of Beijing. I rode my first subway, a brand new line that reminded me of Portland’s MAX trains. Jeremiah treated us to a wonderful noodle restaurant that was a fraction of the cost compared to where the hotel is located. People stared at us more because foreigners are rare there. Second Jeremiah did some preaching in his church, but they also used videos of well-known preachers. I wonder if China will someday develop satellite churches in order to spread the resources.

Lastly it was great to get to know Jeremiah (he's modeling a knit hat that he won in a drawing - a stateside group called the KnitWits knits shawls and hats for Peggy to give to the Chinese people). Only 26 yrs old, he was very grounded in Bible and theology. A professor from the university he graduated from (who also went to his church) did a fantastic job of mentoring and discipling Christian leaders. The church supported his training by giving the young leaders a platform for developing leadership skills including leading Bible studies, doing evangelism, and preaching. He moved to Beijing and found a job with an engineering company and so did some of his friends from the university. They kept meeting together and then started growing in numbers until they officially started the house church a month ago.

This was my first real observation of how significant it is to train leaders in China. The need for biblically, theologically trained leaders is huge as the church here experiences such phenomenal growth. The need is even more keenly felt in the cities. With expansion of freedom in the cities, this open door for ministry is an exciting one.

I spent the morning yesterday preparing a new topic (discipleship and mentoring) while Peggy was away speaking to a group of 30 Mary Kay consultants. Peggy had been a director for many years before retiring. She returned to the hotel blessed by the honest responses to God’s truth and excited that 2 women had received Christ as Savior. You can read her blog on the link I have posted on my page.

Then in the afternoon, a woman came to our hotel room for personal counsel. I had met her Saturday and had connected with her when she identified with my story of feeling abandoned by God. We listened and learned more about her story, and as I shared more about my own story, she identified with the deep questions of the heart that I had had during those dark years. Her story is not much different than ones we would hear in America – busy schedule with young children, lonely days while children are in school (non-working housewives are a small minority here), a non-believing husband who is not easy to live with, and frustrations with feeling worth and having something important to do.

We prayed with her, gave her words of encouragement, especially to re-engage herself in a church community, and suggested some practical things towards seeking Christ in relationship. One was to pray through the Psalms rewriting the words into her own prayer in a journal. I then thought of a devotional I had brought, Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling, and gave it to her. BTW, she spoke excellent English and would be able to read the devotional on her own.

I was so grateful to God for the opportunity to see Christ calling this woman back to him. I was grateful for my own story, as painful as it has been at times, that connected with hers. And I was reminded that any transformation of the heart is a work of the Holy Spirit. All I am to do is faithfully tell God’s story and my own, then trust him for his work of transformation in another, especially since I don’t know if I’ll be back to Beijing.

Tonight (Wed. 4-6 a.m. PST) Peggy and I will be doing a joint presentation on discipleship and mentoring.  Thanks for your prayers!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Churches in China

On Sunday, Peggy and I had "hotel" church. This is certainly not an attempt to create a new movement in China, but I want to take some time to briefly describe what the "church" looks like in this country. It might help explain why I can be so open with my faith here when we mostly hear other stories. And whatever stories you hear, it's probably true somewhere in China.

There are three current major church movements in China. First, there are the underground, unregistered churches that remain as such. Second, there are the official, registered ones called the "Three to Self" Churches. They used to be political, but an increasing number of them are actually preaching truth. Third, the establishment of urban professional house churches is the most recent development in the large cities of China. The number of urban churches is exploding throughout Beijing and other cities. This category is also mix of the first and second types of churches - the church may be unregistered while the pastor is registered.

These house churches are basically left alone. Christian bookstores and tea houses are allowed. The Saturday afternoon workshop was held in one of these bookstores. There is even a Christian bistro called the "Upper Room" that has worship every evening starting at 8 p.m. The first song is always "How Great Thou Art."

Because of a strong connection to a government official, Global Partners is able to teach Christian business and leadership principles, though some care may need to be exercised depending on the venue. In the venues we have scheduled, Peggy and I are free to share Biblical truths and the gospel.

As I mentioned, the number of urban house churches is growing exponentially. There is a huge need for leaders to be identified and trained. It's an amazing opportunity and I am excited to be a small part of what God is doing here.

Next up: Tuesday evening (Monday morning, 4-6 am, PST) is my next scheduled talk on "God's Rest." I appreciate your prayers!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

My First Full Presentation: Idols We Worship

The seats in the small conference room located on the second floor above the Christian bookstore were filled well before our session was scheduled to begin. Thirty women, mostly young twenty-somethings, gathered to listen and learn.

Peggy was up first with her topic, “Not trusting the plan but the One who made the plan.” As she exhorted the women to trust God when His plan did not make sense or when He felt absent, I sat there in amazement, knowing that neither one of us knew what the other was going to say. What I had prepared for my talk on idolatry would be a perfect follow up to Peggy’s presentation! Not only that, it dawned on me that God had granted my desire to receive a special word for the women I was yet to meet. Last weekend before my departure on Wednesday I had spent several hours in solitude and prayer.

I wanted to create space for God to give me a message, if He had one to give me, before I got to China. This had happened once before when I went to Uganda in 2002. A complete sermon had come to my mind as I was praying about going. I don’t claim any prophetic gifting, but it wasn’t until the last day of the conference that I saw the relevancy of that sermon. Without going into detail, it was not an easy message to give because of the disturbing things I saw in the African churches. And instead of the normal morning attendance of around 200 people, my last sermon ended up being to an evening crowd of nearly 600-800 people.

When I spent the time last week seeking God with a listening heart, my intent was not to demand a similar experience, but to provide the opportunity if God so desired to give me a special message. If not, I was content to just pray for the women and for the talks I had prepared. Again, I don’t say with confidence that I “heard” from God, but one line kept going through my mind over and over again. The line was actually one spoken to me by a friend who had come to my house for coffee just a few days prior. Gena told me how she felt prompted to write a personal note to a woman that was new to our large church. The only thing the note said was, “I see you.”

“I see you.” That sentence kept flashing in my mind as I prayed for the Chinese people. Though I wasn’t sure this message was from God, I could imagine that in the midst of 1.3 billion Chinese, each woman and individual heart needed to know that God did see her. But like I said, I wasn’t sure. That’s why I didn’t say anything previously. I figured if I was wrong, you wouldn’t know. If short message was relevant, I could tell you after it was confirmed. I’m being honest here. I suffer from a lack of confidence.

So this is what happened this afternoon in that small conference room. My talk in its final form was finalized just yesterday. As I shared in an earlier blog, I told the story of that dark time in my life when I doubted I was still a Christian (despite my Bible school once-saved-always-saved indoctrination). I shared that my idol was success and it had come between God and me. I then told the story of Israel’s first test after their deliverance from Egypt – the making of the golden calf while God and Moses were absent (Exodus 32). I explained that an idol (the Hebrew word means “image) is an attempt to make visible what is meant to remain invisible. However, before Israel made the decision to create a visible god, they had already made a fatal mistake which opened themselves to that sin. This mistake is exposed in Exo. 20:18. The Israelites refused to come near to God. Instead they responded to the presence of God on Mt. Sinai with a fear that was not one of awe but of unbelief, and they ended up distancing themselves from Him. Consequently the space created by this distance was filled with the golden calf. Inevitably any space created by unbelief will be filled with idols.

Eventually I took them to Hebrews 11:1, faith “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” And then we read Hebrews 12:18-25 where the Exodus experience at Mt. Sinai was transformed into a experience of godly fear that drew one toward worshiping God, not away from Him. This was all possible because of Jesus and the blood that was shed. Jesus’ incarnation was the one time in history that the invisible God became visible.

The words above are a summary of what I presented. I concluded with an exhortation to expose and reject any idols that might be stealing their affections and to trust the invisible God by fixing their eyes on Jesus, the only visible representation of God’s being (Hebrews 1:3). It was at this point the words from Gena pressed into my spirit and demanded to be spoken.

I told the women what I had done last weekend. I told them I had prayed for them – they gasped and their eyes responded with appreciation. Then I took a breath and told them I believed God had given me a special message for them. I said, “Though we trust a God who is invisible, you are not invisible to Him. He sees you!” My heart swelled and my eyes filled with tears at the depth of that truth, even for me and certainly for each woman sitting in front of me. I felt the air thick with the presence of God. It was a profound moment for me. I then closed with a passage from 1 Peter 1:3-9 as a prayer for them.

Peggy concluded the afternoon with a wonderful presentation on becoming beautiful to God. During the breaks between sessions and after everyone was dismissed, I was able to have significant conversations with three women who confessed struggles with specific idols. There is one I would like to ask you to pray for as she may call sometime to meet privately with Peggy and me while we’re still in the city. She revealed her anger at God and described her spiritual state as being similar to what I described at the beginning of my talk.

I’m exhausted but happy right now. I definitely see Jesus on the face of these beautiful women. I see desire to follow Jesus faithfully. I see questions wanting to be asked (I did have another difficult question thrown at me today: If Jesus is the only “son” of God, why does Genesis 6 say that the “sons of God” married daughters of men?). I also see pain and longing for hope.

Thank you for all your prayers for me today. I felt them and I saw God use them. Keep it up! Tomorrow Peggy and I have a free day. We have been advised to avoid the house churches for now because of some recent trouble between the Chinese government and a specific local church. I think Peggy and I may conduct our first “hotel” church.

Friday, September 2, 2011

My Blog Name

Here's an interesting "coincidence." After meeting Peggy face to face for the first time at the SFO airport, I mentioned to her that I had started a blog to record my experiences in China. I explained to her the meaning of my chosen blog name - the story or journey of my life often being characterized as being "in the middle." For example, half Japanese and half American. Having a female body but being raised by my father to think like a man. Trying to maintain tension between competing theological issues.

Peggy then laughed and asked I knew what the name "China" meant. I answered in the negative. She explained that "China" literally means "center country." Wow! Here I am again - a story in the middle...

First Friday in Beijing

Beijing is an amazing, bustling, modern city. It is full of young people and all of them would blend into Portland quite easily if measured by jeans, heels and cell phones. The traffic is a different story. There is no such thing as braking distance between cars and taxis. Today’s venture outside the hotel was quite an experience.

And if today’s gathering is any indication of what these two weeks here will be like, I am in for quite a time. This morning Peggy and I met in a coffee shop with a small group of women who work together for an insurance company. One was a Buddhist, the rest were Christians. Peggy was the scheduled speaker with the topic, “How to deal with worries.” I was so glad to have an opportunity to listen to and observe Peggy before my first speaking session. Fangfang was our interpreter.

Peggy was wonderful and creative as she wove together stories, biblical principles and faith in Christ. The women sat attentively. Though there were occasional nods of heads or laughter at Peggy’s insertions of humor, it was still difficult to gauge their level of engagement. But it became clear afterwards that these women had done some serious thinking in response to her talk. According to Peggy, the Q&A was a first for her.

It opened with one of the women openly sharing that she had questions about what heaven was like. She confessed that even though she had been a Christian for 10 years, she feared that she was not going to end up in heaven. She went on to share a fear that her family would not be in heaven either. Another woman questioned whether one could actually experience God’s peace and joy. She had been taught that it was more spiritual to have a broken heart and to pray with tears all the time, like Jeremiah. She was also taught that only a certain number of people would get into heaven. If you didn’t get to heaven or get sent to hell, you would end up in a holding place. A third woman posed a question about infant baptism.

At the beginning of the Q&A, Peggy invited me to contribute responses to the questions. It was fun, challenging and satisfying to be a part of a dialogue with these seeking hearts. I felt one with Peggy, as I prayed for wisdom and searched for verses that would help answer the theological questions, which Peggy said was a first in all her teaching experiences in China. It was an exhilarating morning! The women could not have known that I had theological training. It seemed clear to both of us that the Spirit had created an environment of safety for them to express their deep spiritual struggles and I felt encouraged that God had brought me here to participate with Peggy in this conversation.

The women were so kind and generous with their time and food gifts (they treated us to lots of coffee treats and a big lunch). I have a feeling that the hardest part of this trip will be to say goodbye and to wonder if there will be another opportunity to see them again. For now, this small step today was a huge blessing.

Tomorrow (about Friday, 11:30 p.m. PST) I have my first scheduled session. Topic: Idols We Worship. If you’re a night owl, I appreciate your prayers. Or you can pray for me before you tuck yourself in for the night.