Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Walk Through the HuTongs

Today was the first day of the National Holiday Week here in China. It recognized the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. My friends and I had the day off so we decided to walk through the traditional HuTong (courtyard homes) of Beijing.  Love seeing the life in the older neighborhoods.

                           This table, complete with stuffed tiger, was sitting in the middle of the street.

Monday, August 17, 2015

GuanXi 关系

One truth that prevails across all cultures is the old phrase “It’s not what you know, but who you know.”  This is particularly true in China.  Loans can be issued, documents approved, businesses opened/closed, complaints investigated all on your connection to the person in charge at the moment.  The word for this in Mandarin is 关系 or relational capital. You can only make new contacts when your关系 or relationships is passed on by the mutual acquaintance.  Without relational capital almost nothing can be done.

I have seen this play out at the political and city wide level but I was able to have my own personal experience wit关系 this week.  Friends of mine from my Sunday fellowship heard about a pregnant women clear across the country who needed help.  Knowing no one personally in the city we was in, I reached out to my contacts to see if anyone knew of anyone who lived in that city and could possibly help this woman. After obtaining the email address for a Sunday fellowship leader in that city, I asked if anyone in his congregation to assist this woman.  Immediately he responded with two names, one of a local organization who can help and the other of a fellowship member.  As I was contacting the local organization (who I would never have heard about any other way because of security issues), I contacted Susan.  A few minutes into the phone call she said that my last name sounded familiar and asked if I was related to my Aunt.  Turned out this woman and my Aunt were language school classmates over 20 years ago.  From there, the conversation flowed naturally and we devised a plan to visit this woman in need and then collect resources to help her in the future.  The woman ended up being well cared for by this fellowship and local organization.  My关系 via my Aunt lead the people down in this city to assist a random stranger from across the country.

It blew me away how quick to help these people were.  They are following Him and doing what they can for the least of these in their city. I am sure they would have helped this woman if they discovered her without my phone call, but my involvement speed up the process.  This week I am reminded about the power of the Church Universal.  We have such a diverse group of people all over the globe that are called to love and serve sacrificially.  I got to personally witness strangers in another city physically help when I could not. Friends back in America donated money to assist this woman with medical costs.  Friends in Beijing collected donations to send down.  I am so grateful to know such an incredible group of quick responders who are willing to help anyone in need. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015


Watch the news, read a newspaper, or read articles on the internet and it is all but impossible to avoid the discussion regarding race relations and privilege that is currently happening the United States.  Living overseas, it if often easy for me to ignore the “hot-bed” political topics in America.  New legislation does not have too much of a direct impact on my daily life.  The current, and needed, discussion on privilege does affect me and I have been seeing its effects lately.

Living in a developing country and traveling around Asia, it is hard not to see how money is changing society and creating cavernous gaps between the rich and poor in many nations.  Travel to Manila and it is impossible to avoid the large amount of homeless people in the poorer districts and the pristinely clean streets in the central business district. In Beijing some people can afford to own multiple luxury cars costing $100,000 US Dollars or more while millions of others cannot afford to the housing prices in the city and commute 2+ hours to get to work.  Business owners can purchase anything while their employees can only afford to live in an apartment with 10 other people. 

It is easy to be the pot calling the kettle black and highlight problems in another culture while ignoring discrimination in my own culture.  Talking about systemic problems, racism, and privilege is not an easy discussion but dialogue is needed if we are to make changes and implement just policies.  These past few weeks I have been noticing how privilege affects me on a personal level and how damaging it can be.

Being an American in an Asia, I stand out. Being 5’9 with blond hair, I am usually a good deal taller than the average person around me.  Being “other, means that my daily experience of life can often be different from my local friends.  Every single building in China has a security guard (combination of cheap labor and a billion people who need to be employed). Most places even have a gate guard who tends to ask you why you need to enter a particular complex.  It is an extremely rare occasion when I am stopped by a security guard.  Most of the time I walk, ask them to open the door/gate, smile politely and walk to my destination.  Most of the time my local friends are questioned. On the rare occasion I am stopped, security guards simply want to chat and find out about my life.  There is a joke among foreigners here that if you walk with purpose and look like you know what you are doing, you can enter pretty much any building in the country.  I am rarely stopped because foreigners are respected.  Plus, I think the average security guard assumes I cannot speak Chinese and talking with me will be a fruitless endeavor. 
In addition to being a foreigner who physically stands out, when people find out I am American it adds another level of access and ease. On the bus or subway people regularly offer to give up their seats to me.  While checking out at the grocery store I have heard parents tell their children to me go first because I am a foreigner.  Being “different” means that I obtain a level of respect that if often undeserved.  I am thankful that people are more likely to assist me at the bank while if I have a problem because I am a foreigner and need help navigating an ATM in a different language, but it does bother me that I am given preferential treatment when I do not need it.  This week I went to the doctor’s for my annual eye exam.  I registered with the nurse, filled out my patient information and was told to take a seat.  I noticed that the nurse listed me at patient #9 in the schedule but I was the next person to see the doctor after the current patient was finished.  Being a white person meant I was able to jump the line.  Not going to lie it was extremely nice to not have to wait for 8 other people, but at the same time I was incredibly embarrassed and almost ashamed that because I was American I was given special treatment over grandmas, kids, and the 8 other people waiting.

There are many times in my week where I can play the “foreigner card” and ask for or accept preferential treatment.  It is easy to think “I am paying for this service and giving them a fair wage” while having an unkind attitude, while not being polite.  It boils down to a heart issue and often times what comes from my heart is not what I want it to be.  I do not model His humility and love.  I have been meditating on Paul’s description of the Son in Philippians 2.  In my interactions with EVERY person I encounter, I am to have the same mindset as JC. The Son did not consider His nature and equality with the Father something to be used to His own advantage.  He considered Himself nothing, took on the nature of a servant, and humbled Himself to the point of death.  This is so convicting.  The Creator of the universe was humble and acted like a servant at all times.  And all too often I demand service and do not serve.

I am challenged to recognize my privilege and do all that I can do limits its effects.  I want to work on becoming more humble and serving others.  I want humility to become so deeply engrained in my heart that it is my natural response.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Building Bridges

Yesterday was the last day of Eid, the celebration to celebrate the end of Ramadan and a month of fasting.  Eid is the biggest holiday and religious festival for Muslims, like Easter is for Christians.  New clothing, making favorite dishes, and celebrating with friends and family are central to celebrations of both major religious holidays.

I had the privilege of visiting my Muslim friends yesterday to celebrate Eid.  While visiting, a new family to the community began asking questions about Christianity. He has never asked a person from another faith what they believed before. He knew what the Qur’an talked about the Prophet Isa (Jesus), but was uncomfortable with some of the things that surrounded Isa’s life.  He then proceeded to ask me and my friend about our beliefs.  He wanted to clarify our theology.  A common misconception for Muslims is  Jesus’ birth.  In the Qur’an the word to describe Mary’s miraculous conception is the same word used to describe the physical act of conception.  Because of this wording, many Muslims believe that God and Mary had a physical relationship that resulted in Jesus or that God and Mary were actually married.  Obviously it is a horrendous idea to think that the Creator of the universe had physical relations with a human being.  As I explained that Isa’s conception was a miracle, not a physical act, my friend began to nod his head in approval. 

Next he ask why Christians believe in 3 gods.  Again, a common misunderstanding because of inaccurate translations of key words.  The Qur’an often refers to the “Breath of Allah”, something close to the movement of the Spirit. I said that much like in the Qur’an when you read “The Breath” you know it is talking about Allah, when I read the name of Father, Isa/Son or the Spirit I know the word is talking about God. As I explained that we believed in one God, with 3 different names to help us better understand the various aspects of His character, I could see him physically relax.  

After he asked a few more questions, he smiled and said “Our religions have much more in common than I thought.” I wholeheartedly agreed with his statement.  Not to say that there are not major differences between our religions, but we have more common ground than most people assume--the Prophet Isa is highly respected in the Qur’an.  He said that he no longer considers Christians infidels because we believe in blasphemous things.  It was such a great statement to hear.  This brief, twenty, minute conversation did so much to overcoming prejudice, misunderstanding and judgement for others beliefs.  Clarifying my beliefs and emphasizing the commonalities between our faiths built a bridge that is going to allow for deeper relationship. 

Today I received a message from my friend thanking more for clarifying my beliefs.  He said that we can truly be brothers and sisters now because we have so much in common.  Praise Him for a great conversation and the more to come.