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.