Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas EVE

It is Christmas Eve. Jon and I have been working at Hebei FInancial COllege for the past 9 hours of our lives, giving oral exams to about 150 students. He is still there as I write this.

And I am grateful to my King for the honor and privelage of the office. Amelia, Tim, and Emily came to visit Jon and I for lunch: they didn't have to do that, as it is a 30-minute bus ride to our campus from their apartments. However, made this value decision in full view of His mercy, to offer their bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to their Father. This decision, indeed, helped to loose the shackles of tyranny that we face together as a team on a microcosmic scale, ones that so obviously keep so many here from tasting the freedom of not conforming any longer to the patterns of this world, but being transformed by the renewing of their minds, to test and discern His will. We did not merely eat lunch today, the five of us, with Robert (a senior student at Hebei College of Finance), stuffing ourselves so that we might live another hour or day or years as "happy everyday"--a term students repeat often here. This thought is a fearful plunge into death that we choose not to take, instead rerouting our journey in the face of fear to the foot of a mountain of Love:

There is no fear in love; but perfect love drives out fear: because fear torments. He that fears is not made perfect in love.
We love Him because he loved us first. If a man say, I love Him, and hates his brother, he is a liar: for he that loves not his brother who he has seen, how can he love Him who he has not seen?
And this command have we from Him, that he who loves Him loves his brother also."

I rode on the bus today after work, the #37, and didn't get a seat, which disappointed me because I wanted to write words down on paper. Instead, I was given Jiao: a Chinese boy who was very excited to be standing next to me during this grand adventure through the streets of Baoding.

I didn't want to talk to him. I would be lying if I said that I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. However, each time I felt my thoughts drift toward disengagement, I forced myself to look at him at ask him more about his life. At one point, I called him "brother," which is exactly what we are: both objects of wrath searching desperately for the chemical to dissolve our chains of slavery.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Baoding sunset from Hebei Financial College

Indeed, chance conversation this night to reconsider--

and long-days hence to practice--

breath over cheap beer and peanut butter crackers. Deliver

through these mellow tones a sacrifice.

Can you stretch across the sky still

and remain among

the street lamps, neon signs, and cold chill

like two submitting in reunion?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Christmas time comes once a year!

Celebrating Christmas in China these past weeks has given abounding opportunities for us to share his name freely and yet I feel sometimes like I'm often "dancing around" the subject instead of getting rightto the heart of things, as many students and teachers do not fully understand the truth and reality of what it is we are talking about.

"I am keenly aware of my faults, but I am not discouraged by them. When I have confessed my faults to Him, I peacefully resume my usual practice of love and adoration of Him." (Practicing HisPresence, 47-48)

"...consider others better than yourself."

For all the time I spend thinking about my homesickness and my time management, my future and managing money, or my room in my apartment, I expend an enormous amount of mental energy considering myself, which leaves little room for me to engage "better" in the lives of the people around me. It would truly be a shame for me to come all the way here for however long I'm here just to glorify my own struggles and circumstances, which is directly at odds with what this says.

I found myself alone in my classroom yesterday, after a long afternoon of decorating with students and entertaining everyone as Shèng dàn Lo rén (Santa Clause) along with Jon and Amelia. They had just left the classroom to head to a store and I was left for a while by myself. I looked around at the new spirit that had engulfed the classroom with new pictures of each class on the walls and a Christmas tree poised in the corner. I began to walk around the room, just thanking for the day and the things before us, that students would come in and think new thoughts as they see the bulbs of the tree, that they'd be confronted with truth and love, that this moment in time could contribute to the eternity before them.

Behind me, I heard the door of the class room open and saw Emily, Laura, and Helen walking in; they are three of my students from one of my three Monday classes."Hello! Maybe we are too late?" they said. "It's never too late!" I answered them as they approached me in the back of the classroom. We went on to cut snowflakes and took some pictures wearing the Santa clause costume before they went up to admire the tree. Helen and Laura looked deeply into the tree bulbs, as though they were seeing something other than their distorted faces changing color.

Thank you for your continued support in the ministry at hand in Baoding.

Please continue lifting up:

* Our team here in Baoding (Jon, Tim, Amelia, Emily, and myself) and our respective walks. For unity, depth, and growth together.

* Perseverance as we enter the final weeks of teaching this semester.

* For the rest of our China team as they travel to Baoding in two weeks to celebrate Christmas (Brad and Jess Distad, Peter and Shannon Lucas-Robets, and Jess Shamblee from Langfang, China; Wil and Courtney Corder from Tianjin, China)

* For relationships with students to continue to deepen and findingnew vision for execution in ministry for 2009.

It's my honor to be in deep with you,

Ryan Bettwy

Friday morning

Emerge from the apartment early. Friday is “lone ranger” day: Jon is still fast asleep in his room. Skyped with Josh this morning. Looked at some pictures. Sat eternally.
Pulled on my dusty brown “Diesel”-brand shoes. Grabbed sweatshirt and jacket, for Fall is evident in visible breath as I place journal, Bible, and planner into book bag.
One sun beam comes through the window in the stairwell of my apartment. I look out the window at four birds dancing on the rooftop across the alley. Railing, hallways, and stairs are dirty. Everything is, I suppose.
It’s clear day today. Whistling as I pass the man who lives in the little room at the birth of our apartment complex. I wave. He smiles and nods, as he always does.
Walk over the broken, crumbling sidewalks: dirty, badly formed, misshapen; beautiful.
I dare traffic, passing woman wearing apron, holding up pita stuffed with egg and lettuce with extra “lade” sauce in her hand. She wants me to buy it. Some other morning, I’m sure of it.
Ahead, I feel the drum roll. Not some metaphorical beats from the tribal heat rising up inside of me:
Four men sit on the back of a pick-up truck swinging their arms back and forth, producing a rhythmical tenor as their fingers engage wooden mallets meeting the side of plastic, metal, and animal hide.


There it is.

Toe twitch a faintly foreign fit too familiar to be anything but what will be.

“Open up your…”

Come on, let it in.

Feet switch with the toe twitch too familiar to be anything but what faith will be.

“Open up your doors and let the music in, let the streets resound with…”

Resound with a new sound found among the refound.

Way down below, the cavernous depths below,
dips the tip of Lazarus’s finger, finds one
water drop pausing eternally before another’s
tongue: crusty and brittle as someone from the dead.

Somehow, here, bits of grass can grow
Even between cracks in a sidewalk
Next to the ashes of paper money
Burned to earn these dead the turn they yearn today:

Sweet faith, spring forth anew this day!
Whisper somewhere between tightly shut eyes
And the torrent rising inside my mind, “I do
Believe—oh, dear Hope! Help my unbelief!”

“Open up the doors and let the music play,
let the streets resound with singing,
songs that bring Your hope, songs that bring Your joy
dancers who dance upon injustice.
Swing wide ye heavenly gate,
prepare the way of the risen son!” –Sonicfold

I look over to my right: the old man huddled in a green coat is staring at me.
“Ni hao!” I say to him with a slight wave. He smiles back at me.
I can’t decided if he’s staring at me because I just got done dancing and singing or if he’s just staring like everyone stares.

Bus #37 pulls up. Onward, we go…

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Abiding in Baoding

During lunch with Vince the other day, I asked him what he wanted to do with his life. "I want to be a kind of master of languages so that I can be an ambassador between nations and internationally. I know that mastering these languages like English and Chinese together can open up a sort of knowledge and wisdom to be used in business, to build good relationships with people, maybe even used in love."
I could feel myself beginning to lean in closer to him and squinting intently, like I would to a really thought-provoking speaker. "OK, but to what end? Like, what will you do with that?" He was contemplative for a moment, then answered, "When I was younger, all I wanted to be was a worker. But now, I feel like I want to do something that helps people in a more important way. I feel like man is always wrong, like all evil, but that somehow I can overcome this and help others stop wars and fights that are silly because people just don't understand each other, they don't have this wisdom."
I wanted to tell him. "You hit the nail on the head with that one, Vince," I could say.
I could tell him how I, too, am an ambassador for Peace.
I could tell him that I, too, am in search of a deeper understanding of Knowledge and Wisdom. I could say to him that the roots of the Word for which he searches goes deeper into the depths of eternity than even I know how to go--and I, too, long to go there.
I could tell him about his maker, about how Love and Knowledge and Wisdom and Life and Freedom all collide into One and mix together more beautifully than the most deliciously-prepared Hot Pot stew served on the coldest, most blusterous winter day, about how He yearns for Vince to know Him more, to share this life with Him, to walk with Him, to breath and eat and drink, to dance and cry and need Him, to---
"Do you want a chocolate ball?" I asked Vince, holding out a package of malt chocolates that I had almost finished.
"Yes! I feel translating that into English is very tiring," he answered as I handed him two chocolates and enjoyed the last one along with him.

Mission accomplished--for now.

Endure hardship as discipline; He is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.

I have been finding lately that the endurance and what I am doing here in China is not simply surviving, but has far more to do with surrender. How similar these can look in execution! The same "act" looks and smells and feels like enduring, but it's really just me in my human nature panicking for survival. This cheap imitation lacks...roots. True, abiding roots. This is essentially how things have been going for me since starting my duties as teacher two weeks ago--lots of time spent with students, eating meals and riding buses and listening to music and arguing about literature, but especially a mind and heart bent toward abiding in the Father. One recent encounter happened when I got invited to a football (soccer) match at the school. After teaching a class, I walked over to the field and found our department wearing all white uniforms. Vince had been saying all week how "badly" he felt they would perform. Apparently, his thoughts proved prophetic: by the time I arrived at halftime, they were already losing 4-0.
I walked up to the goal where the players were congregating and tapped Vince on the shoulder.
"Rough today?" I asked.
"Maybe...I believe it has been worse." He looked around for a moment and drank a few sips of water. "You will play goalie next."
I kind of looked at him as though I was really confused. This is something which isn't beyond the call of a normal day...I'm often legitimately really confused with what is going on here, but for now I stared at him, then asked, "Wait, what? WHY?"
"Yes, you can be our goalie. Our foreign teacher last year also played for our team. Here, put this on." He threw me a white, long-sleeved jersey and added, "Just take off your shirt and come play."
I stood there in my dress slacks, belt, and button-down shirt, jacket and brown dress shoes holding my back pack and the jersey. I looked up to the left of me to see five or so students staring at me with smiles, as though saying "don't let us down!", expecting me to run out and start defending their net with the fearlessness of a champion!

Some times, the decision is made for you...

Fantasies of diving saves and booming punts ran through my mind as I removed my teaching shirt and put on the jersey. Wait, this is what Superman must have felt like! Maybe I can shut out the rest of the game, catalyzing a great and fabled comeback for the Business English department and earn our first win of the year! I began hopping around and looking really fierce, as one would if, say...they knew exactly what they were doing. As the game progressed, I blocked a few easy shots and even kicked a few goal kicks out to midfield. However, with a one-on-one bearing down hard on me about half way through the half, I poised ready for the shot. It came swiftly across the ground to my left and I dove onto the ground to make the save...but didn't. They had scored. My "shut-out" was ruined and I was forever tarnished as goalkeeper. Scraped and dirtied from the rocky ground, I turned to my fans. "AHHH, it's OK, it's OK. You get back up and play," was the constant cheer from the fans standing only a few meters away from the goal. Their encouragement was ever present, even after I allowed two more goals to go in. Maybe they supported me just because I'm the American, or because allowing three goals in a half was better than four goals, or because I could change my clothes with the same speed and grace as Superman.

He was an alien and a stranger in this world, too, after all.