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.