Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bus ride

Light snow covers the grass at Hebei Financial College (Picture by Ryan Bettwy)

What facinating texture the Father has given to my voice through these bus rides! The sun rising off in the distance, behind field after field of corn (out of season) and other crops. Small brush fires rise to my view here and there, the smoke rising above the tree tops. I'm amazed at the tiny villages every few hundred meters: the schools, the playgrounds, and the one-strok brick-and-cement buildings/ homes. Many of my students come from places like this. My school is postedd up right next to a village not unlike these "shanty" towns. Even on this clear day with the sun presenting a bulbous orange-yellow hue against the green sky, there's still a strange haze that will not relent its hold over the landscape. Dawn versus haze... haze is winning by a hue.

It smells, in whaffs, of burn piles, the musty stale that could almost be mistaken for a Sunday barbecue, if not for the ever-present sense that "we're not in Kansas anymore". Todo would have enjoyed China's agricultural landscape, though: the dawn is starting to make headway over the haze, though it's a toss up to figure if the reflection I see off the window of the bus is from the haze or from the sunshine's growing prowess. 

There's a thin layer of frost gripping tightly over the ground. It has its back to the sun, almost a defiant posture saying, "If I don't see you, you can't make me leave," like a child refusing to give up his position on the swings as his mommy pulls him away. As a child ultimately loses control, despite his cries of protest, so can will the frost find this battle to be in vain. There's also frost lining the power lines, erected not 100 meters away from the highway, standing tall between the shanty towns and the fields. Many of the building in these towns are dilapidated and no longer suitable for much beyond storage . It reminds me starkly of the school next to my apartment where I lived last year which, for the first six months of my life in China, was entirely abandoned. There were five or six buildings that held classrooms which, if you explored them curiously as, say, an unwelcome foreigner..., you felt like it was Armagedon had struck and you were among the final compatriots of the nnew age! I used to read the sparsely-strewn English words on the chalk boards, along with hundreds of Chinese characters which were just left drawn without any sign of leaving, a modern-day Rosetta Stone, if you will. The chairs of the classrooms were thrown about, as though construction or demolition workers had pondered the possibilities of knocking down these walls; perhaps they saw the remnants of the school teacher leading her class in learning economics, or geography, or calculus and thought better of it, but that's probably just my bias toward the essential value of the written word. Either way, they never tore down these buildings. 

I can no longer stare at the son, as it has matured into a blinding sphere engulfing the Eastern sky, like a childhood friend who you meet some distant years down the road in a power tie and power suit, shouting power words in powerful ways. No more debate: both haze and frost lose by a long shot. There are no power ties on today's bus, though. Nor weere there any a few kilometers back when we eeked to a stop still quite a ways from our destination, stuck in a painful mass on the highway. The source? A 14-wheeer packed with cheap food-stuffs and ramen noodles had caught fire and, as it carcass torched on the shoulder of the road beyond the capacity of even the power-tied sun, dozens of people, likely from the neighboring shanty town, pilfered hundreds of packages of food from the now-hopelessly vulnerable truck. I saw two guys grinning ear-to-ear as they made their way past a policeman and carrying three boxes full of the truck's treats. the police were seemingly only present to keep order, not to prevent the theft-in-progress. 

I guess that'd be me, too, if my nose was recovering from frostbite, only to grapple with the new prospects of severe sunburn. 

People struggle to recover food from a burning truck on the highway. (Picture by Ryan Bettwy)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A few recent pictures from Baoding

Students buy produce through a gate at Hebei College of Finance. The students are provented from leaving the campus during the school week in order to stop the spread of the swine flu. (Baoding, China)

Jason (a teacher at Hebei University in Baoding, China), Tim, Jon, Ryan, and Cameron enjoy end-of-the-week cigars. Baoding, China

Three students enjoy looking through pictures on a lap top after English Night. (Baoding, China)

Students interact with American teachers who came to visit in early-November for Hebei College of Finance's first-ever English Week. (Baoding, China)

Two students take a walk near the Moon lake as the sun sets at Hebei College of Finance. (Baoding, China)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

giving thanks in China

"giving thanks in China"

Today was Thanksgiving Day.
We had KFC for dinner.
It's also Mongolian National Day.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Weight of Daily Life at Hebei College of Finance

Outside of the bus stop, three lonely trees cower in the melting snow

A rare clear sunset reveals the mountains behind student dormitories and classrooms, Hebei College of Finance

Kobe, a student from Hebei College of Finance

I walked out of my apartment to walk to class for the first time. It was 3:50 PM. In the next five minutes of walking to class, I saw and talked to:

* Wang Kun, the guy with the incredible ability to perform the nunchucks.
* Kobe, my student ( a sophomore) who giggles a lot when he's nervous.
* The guy who works out at the gym in town who invited me to come, but whose name I don't remember.
* Owen Rabbit, a student from last year who admittedly says he chose his name based on personal resemblance to the animal.

Now a walk to the classroom that should take five minutes is derailed by these sovereign meetings. I would have it no other way.

One part of my job that I struggle with is the immense amount of weight that students often place on our meetings. Be they only one moment of passing on the street or long chats in my living room, it takes an inordinate amount of focus to really appreciate the moments when I'm encountering a student, as this type of interaction happens hundreds of times each day. However, for some students, this is something that happens once in their day; for most, considerably less than that. I am meeting with "a" student, whereas my student is meeting with "the" foreign teacher. It's an amazing privilege to carry this burden of relational inequity, as long as I continue to recognize the importance of the ways people see me, the ways that I interact with others with my eyes and with my words, and the posture with which I approach them. Whether the care and energy is expending over hundreds of people once in a lifetime or to one other person hundreds of times a day, the heart remains the same (it should, anyway).

Today, I met for lunch with Wang Ja Jun (Vince) and discovered, once again, the immense gratitude that I have for the Father's faithfulness in these meetings. Ja Jun is one of my closest friends here at HFC and continues to challenge me to think broadly about how to live out "the narrow way." We spoke long of his impending graduation and his struggle as he feels like he is "floating away" in limbo, like he's "trapped with nothing to stand on."

"That's a great place to be, Vince," I told him as he scooped another mouth-full of rice. I shared memories of my own time of working part-time jobs after college graduation a few years ago, not really knowing exactly what direction to take next.

"So you did not worry about your future job during this at all?" he asked me passionately, his eyes almost bursting out of his head to understand how this could be.

"Well, Vince, 'worries' will always be there... the 'emotion' that you experience, anyway. If not questions about job, then ones about family and friends, security, insurance, your house, your food...on and on, and these will not go away."

"Seems like you're just waiting!" I could see his eyes understood perfectly, as he shook his head still demanding the answer as to how this could be a 'great place to be'.

"Well, yes...kind of. The only way to find your proper career or family or studies is to hold it out in front of you and see that your life is not about 'career' or 'family' or 'studies' in the sense that most believe it to be. The emotion of not knowing cannot control your reaction to the true purposes of life, your true passions and desires. Perhaps, if you will, 'actively waiting.' "
"MMMM," Vince said, whirling his right hand back and forth, rotating his palms to face up, then face down like a concierto composer. That's when you can tell Vince is chewing on something good.
"But you can't do something if you can't see how it connects to your future: how does eating lunch with Ryan make my future more certain?"
I kind of laughed at this question, as this is the very question I've faced constantly while living in China.
"Well, that's another thing that you have to give up. If you make your life about your future, then it won't be about [the Father]. This is what I learned most when I was going through this transition after college, that my life is about [the Father] above all circumstances."
"That's it!" he said. "I just have to make what you are saying about something other than religion...replace ' [the Father] with 'life' and that's it for me!"

Perhaps this is the most frustratingly simple thing about getting deep with Ja Jun: he gets this perfectly, but doesn't see the connection between his idea of a full life and Life to the Full. The two look amazingly similar with one glaring difference being submission of life to Life.

"Just watching you live this way give me hope, gives all of us hope to not be worried. Keep being a light house," he challenged me as we stood up from our table.
"Done. Keep searching for life," I said as we parted ways just outside the canteen with a pat on the shoulder.

At least, that's what he heard. What I really said was, "Done. Keep searching for Life."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Football in the Fall

We’re certainly no Joe Gibbs or Vince Lambardi, but Jon and I sufficed as coaches for Baoding’s first ever “American football game.” On a chilly November afternoon, we found ourselves in the Botanical Gardens, lined up 9-by-9 in a field fit for gridiron glory. Well, not quite “glory”, but we were playing a watered-down version of touch football. After explaining the rules, we started the game with my team of eight girls and one boy (J,ohn) defending against Jon’s team of nine girls. The first play saw Allan, a girl from Jon’s team, run the ball into the end zone with my entire team following her around for at least a minute, even though she was already touched by two girls who were literally dragging her to stop. This, though, was eclipsed by my team’s first play. As quarterback, I pitched the ball to John, who was lined up to my right. As he ran over the yellowing grass, it was clear that he had a huge gap on the sideline to run. I started cheering as he ran about 5-10 yards through their defense; he was sure to score. Just about to pass their final defender, John threw it forward 10 yards to our end zone, as though this would achieve the same goal as running it. I literally fell to the ground laughing at this misunderstanding: I did, after all, tell my team that football is a lot like soccer.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Gracious Snow

Perhaps you could characterize our Sunday afternoon as 'War,' but you would be mistaken. Jon and I, accompanied by an unidentified male student who came behind us as are inforcement, found ourselves constantly retooling for retaliation against the aerial onslaught we faced. Yes, indeed: the three of us were throwing snowballs at a group of six girls huddled beneath umbrellas and water buckets on their porch of the dormitory behind ours as they screamed and threw our snowballs right back at us. What else was one to do on the first snow-day of the year, coinciding with the first day of November? 

I thoroughly enjoyed the interactions that this type of "frivolity" encouraged, despite the cold. Frivolous, that is, unless we're given the eyes to see and ears to hear that this was another profound manifestation of the seams of eternity ripping open, affording us the opportunity to see Grace worked out in the circumstances of the day. By grace, indeed, we were able to pelt these across-the-street friends with snow (and they, in turn, pelt us); by grace we received the gift of the One. I didn't think it would snow that morning when I woke up, but received a text message from a student at 7 AM reading 'It's SNOOOOOOWWWWWWING!'. 

"Here. This is yours. You didn't ask for it, but I choose to give it to you because I love you." 

Snow, yes...I like snow. Here, though, I found the great delight that is reveling in Grace in the merciful view that it doesn't matter what the circumstances confront us with (snow, classes to teach, people to visit) as much as it matters that I'm viewing Grace first. It's tough to convince students (and teachers...and bus drivers...and teammates...and myself) that this is the case. 

"I don't know what it is. Sometimes, I just get frustrated that when I can't do what I want, there's some 'Big Man' holding me down, but then sometimes I'm the 'Big Man' whenever I get the chance to make decisions for a group."

Robert (Hu Bo), Bethany, and I sat around a table of gung bao gi ding gai fan (chicken over rice) bowls chatting about our circumstances in life. He seems to share a lot of similar ideas with students here, which I told him was typical in the sense that his problem isn't a Chinese problem or an American problem primarily, but one that stretches out as a human problem...a problem of the heart. Tangling with Robert's heart can be messy, but it's the greatest joy  continuing to walk through life so close to the heart of Robert and other students like him. 

This upcoming week, my school (Hebei College of Finance) will be hosting it's first ever English Week! We will have six visiting Americans to come blitz the campus with their presence. I am excited to see how this will fuel our interactions with students these upcoming months and set up the work of the Spirit in this time. 

Friday, October 30, 2009

My birthday went like the chorus to "12 days of Christmas":

Twelve people gathered,
Eleven cake slices,
Ten cat claws clawing,
Nine scrapes on Robert,
Eight minutes of mayhem,
Seven seconds a' toasting,
Six confused laowei,

Five bowls ...of chili!

Four books of Chinese,
Three New Zealanders,
Two Chinese clowns,
and a confetti bomb exploding!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Brotherhood of the Pitch

FC English Department 

It's amazing how the Father takes the things we love and parlays them into His own glory.  "Soccer has been a big part of my life this past week," Jon joked tonight during our Family Time at Hebei University, except that he wasn't really joking at all. Over the past nine days, he and I have had the honor of sharing the soccer pitch with nine students from the English Department of Hebei College of Finance. "It was so striking to me," Jon pointed out, "that all of these guys have either been in my class before or are currently students of mine." 
He is right, in that each student who we played with on the team, we also shared a classroom with over the course of a year, seldom getting the opportunities to truly interact with them as real men/ boys/ whatever they are today. Tonight before going to Family Time, we shared a room with these young men where we gathered over full plates of mutton and giant green peppers, hearing each of them slowly articulate to Jon and I their Chinese names. 
"Ju...Sin," Bob deliberately spoke, making sure we could clearly hear each syllable of his name. "Bob" has been a student of mine for two semesters, but I never even heard his Chinese name spoken to me, let alone committed it to memory. It was, to me, like being let into a secret world, as we often miss so much personality from these young men when we only know their English names and can't interact with them in their native tongue. 
I somewhat balked at leaving the room tonight, as I know most of these relationships will fade as we do not see each other on the pitch anymore as a team. As we shared the meal tonight, I could only cherish the glory of enjoying these people exactly where they are in life and applying no more expectation on them than that they fully understand the weight of who they are. There's something pure about competing together; there's something pure about eating together in a small room, clamoring to take one last photo before we leave; there's something pure about straining to learn names, only to take those names and exalting them to the Father, that He might hear and have mercy on these young men, on their hearts and reveal himself to them in due time. Although our time is "but a short breath," which Tim spoke over the six members of our Family time tonight, and this time in China is but a gap in the lips through which the breath of life flows, might that His kingdom come through our passions, through our hearts, through our words, our relationships, and our daily walk with Him. 

Uh...full-contact soccer, anyone?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

This Saturday, I lived. I woke and read with my Father, which was immaculate in that I had a sense of his presense as I studied. and thought upon the word "righteousness." To be honest, the morning time was somewhat "foggy," but He is not a "checklist" either, and He walked with me into watching the redskins vs. Rams football game from six days ago, which Jon and I watched with Bethany. I sipped coffee from my Hale's coffee mug until around 11:30 when I left to go to a baseball game. I rode on my a and was overwhelmed by the sense of great wonder that it afforded me as I beheld the great blessing of living in such a way: riding down the abandoned back roads of Baoding city toward Hebei University, swerving between the bike lane and main road, both of which were virtually empty on this morning save for the farm vehicles stacked mountainously, layer after layer of corn freshly shopped from the fields... the harvest time has COME!
I avoided several husks strewn throughout the road and eventually made my way into the heart of the city, where the green-blue taxis mixed ominously with dirty trucks emitting thick exhaust into the air. I went onto the bike path and made my way ahead another kilometer and stopped at a red light, watching the traffic run around me like a clogged drain: sometimes, it's frustrating to experience Baoding traffic because it just doesn't really run in any patterned way. Sure, there are markings on the road that suggest that "maybe you should stay sometimes near this part of the road," but even those warnings aren't heeded in the heat of the driving sequence. For most drivers, it's not beyond the typical motion to to pass on the left from the far-left lane, leaving the passing car desperately exploring the oncoming traffic or pull out into traffic even with another car coming their way. This is exactly what I caught the brunt of this morning when I realized that the car in front of me in the bike lane had pulled out into traffic without warning, only to be stuck there with no where to go but backwards. Unfortunately, I was behind him. he did not agree with me that this was unfortunate, in that his next decision was to reverse back into the bike lane... where I was waiting... now getting knocked down by his honking my horn... now hitting the back of his car so that he finally realizes I'm present. He got out and raised his hand, bowing at me over and over apologetically. 
"Dui Bu Qi! Dui Bu Qi!" he said, stating his sorrow at not recognizing my presense. 
"Mei Shi," I told him, indicating my forgiveness. All in a day's travel around Baoding, I suppose. 
Perhaps my greatest struggle with this morning was not the drivers around me, but in fact the lack of struggle that I had while I was playing baseball. I love being there with these students, building these relationships and arrived at Da Bai Lo, the dormitory on Hebei Universtiy where foreign students live, and threw some with Qi Hoon, a 26 year-old Korean student. 
"Ni shi wo de di di," he said to me as we left for the game, showing me that he is, in fact, older than me, which makes him my "older brother". Qihoon is one of several Korean members of our team, the Hebei University Tigers; their membership which comprises about half of the players. In addition, we have two Japanese, an Indonesian students named Felix, and one lone American floating in from the West (me). It's such an amazing gift to have been able to play baseball with these students and teachers who assemble in such a regimented way. Our games are less regimented than I'm used to playing in the states (our warm-up, for instance, finds players standing around in cigarette circles more than playing Pepper), but it is truly a great way to share life with people. On this weekend, we won our game, although to claim a lavish victory would be deceiving, as our opponents were somewhat lacking in stature: because there are so few Chinese interested in meeting to play baseball, we sometimes have to face high school teams from around the area, as on this day. 
During the game, I talked with our starting pitcher and first baseman, who came up to me after he'd been taken out of the game. 
"Wo shi shui sheng," he described to me, explaining that he was a 32- year old doctoral student from Hebei University. His studies, he said, were in the area of Ancient Chinese history, which is the perfect subject at Hebei University because of their extensive resources in the Shang Dynasty Resource Center. I love hearing about how diverse the interests of foreign students are here, as I often tend to lump all of "the Koreans", "the Japanese", "the Americans", "the Chinese"... into categories that are caustic to relating on an individual level with people as human beings. As diverse and different as these cultures are sometimes, getting back to the heart of knowing people no matter their cultural background and national affiliation is the greatest challenge I face on a day-to-day level in Baoding. I'm not like all American people; people I meet are not like every other person I've met from the country they are from.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Campus Life

I enjoyed observing the men across the street from me who are working construction perform their duties today. What a fascinating moment it was for me to see them dumping their cement onto the ground through the vehicle's hose onto the ground. 

Walking around the campus today was an adventure in being a "celebrity." Every few seconds, I would hear someone yelling, "Hello!" from various corners of the campus, not to mention the literal throngs of students I walked by and waved at, nodded at, or just said, "Hello!" to in passing. My favorite was a group of freshmen walking at the hind end of the Exodus to 2 PM classes, submitting like a line of lemmings, somewhat talking and somewhat observing their behavior. The young girls walked mostly 3- or 4-in a row. As I continued walking behind the girls to make my way to class, I heard them begin to rumble in Chinese. They grewsteadily more rapturous in their walk together, giggling and quickly glancing toward me, if not at me. I was comfortable with this form of adoration, as there is not much I can do until the younger students get used to experiencing a foreigner's presence in their campus. However, just when I felt my thoughts drift back toward my work, one of the girls closest to me swung around in response to the muffled laughter and said, "WHERE?!?," an obvious indication that she'd been told that there was a wai guo ren near her. To her shock, I stared up in confusion at her not two meters away. She laughed an embarassed laugh and fell away from me, her momentum taking her into the arms of her friends, who were likewise overcome with laughter at her folly. I said, "Ni men hao. Ren shi ni men hun gao shin! (Hello, nice to meet all of you!)" and walked on with a grin of successfully (and most inadvertantly) giving this group of students intense fodder for conversation throughout the remainder of the day. 

The newness of the year is apparent in these types of interactions, which are all the more frequent with the arrival of freshmen just two days ago. This is coupled with the campus's peculiar decision to "quarantine" all of the students who currently live on Hebei College of Finance due to the threat of the Swine Flu, meaning that no student can leave campus without written permission from an administrator or teacher. This weekend, our IECS team in Langfang shared some stories about their equally-immobile students who tried to "make a run for it" a tthe front gates of the school. Tim and Cameron, who came to help unpack Jon's belongings for his room (as he's still struggling to get his VISA in America), reported seeing love-sick couples locking fingers at the East gate. The freshmen, facing the challenges of college for the first time, are especially stir-crazy, it would seem, as they face the triple-threat in their first week: homesickness, the shock of seeing a foreigner, and clastrophobia (six people to a room, no leaving the campus, ect.) 

Friday, June 12, 2009

ALmost done in China

"And then he said to them all, "If anyone would come after me, he must
deny himself, carry his cross, and follow me." Lk 9:23

"Hey, Ken," I smiled and waved, looking at Ken and his teacher. "Don't
let me interrupt."
Ken was visibly excited to see me walk into the coffee shop, as he
stood up and smiled awkwardly. When I came back from the bathroom, I
found Ken sitting in the booth alone, his teacher having left.
"Ta chu nar?" I asked, prying into the whereabouts of his teacher.
"He left...I was just waiting for you."
Honestly, I wasn't excited to hear that;I was looking forward to
reading and Ken's assumption of the space to my right as we walked out
demanded the attention I otherwise would have devoted to this task--
"deny himself..."
I invited Ken to sit and talk on a bench near the campus lake.
"That's my favorite one," I said.
"The one out there under those trees?" he asked.
"Indeed, the one as far away as you can get," I answered, although
it was only about 50 yards away.
We walked to the bench and sat watching things happen in front of us.
"This is a great spot," Ken said. "You can see teh whole building
out in front of us and teh bridge over the lake."
"Yeah, and these birds flying everywhere, dipping down to eat the
bugs flying near the top of the surface," I added.
We sat for a few minutes longer without saying much, which I didn't
mind one bit, until Ken broke our silence. "Why did the Father create
humans...make us?"
I kind of turned my head toward him, squinting through the sun--or
perhaps squinting in disbelief that this question had just been
proposed by Ken.
"Um, well, Ken, that question has both a very simple answer and a
kind of confusing way to get there. Let's take a look," I said. I knew
Ken had been searching for some time now because we had had
conversations in the past about the Word and how it relates to our
lives, but here we were sitting on this bench in between lunch and the
next class period watching the birds, the trees, and the flowers,
getting ready to talk together about the meaning of life-- "carry his
cross... "
I turned to The Beginning. Ken read about how the creator made all
things with His words and made humans in His own image, then we
discussed exactly what He wants from humans. We looked at two passages
that talked about sin and Ken said that he understood that he was a
sinner and was not able to accomplish his purpose as a human without
help. With this said, I once more proposed that the Son was the only
one who could bring him back to this place. He agreed. "Okay, I
understand," Ken said, nodding with his quiet consternation. I
realized that I didn't have anything else to give him, so I asked the
only other question that stood left to be asked.
"What does this mean for you in your life?"
"I think I understand some things now that have wondered for a long time."
"So, do you want to put your faith in him?" I asked hopefully.
"I think I do. Yes, I do."
"Awesome! Let's do it." I exclaimed.
"Right here. Right? Isn't there some ritual or something?"
"No, we can right now if you want," I offered. "Okay, I want." he
answered, "but I've never done this before." --"follow me..."
After we finished, we stood up and I hugged him. We walked together
to the ping-pong tables to meet with Jon and Jack, another Chinese
Ken said to me, "Remember the time we were on the train to Beijing
and I told you that
Ken and I asked for faith and that Ken would be cleansed of his
unrighteousness. I'm honored to have seen even a small part of this
process in his life and thank the Father for revealing his heart for
his people through the circumstances of the way he drew Ken and
continues to draw each of us to himself.

I'm excited to be returning to the United States in 10 days! Life here
in China is full in many ways, but I am pleased to be involved in the
process of reunion with family and friends over the next few months.
Please continue lifting up our needs as a team for the final week and
a half of our time here:

* For the continued growth of intimacy with our Father and each other
as a team (Tim, Amelia, Jon, Emily, and myself)
* For being intentional with good-byes to our students and friends
around the three campuses that we serve.
* For grading our final exams over this final week --> patience and
endurance in this task
* For reengaging with our families and friends at home

Thank you so much for your steadfast love during our time here in
Baoding. It is an honor to be with you in this project.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Finishing the Teach year!

This weekend, all of the teachers from IECS met in Beijing with Newt
Hetrick for the last time this school year. This wasn't our goal
coming into the weekend, as we had originally had planned to have an
English Week begin in Tianjin, one of the three cities where IECS has
placed teachers this year. English Week is a time when 10-15 foreign
teachers/ believers come to visit and teach for one week, traveling
and forming meaningful relationships with students as a part of
outreach on the campus of our schools. However, due to the increased
threat of the Swine Flu and the risk of allowing it to spread in our
communities, the schools decided to implement a mandatory quarantine
of 7 days on any visitors, which caused us to eventually cancel all
three trips. Thus, we found ourselves together on Saturday night and
Sunday morning instead of beginning these English Week trips.

At one point Saturday night, I sat with Jon, Tim, Wil Corder, and
Peter Lucas-Roberts. We talked of the circumstances of three canceled
English Weeks that are such a huge part of the vision for the project
we are here to carry out.

"When do we stop asking, 'Father, we want this thing to happen,' and
start saying, 'Okay, Father, you're doing this another way...'" Jon
asked us.
"I think when you start asking for things like you're 'supposed to'
ask, it becomes you setting yourself up for failure. He's going to do
what He's going to do and sometimes asking is His way of getting us up
for it," Wil answered.
"Maybe, then," Jon went on,"when we start asking the way we're
'supposed to ask' instead of from the heart, it ceases to be a
relationship and becomes a distorted view of what's happening."
I thought for a moment and finally said, "I love watching Him teach
the twelve disciples in Matt. 6 and how he begins his asking in the
spiritual realm."
"Yeah, like a praise," Peter interjected.
"Right, and with that he goes on to teach to ask for daily bread and
needs for life: forgiveness, leadership, deliverance."
Wil perked up and added, "And you're asking for His kingdom to come
and His will to be done. Really, you're asking Him for the eyes to see
the circumstances of your life from eternal perspective."

That's really what we were there to do these past two days: keeping
our words simple in encouraging each other after the disappointment of
losing three English weeks. "It's not even so much us," Peter said at
one point,"as it is these students and the teachers who have a desire
to come here and experience this. They're just disappointed. It's hard
to keep getting up for something that keeps letting you down." For
Peter and the team of five from Langfang Teacher's College in
Langfang, China, this is the second straight year that they've lost
their scheduled English Week, as last year's was canceled due to the
earthquake in Southwestern China. Still, we're learning to take our
eyes off of what we're doing and give attention and thanks to the One.
Our time together was rich in mercy and represented a great finish to
a year of teaching and growth together.

Please continue lifting us up:
* For personal relationships with the Father: Tim, Jon, Amelia, Emily,
and myself, along with the teams in Langfang and Tianjin
* For our perseverance through the last month of teaching (our classes
end a week before our return date of June 22, 2009)
* For our English Night at my school, which will take place this
Tuesday. Emily will be speaking about Joy.
* For our common bond and common vision to be the Father, even during
the Summer months ahead.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The North Face 100

Over the weekend, I went with eight other teachers from International English and Cultural Studies and two students from Langfang Teachers College to Changping, China--a district of Beijing-- to run the 10 K race as part of a series sponsored by North Face. The race itself was fascinating and challenging for all involved (most of us were running our first race at this distance), but my favorite part of the weekend was being able to be with each other in such a picturesque setting and being able to build community with them, as we live so far away from one another and rarely get to see each other outside of large-group gatherings. We ran the race around the same resevoir where the 2008 Olympic triatholon was held.

I ran the entire race without anyone I knew near me. I had a pace in mind, but (as with many things) it was hard to continue motivating myself to push forward. The most fun I had during the race itself was running by other runners who seemed to be struggling and yelling, "Jia you peng you!" which means, "Come on, friend!" in Chinese. I don't know if doing this was a sincere encouragement to some people walking on the side of the course, but I know that I would be reinspired should someone have done this to me in the reverse circumstances. All in all, everyone ended up meeting their goals. I finished with a time of 56:30.

After dinner the night before the race

Me standing on top of the resevoir

Left: Stretching together before the race; Right: Race faces before the Start!

The Starting line

Wil Corder, Wan Li (student from Langfang, China), and I after the race

Friday, April 17, 2009

Baseball, Catch the Fever!

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to play a pair of baseball games with the Hebei Tigers, a group of rag-tag students from Hebei University in Baoding, China. We played two games total. I got to play catcher and made two errors, but also picked a guy off third base...check out these photos!

The Hebei Tigers vs. The Hebei College of Agriculture

Warming up for the game

on deck to hit

Me not swinging at a pitch


With the team after the game

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Dear friends,

Our first English Night three weeks ago was a spectacular success, with over 200 students coming out to see their English teachers, perform English songs and silly skits, and hear a lecture that I gave at the end. Too bad we couldn't relive it all again!

Or could we?

Because the five of us are the only teachers in Baoding, China currently, our team is forced to stretch between two different campuses (Hebei COllege of Finance and Hebei University) and last Tuesday, March 30th, we got to do it all again!

Front: Robert, a student at Hebei Financial College. Left to Right: Jon, Amelia, Tim, Emily, Cameron, Ryan at English Night.

We entered the room about an hour before show time, expecting to have to do a little bit of set-up and practice, but instead we walked in on a pile of cords and a large speaker, but no projector for the musical slides to be found. Frantically, we searched for ways to pull off our English Night without the proper equipment--it's truly a merciful thing that we are not allowed to do these types of things without appealing to the true source of our help.
"He easily could have let us go through this arrogantly, knowing that we'd already done the whole thing once," Jon and I later surmised. He didn't--he forced us to ask for peace that logistical matters would work out--and, if they didn't, that we'd quickly find that late-night copies aren't too expensive, after all. Either way, trust is just as necessary on this microcosmic scale.
Things did work out: we got our projector and held the English Night. For the lecture itself, I had the great privilege of talking to the and teachers present about "Love in action" (see attached Power Point slide for the lecture slides). What impressed me the most about the presentation was how much the students responded to a story that I shared with them about a time when I was in Colorado, working for a camp there for part of the Summer and had the chance to work with disabled students who were visiting for a week.
"The truths I was saying just kept becoming more vivid and real as I talked," I said later to my team, "like He was revealing them to me even as I taught them to everyone listening."
We talked later about how amazing it is to have two rooms on two different nights where students are hearing important and life-giving words spoken from people who really care about them, instead of learning about some of the other sources of English learning they have, like 'Prison Break' re-runs and magazine articles teaching them to "Beware of Advertisements!"
Our friend, Cameron, helped us with technical equipment and afterward, Jon thanked him.
"Ahh, I'm just an assistant."
"Well," I said to him, "so are we."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Who walks out through these streets tonight?

I sit at my desk tonight, outside surrounded by those
who have done and still spare the time to doze
and wonder: "Who walks out through these streets tonight?"
These streets, we speak, find well-trodden busees alight
and meeting on feet that stream through gravel
to the music of green-tinted taxis' horns.

Branches hang themselves from sheared trees in plots
every ten steps, their knots healing from the scourge.
Bicycles, primitive like the early day's creation, ride
their passengers to where the bikes will take them.
The observation happens by me like understated
hunger rising under intentional conveyance and fasting.

Thoughts let themelves come in and sip
a drink of coffee among the furniture dressed
for far-more welcomed guests. Instead, he
spills his coffee on my rug. The rag in my hand
blots, not scrubs, away most of the stain.
"Someone taught me that," I think.

It took six days to take a world asunder
and speak a land where lightning's thunder
can be felt by me and by my sons with wonder.
I chose to be killed and after three days rise again:
What will you do tonight in full view of this?

Who will carry my banner?
Who will share in this suffering?

The top of the mountain's grandeur
speaks of soft, warm breezes that curl
around my bare feet, and hers, and we stare
at the twilight nigh behind the Appalachian stairs.
This quaint moment and she are but
quiet memory among these nobling sons:

a two-by-two square of men who dare
to forsake the safe pavement's thoroughfare.
"Live it out," we speak through bustling streets
with words and eyes some here have never heard or seen.
"If this whole thing gets messy," we say and pause.
"When this thing gets messy, remember where we've been.

Give thanks and do not forsake
the giver for the gift of the day."

Comments on Bernard Madoff

Today I read an article on called "Madoff Pleads Guilty and goes to jail in handcuffs." Certainly, the implication of this man's dignity being stripped from him is real, but what struck me most about the article was that he was "avoiding eye contact with swindled investors" as he left.

Somehow over several decades, this man convinced himself and others that he was legitimately building a firm, but ended up barren in the end. Boy, do we ever see that in his eyes here. The gretest irony is the use of the word "firm" at all, as it became clear that his hope was only in scrapping the icing off of styrofoam cakes. For a man so close to the end of his days to lose even the hollowest respect for myself and others, it magnifies the duty and the fruits of peace in risking even the most awkward of situations to keep your conscience clear before man.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

One Sanyan Fruitstand

"Remeber this moment, boys.

This is the best day of our lives."

I never thought to drop even a moment's

rememberance to that fragrant embrace--

we can smell salty sea and fish,

shucked pineapple husks, and

sunburnt lips grip the tips of some tropic twist.

The store owner, young and olive skin alive,

gives us her only chairs.

We sit, three of us, in some long-held

desire for perfect unity and found

that you learn the sufficiency

of a motor cycle helmet

cruising downt he hainan biway

only after the fall.

And, above, the fireworks sing

their sweet mystery

over the sands--we can dig,

and do, to where these sands

meet the sea: there, in a puddle, we drown.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


This evening, I decided I'd step out to see who or what was waiting in the frigidness of the Baoding evening. Dawning red knit cap and knock-off North Face jacket, I went out. 

"Out" is dangerous, more so than people always appreciate. I mean, anything could happen: I could end up forgetting my key and cause a whole slew of people to interrupt their casual Sunday evenings to rescue me; I could get pick-pocketed walking across the intersection of the roads; I could end up freezing to death lying face down in a ditch after getting beat up for looking at someone across the street the wrong way; heck, I could fall in love, going "out." 

None of these things happened tonight. I walked up the street near the intersection of Qung Wei Lu and the street with the Da ren Fa supermarket, looking for my friends who congregate there some night to play a descent game of feather bag (Chinese version of hacky sack). When I was confronted with their absense, I decided to be "adventurous" and walk onward, past the first bank of China and several corner stores elling soda and iced tea. I entered one store, looking for some batteries. 

Immediately upon enetering the store, I froze at the sensational realization that I had no idea how to communicate my desire to buy six AA batteries. I looked at the store keeper and said, "Uhhh...," looking around frantically. The communication barrier almost won another battle until I spotted out of the corner of my eye a remote control. 

"Uhh, leoga jigga," I said, pointing to the back of the remote where the batteries go. The store keeper sprang into action and went to the back of the store to find the batteries. I also picked up a pack of "San haio er (3 + 2)" crackers, a heralded favorite of mine here in China. 

I paid my money and walked back outside, spotting some park benches screaming for my attendance across the street. "Out" here, I could get run over crossing the street-- there's little "pedestrian" acknowledgement here, as cars would rather swerve around you than let you by freely. I pulled out all of my Sesame Street wisdom, which taught me clearly to "Be Careful when you cross the street!", then girded up and started "out" into traffic. I got to the middle stripe, then stopped, looking to my left: a van, not 15 feet "out." I should be prudent, stay here, wait for things to clear, not be too hast---

"BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEeee....."  sang the car horn, more a warning of its presense than protest to my decision to leap out in front of its progress, then well behind me, narrowly avoiding being caught "out" between its headlights. 

There were a dozen old people in the park, enjoying the cold night. Each person was using the various park equipment strewn throughout the park: the massage chair with its bumpy seat and back rest to work out latent knots from the bodies of common workers, the monkey bars for strengthening the upper body, the 10-centimeter high balance beam that the old man in the glasses has perfected to an art form to display for gawking children in the Spring months ahead. I sometimes come to the realization watching these people that their lives are so profoundly different from mine, just the expectations for the potential of a given day. They have lived through so much change in Chinese culture; I wonder what they think of how much things have changed when they find themselves surrounded on all sides by indelible signals of this change: the bank, the neon  light of the Qung Wei Lu, the wai guo ren (foreigner) staring at them as they exercise their bodies in the park. 

I wonder the same thing of my students: what do they think of this foreigner teaching them each week? Do they care? Or have things truly changed so much in such a short time for this country that there's little effect that my presence will have for their lives? 

This is my thought for this semester, as I eat my 3 + 2 cheese crackers and do seven pull-ups in the park: don't go without leaving a dent in their lives.