And We're Back! What has happened since the last blog entry, Part 2

It isn't easy to write about what happened during my visit to China, not for the lack of things to say, but for the fact that one must be sensitive to the need to cover the believers living there and maintain their privacy. If it seems that at times I am being vague, it is for this reason. I do not want to jeopardize the work of God being done there.

When we awoke the next day in Beijing, we showered, dressed, and took the subway then walked to a nearby home to meet some believers there. 

Riding the escalator up out of the subway
We saw this interesting advertisement for prenatal photography services on the way, and I was reminded of pictures I had seen recently of Danielle Bednez shortly before her daughter was born.

Maybe Jen Lynch can add this to her list of photography services...
We were greeted warmly and served fresh homemade bread and yogurt and big segments of pomelo to eat. A thirteen-year-old boy led us in worship, playing an upright piano, and then Pastor Steve spoke to us from the book of Philippians, the New Testament book God had laid on his heart as the source for all the messages for the next two weeks. This was the foundation message, and he took us to the book of Acts to show us how Paul, Silas, Luke, and Timothy were called to Macedonia to meet Lydia and other God fearing ladies who worshiped beside the river outside Philippi every Sabbath day. It was surprising to hear how the Holy Spirit closed doors to sharing the Gospel in other places to get Paul and the others to go to Macedonia and meet these women outside the city since there was no synagogue in Philippi. I was reminded of the simple beginning of our ministry brought about through the prayers of two ladies in Maine who prayed for God to send them a pastor. The message continued with the earth shaking event that made the first new converts to the church in Philippi - the earthquake resulting from Paul and Silas' singing in the Philippian jail, which brought about the salvation of the jailer and his household.

After the meeting, three believers were immersed in the waters of the bathtub, including our young piano player whom I shall refer to as P (as in Piano Player) from now on. One of the three was a man who came out of the bathroom weeping. It was one of the most moving moments for me on this trip, for I had never seen anyone so broken by this experience. He is a relatively new believer who needs prayer, because his wife took his newborn daughter and moved back in with her parents, and she refuses to see him. He is a sweet, quiet man, an artist who is trusting God to keep her from making their separation permanent. I watched him from then on and saw his walk of faith over the next twelve days and admired his quiet confidence in God. I will refer to him as Q (as in Quiet man) from now on. We ate a delicious lunch and then went to the train station. While waiting for our train, we looked for a place to sit and rest. Dawn and Kikko spotted a booth where facial cosmetics were being demonstrated and went and allowed the Chinese salesladies to show them the benefits of their products. I walked the perimeter of this enormous station, poking my head into various shops to examine the goods (I spent the longest time in a bookstore), but ended up back at the cosmetics booth where a chair was vacant. I was persuaded to sit at the counter, cleanse my face, and have a mask applied for the recommended fifteen minutes. Since I was a non-Asian man getting this treatment, there was suddenly much curiosity about this product, and people came to look at me and the goods for sale. My picture was taken by many people, including the sales ladies, and here is a photo I took of myself:

I love the curious boy in the background looking at the strange American guy wearing a mask.
We boarded the ultra-fast train to Tianjin

This train can go up to 210 mph. Its average speed is 145 mph.
and that's where Tain decided that he wanted Kikko to apply his mask:

I think he looks scarier than me.
In Tianjin, we were met by one of the biggest bouquets of flowers I have ever seen, brought in greeting by our gracious hostess, whom I will refer to as G (for Gracious).

Emily is not holding the bouquet closer to the camera to make it look bigger. The bouquet is actually that big and required both of her two arms to embrace it.
We followed G to the subway where the flowers drew almost as much attention as Emily's blonde hair. Everywhere we went, men could not help but stare at Emily's hair and fair skin, and it was fun to watch them watch her and then look away when she looked in their direction. In one train station, I watched four young men switch lines to get in the same line Emily was in. She didn't believe me at the time, but I watched them smiling and talking about her and then quickly scoot over to where we were lining up, acting as cool about it as possible, not wanting her to notice. We ended up joining G's husband (I will call him H for Husband Host) and high school age daughter (I will call her R for Racer, since she competed in a 100 meter running relay race) at a restaurant known for its hundred different kinds of Chinese dumplings. A lot of dumplings and other dishes were ordered so that we could sample some of Tianjin's famous cuisine:

The front door of the restuarant
I loved these! They tasted like cranberries.



No, I did not eat this. Asian people have difficulty believing that I do not like to eat fish.





This was one of at least ten kinds of dumplings that came to the table. If you look closely, you can see a paper ticket on the left side of the plate. It has the number of the chef who prepared your food, so if you do not like it, you can send it back to him to do over. Or, if you really like it, you can request that particular chef to make you more. 

After dinner, when we all thought we could not eat another bite, two cheesecakes appeared on the table, one welcoming us all to China and one wishing me a happy birthday. We ate the birthday cake after I butchered it trying to slice it with chopsticks.


From dinner, we went to a service with the Tianjin body. Pastor Steve spoke again from Philippians and I was able to reacquaint myself with one of my favorite Chinese people (who I will call F for Favorite) that I met in Korea earlier this year. He is a teenager who is studying at home, and he speaks English well, and, fortunately for me, he doesn't mind talking to me. He doesn't always understand me (not my words, but my ways), but I think he sometimes enjoys my company. I sat with him during the rap and we had a good conversation where he shared some of what was on his mind about his life. A couple of times he said, "I don't know why I'm telling you this." (Don't worry, F. I'm a good listener, and people find that I'm easy to talk to.)

After the meeting, H, G, and R brought us to their house where G presented us with gifts - cute, fluffy fleece blankets for the girls, and colorful quilted blankets for the guys along with towels and pillowcases, since we'd have need of these at the retreat center later. Tain and I slept on the living room floor and were quite comfortable. Pastor Steve slept in H's office, and Dawn and Emily slept in a spare room. G was so happy to have us all staying together under her roof, and her joy made us feel blessed and welcome.

The next morning brought us a breakfast that I would call, "the best of Tianjin," because H went out and bought a variety of Tianjin breakfast foods for us to sample, and I must say they were all tasty. But after all our eating, we needed to get out. R was at school, but Emily wanted to go running, so we contacted F to invite him to meet us at a nearby park. H and G showed us how to get there and we met up with F and his dad. It was a cool day and threatened to rain, but it was nice to be out in the fresh air enjoying each other's company. Tain didn't have an umbrella, so he made himself a rain hat out of a plastic bag.


As you can see from the picture, the park has a body of water at its center, and wide pathways encircle it, making it an ideal place to run or, as we saw, walk briskly with one's co-workers during lunch break. Here are some views from and in the park:







A crab gets revenge on Tain for cooking so many of his brother and sister crabs.












F getting ready to help Tain get an extreme close-up of the lotus flowers.


The ox head where Tain, F, and I posed for a photo since we were all born in the year of the ox.
After our walk, we got to try an unusual beverage which I will show in this picture. To me it tastes like dried bread crumbs from a loaf of good French or Italian bread. Not everyone liked it, but I did. The drink is made in Harbin, a city to the north of Tianjin which has Russian influences in its culture, including this beverage which is a variation of Russin kvass.

Sorry, F. You were in this photo, but I cropped you out.
Pastor Steve let me know that I had been asked to share an introductory message in the service that evening, so I spent some time getting some thoughts together during the afternoon. That night, we had another Chinese feast. Here's another sampling of the Chinese dishes we ate:

















Crazy, huh? When you go into a Chinese restaurant, you are often presented a large, hardcover book which is the menu filled with page after page of color photographs of all the dishes available to order. It's like reading a catalog. You need some who speaks Chinese to explain what you are looking at. After dinner, we went to the meeting and I spoke on God's desire to be our most intimate friend, the friend who will never leave or forsake us, no matter what we do. Until we know Him personally, it is hard to imagine how intimately He knows and loves us. He is like a person we see from outside a nice restaurant where He is hosting a party. We see Him with his back to us, mingling among the guests, but we cannot hear His voice, we cannot taste His food, we cannot hear the music the guests are enjoying as they eat, and sometimes we wonder what in the world is going on with Him and "those people." There's a big sign welcoming all who would to come
in and join the party, but many people don't go, and they miss out on knowing this wonderful person who has paid for them to come and feast with Him. Pastor Steve spoke from Philippians about their giving hearts, and challenged the members in the service to consider giving of themselves to ministry in their Jerusalem and Judea, since there is need of men to help with the work.

The next morning, we relaxed while Emily went running and R ran a race at her school, and then packed up and went to another restaurant to eat some sort of fish dish that Pastor Steve and Tain really wanted while they were in town. I was not tempted in the least to put it anywhere near my mouth no matter how much the others raved over its supposedly marvelous flavor. I contented myself with the other dishes on the table and the abstract artwork, all by one artist, hanging throughout the restaurant.












Okay, okay. I can hear you saying, "How many pictures of food is her going to show us?" Well, since I cannot show you pictures of Chinese people, I am showing you pictures of Chinese food instead. You really ought to go to China and meet the people and eat their food. They are both delightful and memorable. Here is the dude you see when you come upstairs into the dining room.

H said something about this guy being a kind of  Chinese Daniel, but then he was deified and people burn incense to him. Argh.
After lunch we visited R's school where Pastor Steve shot a few hoops with some of the high school guys.




We walked back past the restaurant to head to the train station and I saw some lions and an interesting window display.


We came back via the speedy train to Beijing with H, G, and R and visited the home of P who had baked not one, but four cheesecakes. Four cheesecakes! We ate a delicious meal cooked by a Chinese brother who had lived for a while in Hungary (his potato salad had me going back for thirds, maybe fourths) and had cheesecake baked by my piano playing thirteen-year-old friend.
Hungarian goulash

Two of the four perfect cheesecakes










My little slice of cheesecake heaven
Pastor Steve spoke on Euodia and Syntyche from Philippians chapter 4 and we learned about unity in the body of Christ and how we can all esteem one another higher than ourselves. There was a lot of unity in the room that evening, and I was asked to lead singing in our gatherings until we left for the retreat, so I looked through the Chinese songbook to see if any of the songs there were familiar to me. I made lists and saved them on my phone that evening and then went back to the hotel with our group to sleep.

The next morning, we went out to eat Chinese breakfast at a place near our hotel that Kikko had found. Because it was a national holiday, many places were closed or, like this one, open but short staffed, so the full menu was not available and menu items were not replaced when they ran out. As we stood in line for food, we saw items coming off the display board. I settled for millet porridge and an oil stick, a sort of fried dough thingy. I stirred a little sugar into my porridge and sprinkled some sugar on my oil stick and enjoyed every simple, inexpensive mouthful. My breakfast cost me less than a dollar.


That was another wonderful thing about China. The food was inexpensive as well as delicious. For some of those feasts, we paid anywhere from $5 to $7.50 per person to eat, far less than what we would have paid for the same quantity and quality of food in America. Back at P's house, I made friends with a little guy who was curious enough about my phone to approach me and abandon his giraffe long enough to put it in his mouth.

So cute!
I led singing with P on the piano and Pastor Steve preached again from Philippians, revealing more and more of the background behind the book as he prepared us for the retreat. William arrived from Korea and joined us. It was a rain day, but we convinced P to take us out for a walk to a local park where he likes to play basketball. On the way back, we stopped at a convenience store to find a Snickers bar for our American sister from Kunming and were successful. It was on this outing that I learned that P not only knew how to make cheesecake, but also tiramisu, and that he would have made some if he had been able to find mascarpone cheese. I decided then that I would find some for him if I could. That evening, there were even more people attending our dinner and fellowship time as people arrived from many places before the conference. Tain began cooking Thai food, especially crab dishes, since people bought them and brought them for him to prepare. I led singing again, and I think this was the evening that we sang There Is None Like You and it was very anointed as so many joined in and sang these true words. We heard about how suffering is used by God to bring us and others to Himself, and that we are to rejoice as Paul and Silas did after being beaten and confined to the painful stocks in the bowels of the inner prison.

After an identical breakfast of porridge and oil sticks, we returned to fellowship on a lovely day singing This Is the Day That the Lord Has Made and were fed even more spiritual food. After lunch, some of us went out to explore a part of Beijing where there is a store called Jenny Lu's which sells American grocery products. On the way we stopped at CoCo for bubble tea (William really wanted some). 





At Jenny Lu's I bought a can of A&W root beer and splurged on a container of mascarpone cheese for P. We walked down through embassy row and found ourselves in a shopping district. William and I window shopped in some ritzy stores





We gave up all hope of finding anything remotely affordable and wandered down the street to the less fashionable section where I saw a long line waiting for big pieces of fried chicken breast. William and I were hungry, so I bought one for about $2.50. It took us a long time to eat this spicy, warm, juicy chicken, which really hit the spot. You can see the guy in the sign holding up his big piece of chicken.


Returning home, we found that another Thai crab feast was under way (I opted for the non-seafood items he'd prepared). I was lucky enough to get one of the last slices of cheesecake before our meeting began. There's something very special about meeting in a home with other believers, singing, and listening to a message from the Word. Maybe it's the closeness, the intimacy, the ability to sprawl out with a pillow on the floor (my favorite listening spot) that makes the experience that much more special than the usual church meeting. The place was packed with people intent on the message, and God spoke to us, preparing our hearts for the start of the retreat the next day...

Comments

  1. Sooo much food. Ha, no womder Ten is always hungry. We had him over for Thanksgiving before and I was amazed how much he could eat.

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