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 car...now 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.)