Monday, August 25, 2014

Adventures in China!

If you remember my last post, I went to China last month! For years I have read about the history, politics, culture. I have dreamed of China for over a decade and then last month, I was there. Travel to a new culture or a new country is always life changing; this is what globetrotters like myself look for when we jump on that flight into the adventure! This trip fell into my summer plans by God's grace, took me to a place I've always wanted to see, and allowed me to minister and be ministered to as part of the family of God. Major blessings? Check.

Officially, I went to China to see the sights and teach English at a Chinese church in the countryside.

It is legal for Chinese citizens to become Christians, as long as Chinese Christians are sharing the Gospel with other Chinese citizens. I did not know that before this trip, but Glory be to God! International (as in mixed-nations) worship, etc., is less legal... 

Got all that? Ok, so....

To kick off the grand adventure, I met up with my teaching partner, Elise, at the airport in Seoul. Our host, Joon, met us in Shanghai to start our trip! 

Y'all, the first 24 hours knocked my socks off. I am utterly infatuated with Shanghai's architecture and general awesomeness. We had Italian food along the river, went for a long wander, and my new friends got to meet the super-nerd that I am, which I usually try to keep under wraps until people know me a little while longer. Nope. They got to know her real fast. I was spaaaaazing out over the architecture! YOU GUYS LOOK AT THAT! OH MY GOODNESS LOOK HOW BEAUTIFUL THAT VIEW IS! YOU HAVE TO LOOK AT THIS BUILDING! IS THAT A PIRATE SHIP??? WHOAAAAA! 

The 2nd day, we went to a few more Shanghai sights, like Yuyuan Garden. The garden was built by an emperor for his parents, and it is absolutely beautiful, even in the rain. The rain was actually a blessing: it was not hot outside *and* there weren't as many tourists as there would be if it was sunny out. Win-win, in my opinion! 

After the garden, we went to Ancient Street. I was less impressed with Ancient Street, probably due to the really strange street food smells (stinky tofu, salt-covered turtle eggs, and every part of a chicken you can fry) combined with my desperate need for coffee. Joon quickly realized that I wasn't kidding when I said I am addicted to caffeine. It's cool, though, we found crickets in little wicker boxes (with which Elise is posing below), which *obviously* made me start quoting Mulan ("This cricket's a lucky one!" "You are one lucky bug" "What do you mean you're not lucky? You lied to me? And what are you, a sheep??") and then we had bubble tea, which was delicious! Disney and caffeine help me find my happy place :)

Afterwards, we hopped on a train to Hangzhou! Hangzhou is famous for West Lake. There, we had the privilege of watching a water performance called "Impressions of West Lake," which tells the story of the Chinese Romeo & Juliet. The show is like a grand, multimedia ballet on the water, and to give you a hint of *just how amazing it was,* it was directed by the director of the Beijing 2008 Olympics Opening Ceremony. Photos can't even come close to doing it justice, so you're just going to have to buy a ticket to China and see it for yourself.

We saw more sights, did some shopping, drove around a lot in the rain, ate a lot of delicious things (I avoided all not-delicious things), got massages *with fire* and watermelon (!!!), admired the grocery store (seriously one of my favorite things to do in any country: nothing gives you a taste of the culture (pun!) like a supermarket!), and all-in-all had ourselves a grand time!

Hangzhou has the coolest traffic lights I've ever seen, by the way! They have a countdown system instead of a yellow light. They let you know how much longer your light will be green and how much longer you have to wait for the red. I think this is much more logical than a yellow, cause you never know exactly how long that yellow is going to really be yellow. 

They've also got signs reminding you not to drink and drive, which I found mildly hilarious: 

Later in the week, Joon took us to see a brand-new church building nearby. It was incredible to see how God is growing his church all around the world! I knew that there are Christians in China, but I never expected to see a state-of-the-art building like this, there. It's as nice as any new church building I'd see in, for example, The Woodlands, TX, or any other nice area in any country. This was not an underground church, this is not even a church meeting openly in a rented space; no, this is a beautiful new building on its own grounds. The Church that Jesus built, meaning the people who love Him, is meeting out in the open. Pristine. Beautiful. To God be the glory! 

Sanctuary and courtyard

One of the offices 

They're already expanding: they had to add a nursery this year!! 

The potties were even high-tech 

One of the large meeting rooms 

The backyard grounds 

The sanctuary 

Photos of the construction process :)

Over the weekend, we went to church services with Joon at the churches where he serves as a missionary. 

We continued our touristy part of the trip with STREET FOOD! Some of it was... yikes. Some was awesome. Like a coconut with a straw in it. Gimme more of DAT. 

So, basically, I LOVE CHINA and it was a perfect intro-to-China week!

AND THEN I had the incredible privilege to teach at an English Camp out in the Chinese countryside.

Our camp HQ was an old church building, which used to be a factory before being converted for use by the local church body. It's old, it's rural, it's isolated... it was perfect. 

The garden in the next lot had all sorts of food, which we ate at every meal. I love when you see food go from the ground to the stove to your plate, all in one day. Life at its finest! 

We were told that the accommodations would be "uncomfortable" -- now, this was coming from someone who is used to sleeping on the floor and using squatty potties in Korea so... I mentally prepared to have a very uncomfortable sleeping situation, and THEN WE ARRIVED and the beds were not only elevated, they had rope springs that gave it some cushion under the bamboo mat, *and* the church bought brand-new bedding (the purple pillow and blanket in the pic) for us, AND NEW AIR CONDITIONERS for our rooms! Grace! And we only had one spider try to share our space during the week. He probably just wanted to snuggle... not being familiar with Chinese arachnids, we did not give it a chance to explain. 

The bathrooms, of course, were still pretty uncomfortable. Whatever. You get used to it. There are far worse things to deal with in the world than squatty potties, so the fact that this is the most uncomfortable thing I encountered? I'm doing just fine. It was a little awkward to be, you know, and then have someone walk in to use the next stall. Oh hey, you know, I was just... leaving... 

There was no internet at all, and I didn't have a phone that worked in China, so I was disconnected from everything and everyone I've ever known, before this trip. Now, for all you people who might think how spoiled I sound, please don't judge. I'm a Millennial. I've had a cell phone since high school, been on facebook my entire adult life, and I've had a smartphone since college. Every other time I've been without a phone or internet, I've been around people that I know well. This time, for the first time in my life, I had neither. I was headed to the sticks in a country, a culture, a language not my own, with people I'd only just met that week. God was pushing me out of my comfort zone in a way I've never had to be before. I love when He does that. He reminds me that HE is all I need, and He provides. It's terrifying and uncomfortable and sometimes it sucks but I always grow up a lot. Exhilarating. It was glorious! 

Every morning, we'd wash clothes that needed washing by going DOWN TO THE RIVER! Legit!!!! My Swiss-Family-Robinson-fantasies are one step closer to coming true! It felt wild and domestic all at the same time. I am so grateful to have a washing machine in my apartment, but now I know how to wash clothes in the river if the time ever comes that I don't have such a luxury! Fun fun fun lessons. And, bonus, got to spend more time in the river. Always a good thing.

The primary objective was, of course, to learn English and study the Bible using English.

My class was amazing! We level tested everyone on the first night, to place our students in the correct conversation class for their abilities. I taught the advanced level, while Elise taught Intermediate. I had a few adults (the church leadership and chaperons for the camp), a few university students, and a few teenagers. The chaperons' kids came and went during class, so sometimes they'd join in, too. We shared two Teaching Assistants for the week, Justine and Dianna, who are both studying Chinese nearby and attend the same church as most of the other students. 

Elise, our awesome TA's, and me
Every morning, we held separate grammar classes, but in the afternoons we'd combine classes (and energy) to play games and do activities with everyone. Every day at 4 pm, we had Watermelon Time, which I wouldn't mind incorporating into my day-to-day life!! 

People-to-people, to practice body part vocab

Minefield, to practice directions and prepositions

Mafia. Because mafia.

Watermelon time! 

Watermelon time led to a water gun fight and it was excellent

Every evening, we held Bible study for the students. The first night, the students and leaders all shared a little about their faith, whether or not they believed in Jesus, and if they do follow Him, when they came to know him personally. It's so beautiful to hear how different everyone's experience with Christianity is! One of my students had just come to know the Lord and receive baptism the previous month. Many of our students had been raised in families that went to Church, whose grandparents' faith had survived Mao's Cultural Revolution (PTL!) and come out stronger on the other side. Those grandparents were able to teach their grandchildren about the glory of God, the forgiveness of sins, the joy of being *his!* What a legacy for those families! God is so faithful! What. A. Blessing. to serve the Father and share his mighty name!


Let's talk about how much I love Chinese food. I LOVE IT A LOT. I want a Chinese grandma to make me good food all the time. 

Every meal was over-the-top amazing. It was also incredible to watch food go from the way it appears in nature (corn on stalks, carrots in the ground, fish swimming in the river, ducks quacking around the grounds, etc.) to the table. In a few hours. 


Our cooking team was amazing. They worked so hard, and with so much genuine love for each other, for Jesus, and for us. I can't wait for the day we all speak the same language in Heaven! 

Just look at what our tables looked like, day after day: 

I mean... right??

The week absolutely flew by. We went for walks along the river, walks through town, watched The Sound of Music with a projector on the wall (with Korean China...), relaxed, went on the scariest van ride of my life up in the mountains in the rain, walked down said mountain in the rain, celebrated Baby Frank's 3rd birthday with the coolest birthday candle everrrrr, and generally had a blast getting to know and love each other better and better! 

Then all of a sudden it was the weekend! 

Friday night held a special surprise, which was quite unexpected. I was asked to preach at the local community's prayer meeting (through a translator of course). What!?!? They asked me to speak at 7 pm... at the service which began at 7 pm... so it caught me a *little* off-guard! Wouldn't you know, though, that God had been preparing a message? I LOVE HOW GOD DOES CRAZY THINGS LIKE THAT. You see, all week I'd been feeling this little nudge to read through Romans. As I read through it, verse after verse jumped off the page. I had this strong feeling that I needed to do something with those particular verses, so I started to write them down and meditate on them. Then, lo and behold, when I was asked to speak to the gathering of believers and students, I had already, unknowingly, prepared. Earlier I mentioned that many (or most) of our students already followed the Lord, but a few had not made that decision. Because of this, I felt like God wanted me to start with the basics. There is nothing that I could say that is more important than the Word of God itself. I love speaking Scripture. 

So that's what I spoke. 

We read though Romans 1:19-20, 1:25, 2:4, 3:22-23, 4:13; Hebrews 11:8-10, 13; Romans 4:16, 5:2, 5:20, 6:10-11, 6:18, 6:22, 7:6, 7:15, 8:1, 8:3, 8:11, 8:35-37, 10:9-11, 14:11, 15:13. (Check out all those verses here)

Through those verses, God illustrates his power and divinity, recaps mankind's rejection of him, and reminds us of the redemption available through Jesus, that our repentance and faith bring us back to communion with him! He showcases Abraham, his friend, a mighty man of faith, as an example for us to follow. He makes clear that God Himself, in Jesus Christ, accomplished what the law could not do, which allows us to stand together in the great hope of God. 

I had the privilege to preach the Gospel in China. Do you understand what a strong moment that was for me? Never, never did I expect to utter a sentence like that. Do you hear what I'm saying? The Good News of Jesus Christ, directly from the source. The Good News, connecting those scriptures to our week, to our lives, to the fact that all believers are all one in Jesus: Chinese and American, and any other nationality in between. The Cross bridges cultures, transforms us into family. This faith is real. Real. The faith in that congregation is real. And amazing to behold! We worshiped and rejoiced in the reality that every tongue will one day confess that He is Lord. The Truth reigns! 

Going to Sabbath service the next day was powerful. You guys. Let that sink in. Church. Service. Open worship. Not underground. In China. 

After church, four of my beautiful new friends received baptism down in the river. Powerful!! It's hard to describe the joy of watching friends receive water baptism, witnessing to the forgiveness of their sins and their new life in Christ, so I'll just show you these: 

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Ephesians 4:4-6
The blessings continued to fall on me as Elise and I were asked to share our testimonies during the service (Christianese church-lingo translation: testimony = the story of how you have come to know Jesus and what that means in your life). Mine is a story of baby steps toward Amazing Grace. In short, I grew up believing that God (in Trinity) is real, and I always knew that He loves me. I accepted Jesus as my Savior as a teenager at church camp, but I didn't entirely realize what an important step that is, nor what my response should be. In college, God used Breakaway Ministries and the discipleship of good friends and a local church home to teach me the disciplines of personal prayer and daily Bible reading. Those two, together, powerfully transformed my life and I ultimately realized that calling Jesus "Lord" and expecting him to serve me was backwards. In a period of huge transition in my life, I finally gave God complete control (not that I don't try to wrestle it back from him from time to time) and he powerfully changed my direction and set me on fire for him and the things that break his heart. 

I continued my testimony by sharing how expat life has taught me to depend on God, the Ultimate Foreigner in a distant land. I shared about the grace with which he has slowly, patiently, tenderly peeled off layers of old habits, idols, and destructive thinking. How he teaches me obedience, trust, grace, and humility (and keeps reminding me of these, lest I forget). How he is actively teaching me to believe him, to receive his good gifts, to trust his love. That if I'm seeking him, he'll never steer me in the wrong direction. 

I will continue to follow him, wherever he leads me because he is Almighty. His power is made perfect in weakness. He has never led me down a wrong path and he never will. I remain eternally grateful. 

My story's far from over, and it's ever-changing, but I love to share this testimony of what he has done and continues to do in me! This trip to China testifies to God's amazing grace! My job there was to teach English and share what God's taught me through his Holy Word, and of course the Lord ministered to me through my host community the whole time. Reciprocal exchange, wisdom, cultural differences, joy, friendship, life!! L'chaim! 

We boarded the buses in the rain to go back to civilization, to normalcy. Endings and departures are bittersweet. This is also part of life as a globe-trotter. Nothing is forever, but each experience is rich in lessons and relationships. The joy of saying goodbye to other believers is that it is not the end forever. We have hope above and we will, of course, meet again in glory! 

In Christ alone my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all,
Here in the love of Christ I stand!

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