And We're Back! What has happened since the last blog entry, Part 4

Airport security in Peking was tight. It was easy enough to collect our tickets to Harbin from China Eastern desk and to pass through passport control, but when we got to the "empty your pockets and put all your belongings in a bin and walk through this metal detection machine," some of us grew uncomfortable. Everyone who passed through the metal detector had to step onto a low platform and place their feet on the two feet painted there, have a wand detection device passed their bodies, and then had to be patted down. It was the pat down that had people squirming, because people don't like strangers touching their bodies. I saw people standing with their heads back, staring at the ceiling, trying to pretend they were somewhere else and this was not happening to them. It didn't bother me, perhaps because once you've been manhandled by 20 kindergartners all trying to hug you at the same time, an airport pat down is like a butterfly brushing up against you. 

Tain got into an argument with one of the security people about something they said was in his bag, but could not find in it. They had seen a suspicious looking long object on the X-ray machine screen, but when they pulled aside his bag and made him empty it, the object wasn't in there. Fortunately, this incident happened to Tain and not the rest of us who could not speak Chinese, because they were not going to let him go until they had seen this mystery object, and he had to argue with them in Chinese. It turned out that the object was a piece of plastic of some sort, and that it was in the bag of the person in front of Tain, not in Tain's bag at all. We later figured out that this group of security personnel were young trainees being watched over by their supervisors, so they were doing an extra-thorough examination of each passenger and his belongings.

Sitting in the departure area, Tain made two young friends who were curious about us. They knew some English and spoke with Dawn, answering questions about their names, their ages, where they were from, and other basics they had mastered, but with Tain they could speak in Chinese, and they were very friendly and enjoyed laughing. Before we boarded our flight, Tain had gotten their contact information and arranged for us to be in a group photograph with their family. This happens to Tain all the time. He has a gift of befriending strangers everywhere he goes. He invites them to wherever he is living at the time, and they end up inviting him to visit them. On his last trip to Thailand, he helped strangers from Italy find something they had lost, so now he has an open invitation to come stay in Italy if he should ever find himself there.

Landing in Harbin, we reconnected with the amazing Kikko, translator extraordinaire, and Q (the Quiet artist guy we had met in Beijing). William was met at the airport by his sister who is living and studying in Harbin.We all got into taxis and rode to our hotel which was near William's sister's apartment. After checking in to our nice rooms (no broken in half toilet seats in this place), we went down the street to a restaurant specializing the Chinese barbeque of this region. Everything was grilled in short, thin, metal skewers - meats, vegetables, even bread, after being seasoned and, in some cases, basted with some kind of oil. When Tain asked us how many skewers of meat I wanted, I thought maybe one would be enough, but he said, "I always get at least five. Get five, and then you will probably want more." I was expecting big, long skewers laden with meat like shish kebab I'd eaten in Greece, but what came out were small pieces of meat, grilled to perfection.

The plate is about the size of a small saucer for a coffee cup.
Tain was right, and we all ended up ordering another five skewers a piece. We also ate grilled slices of potato, grilled chicken heart, grilled lamb (that was Pastor Steve), and wonderful, flaky slices of grilled bread, which was more like a savory biscuit. Our beverage that evening was Pepsi, and we clinked glasses and toasted our safe arrival in chilly Harbin. Full of good food, Emily, WIlliam, and his sister headed out to another cafe for coffee and the rest of us (with the exception of Q who was staying with his parents) headed to our hotel for glorious hot showers, soft, white towels, and sleep on comfortable, if firm, mattresses. Pastor Steve had caught my cold and soldiering through every day we were in Harbin, taking hot showers, drinking orange juice, taking vitamins and cold remedies, and sleeping whenever he could. I was glad we had a decent place for him to rest.

The next morning, we stayed in our rooms for a while resting, waiting to see what sort of plan Tain would pull together for the day. He had spent a couple of years living in Harbin studying Chinese, so he had many friends there that he wanted us to meet. We all met him at an appointed time and began walking to a restaurant owned by people he knew, but when we arrived, it was closed for the holiday, so we walked back to the street where our hotel was to eat at a different restaurant. During our walk, Kikko had met a young woman from Tanzania who was studying in Harbin, and she was swept up in our entourage, since she was a believer happy to meet other Christians. We invited her to partake of our meal, but she said she had come just for the Word, so Pastor Steve shared a late morning devotional, after which she left. I think we were all a bit too much for her.
It was in the restaurant that we met some fish who looked like they were smiling.

After this late breakfast, we walked back to the hotel where Q and his father were waiting for us with a minibus to take us to see some sights in this historic city. Harbin is in the northeastern part of China, and it has Russian influences in some of its older buildings. There is a street still referred to as Russian Street where you can see a famous cathedral and other examples of Russian architecture. Harbin is also known for its universities which attract students from all over the world. Harbin is a center of engineering and scientific research and development. It also has long, cold winters which make it the ideal location for its annual winter festival where ice carvers from all over the globe come to compete. The sculptures last for a month or more after the competition ends due to the low temperatures. Q's father is an award winning ice sculptor who has competed in Europe and North America. 

Sadly, Harbin is also the site of a great atrocity. During the era when Germany and Japan attempted to conquer Europe and Asia, Japan built a horrible place where they developed chemical and biological weapons and then tested them on Chinese civilians. Like the Nazis in Germany, the Japanese conducted all kinds of gruesome, inhumane experiments on living people to see the effects of their weapons, and to test the limits of the human body under severe conditions. The bodies were incinerated in furnaces. When the Japanese knew they were going to lose the war, they tried to cover up their crimes by burying their weapons and destroying their facilities. The weapons are still being discovered today, and people are still being harmed by them. The remains of the testing and development facility have been transformed into a museum, like the Jewish holocaust museums, to document what was done and to remember those who perished. This was the first stop on our outing. It is a place of great significance to the Chinese people, because the Japanese have not acknowledged this dark episode in their history; therefore, it is like an unclosed murder case that causes bitterness. I took some pictures while I was there. I didn't take many inside the exhibits, but I took a lot outside, because it was a beautiful, warm, fall afternoon and the lighting was good. I wanted to be outside after witnessing all the evil, inhumanity inside where it seemed freezing cold.

The front doors
A wall sculpture on the back side of the building
A sculpture in the courtyard
A side of the building
I found myself trying to find some beauty in the midst of all the ashes. I wandered down the side of the building that you can see above and looking out through the fence into one of the neighborhoods.

The people who lived around this terrible place while it was in use said they didn't know what the Japanese were doing. They thought it was just another factory producing stuff for the war. God must have known that I needed something to lift my heart, because music began playing from the school next door. It was a marching song, and the students who had been playing basketball and standing around talking a few moments before, lined up by class and began marching around the school courtyard. I took pictures of them and some of them lost step as they stole a glance at the foreigner.

This guy stopped to tie his shoe and sneak a peek at the photographer
When the marching ended, I looked around for something else to snap photos of. I found this guy trying to take a selfie in front of the building...

...a couple of bicycles near the main gate offices...

...something that reminded my of GGCA on the sidewalk near where our minibus was parked.

This guy tried to get into my picture of another eagle. He was so annoying.

When I decided to lie down on a bench near the bus, a group of elderly Chinese men came over to check me out. One of them asked me if I spoke Chinese, and I opened my eyes to see his face above mine. I sat up and shrugged my shoulders with a smile, not knowing what he had said. Tain laughed and translated as the men moved on.

After the museum, we moved on to a shopping mall in a part of town where there were many modern apartment houses. I browsed in a bookstore and discovered that the Wimpy Kid books are popular in China too.

A boxed set in Chinese 
We ate a snack, and had fun watching a Chinese candy salesman try to guess Kikko's nationality. She said she'd buy his candy if he could guess. He also tried to guess the nationalities of the rest of us. I was Canadian. We bought his candy even though he was wrong. Our presence at his stall brought in all sort of other curious customers who made purchases. I took a picture of the lanterns outside the mall entrance as we left.

We returned to our hotel area and went back for more meat, vegetables, and bread on skewers. This time we were joined by some of Tain's friends from Harbin. One of them was a Thai guy working on his advanced degree on a scholarship. (I want to have somebody pay me to go to school to earn a degree!) He hit it off well with William and his sister. Tain suggested that we order some pork skewers, just two, so he and I could try that kind of meat. The waiter arrived with two skewers and I picked one up and began chewing on a rubbery piece of meat. It was getting stuck in my teeth and was the worst tasting piece of pork that I had ever had. Except it wasn't pork. It was beef tendon. Tain had ordered himself two skewers of beef tendon. The pork still hadn't come. Everyone had a good laugh about that. A similar thing happened the next day in a restaurant when I didn't notice the little white paper on the bottom of a white dumpling and I ate it paper and all and didn't realize why my dumpling was so chewy until I saw Emily peeling the paper off hers. Both tendons and papers required lots of toothpicks and effort to remove them from my teeth. <sigh> 

The next morning, I met Kikko and Dawn downstairs in the hotel lobby so that we could go in search of a Chinese street breakfast. It was drizzly and blustery and at times our umbrellas threatened to turn inside out and blow away. We went up and down streets looking for an open breakfast stall, but many were closed due to the weather. Kikko asked mothers with children for advice where to eat and we were directed further and further away from our hotel until we eventually ended up at a university cafeteria where Kikko asked students to order food for us using their dining cards, after which we reimbursed them. I had my old standby oil stick and millet porridge. 

The bustling cafeteria
On the way back to the hotel, I stopped and bought some 100% orange juice to help Pastor Steve get some natural vitamin C into his body. I felt bad about giving him my cold. Our plan for the day was to visit Q's parents at their home and eat lunch with them. We got ready and rode there in a couple of cars. We were greeted by Q's mom and dad and their little dog. 

Tain and William were the chefs for the meal, and went straight to work cooking Thai food with the ingredients Tain had brought. The rest of us were treated as royalty and served all sorts of treats - candy, pears, fresh dates, tangerines, tea... and it seemed we would not have an appetite left for Tain's meal. We got to see Q's father's ice sculpting trophies and view pictures of his work, and he showed us how he planned each piece and then how he and his helpers did the actually carving and joined the pieces together to make massive, magnificent works of icy art. He also sculpts with snow and said that is his preferred medium since it shows subtleties better. He said that besides the ice from the rivers in Harbin, the best ice he ever used was in the U.S. - very clear. The table groaned with all the food Tain prepared.

This was when the first few dishes were put out. By the time all the food was on the table, there was almost no place for our plates!
One of our goals that day was to share the Gospel with Q's parents, since he would dearly like them to know Christ, but it was not easy getting them to talk about this subject. They were fine with Q being a believer, but they were content with worshiping some female version of Buddha that was supposed to give them financial prosperity. They never considered any sort of religion until Q's mother brought home the idol as a piece of art to decorate their home and then Q's father experienced success as an ice carver. Now they burn incense to the idol every day and leave offerings for it. Isn't that insidious? The devil can use blessings of prosperity to ensnare people and blind them to the truth. Fortunately, Kikko and Pastor Steve were persistent and creative in their approaches to sharing Christ, and we are praying that seeds were planted in their lives. I kept watching Q while we were there. He was quiet and let his friends do the talking, but I could tell that he was hoping and praying that God would use this time to start a work in the lives of his parents whom he obviously loves very much. 

One of the things I learned about China is that people there were encouraged to make the communist party their god for years, but then the party abandoned them. Now people worship Mammon, either in the form of prosperity idol Buddhism like we saw in that home or in the idol of materialism where people go after money and things since this is the only existence they will ever have and only material things matter. I think that some people of the younger generation see that this is a lie, that it doesn't fulfill the longings of their souls, and that there must be more to life than killing yourself to get an education so that you can get a job that earns a ton of money so that you can live comfortably and until you die. These are the ones turning to Christ.

After the lunch, Pastor Steve, Emily, and I went to find cake at one of the cafes on the street behind our hotel. We ended up at Cafe Bubu eating homemade banana cream pie and chocolate lava cake. 

The chocolate lava cake is on the left and the homemade cheesecake is on the right.

Slices of homemade banana cream pie.
It was fun. Emily had told us about this spot, because she had been there with William and their friends the night before. While we were ordering, Pastor Steve asked the young lady minding the cafe if he recognized Emily, thinking she was working the night before when Emily had been there. The young lady took one look at Emily's blue eyes and blonde hair and said, "She's a superstar?" Yes, that's our Emily. She's a superstar.

That night we met some young men and women who wanted to meet Pastor Steve. They were friends of Tain who were members of small churches, and they wanted guidance and direction. They said that they lacked spiritual mentors, older disciples of Christ who could teach them how to be Christians, how to disciple other new believers. These were people in their twenties and early thirties who had come to know Christ in university and had been under an American pastor for a while until he was asked to leave the country, and now they were trying to figure out what to do on their own. Their hearts are on fire for God and they deeply desire to know and serve him and to win other Chinese to Christ, but they want direction. Pastor Steve spoke with great wisdom and answered their questions with discernment. He comforted them in their situation and let them know that God was in control of their circumstances and that He would not leave them hanging. Pastor Steve has a great ministry of teaching and edifying others in their callings, and he really helps people see what God can do for them as they rest in faith and God's love. He's really a great example of a Finished Work believer. 

Pastor Steve and I returned to the cafe street after dinner and went to another establishment owned by believers. I was about to order what I thought was an interesting kind of cheesecake when Tain came in. He asked about the cake I was looking at and said, "You don't want this. It is durian cake." Phew! I hate durian fruit. It tastes like rancid sweatsocks to me. Pastor Steve ordered an Americano and noticed a group of four Chinese girls celebrating a birthday in the corner. They had already eaten portions of two whole cakes. Pastor Steve asked Tain to ask them if they'd mind sharing their cake with us, so he did, reluctantly, and the girls were excited to do so. We each got huge slices of a cake which had seven layers colored like the ROYGBIV spectrum with red on top and violet on the bottom. The frosting was a light turquoise whipped cream. 

The remains of my slice of cake.
She came and sat at our table for a picture and we said we wanted to sing her happy birthday, so her friends recorded our serenade and, I think, uploaded it immediately to some social media site. We made them happy and we got free cake in return. What a way to end another day.

The next morning, Kikko, Dawn, and I went to Cafe Bubu and had homemade breakfast sandwiches with egg, bacon, cheese, and mayonnaise on toast. 
Breakfast sandwich
We also had to try the cheesecake that the young lady's mother had made. It was MMM-MMM-GOOD! We bought Pastor Steve a sandwich, a coffee, and another container of 100% orange juice for his breakfast and returned to our hotel for a rest.

After our rest, we went by subway to meet some of the believers Pastor Steve had spoken to the night before. We ate lunch with them in the restaurant where, as I mentioned previously, I ate a dumpling, paper wrapper and all, and then we went through a mall to get to the believers' house church. In the mall, I bought some scones at a bakery. I gave two to Kikko to take my friend F. She was going to be staying at his family's home that evening. I texted F and told him Kikko was bringing him a gift from me, and then I told her that the first gift was a smack on the back of the head and that he'd know what it meant. She promised she'd smack him then give him the scones. Later he sent me a text message that looked like this:
ME: So I guess you got my gift, huh?
F: well
F: gifts
ME: Which did you like better?
F: bread
F: Smells good
ME: You didn't like the head slap?
ME: I'll try to think of a more appropriate way to greet you next time.
F: maybe give me bread every time

At the house church, we gathered around a table for three hours as Pastor Steve spoke and answered questions. The young men who head up this church and two others took notes the entire time. I spoke with one of them during a break. He was glad for the input and told me that his church is all college students - new, young believers. They were hoping to start new churches near other college campuses, which is where most of the churches in Harbin are located for convenience. People showed up throughout the three hour session as they got off work or out of class. It was a tour de force for Kikko who translated for us right up to the moment she had to leave to catch a flight back to Tianjin. God knew what He was doing when he sent her to us for these two weeks.

After our time with these believers, we took the subway to Russian Street to see the sights, 

The beginning of Russian Street

I was tempted to eat here...

Dawn poses on a fake ice sculpture (it's not the season yet for the real thing)

eat a high class dinner, 

and meet another of the young men who wanted Pastor Steve's counsel. We took a cab back to our hotel, and then Pastor Steve and I went with him to Milk and Honey cafe to talk, it being one of the few cafes we knew that prohibits smoking in it.

No smoking, but Chaplain the cat is allowed.

Pastor Steve answered this young man's questions about how to effectively disciple young people who are in his church for only two years while attending school. He also gave him some wisdom about how to serve God without getting discouraged or burnt out in well-doing. Before we left, there was a plan of action and warm embraces all around. Pray for the work of these young church leaders in Harbin. We hope to connect with them again and support and encourage them as much as we can.

The next morning, we were up early and off to the airport for our flight back to Korea. Our time in China had been more profitable than we could have imagined, because of much prayer for us and because we have a God could ever ask or think (Ephesians 3:20). 

Korea is a great launchpad for ministry into other Asian countries. I'm hoping that one day there will be Koreans from our church serving all over the globe like the Finns and the Hungarians are today. I think Korea has that potential. Pray for some Koreans to go to MBC&S as Jongil Park did who is now serving in Costa Rica. Koreans are amazing believers and it would be awesome if more went to Bible college here and in Baltimore. 

Pray for Asia. Sometimes I feel very far away from home and that not many people think to come this way when they think of visiting a mission field. It isn't as convenient to get to as other places, but it's worth the trip if you come. People in Korea and China and Thailand and The Philippines and other places in Asia need to see your faces and to feel connected. I wish there were a pastor who made it his mission to visit us every year like other countries with missions works are visited. I'm hoping this blog makes people more familiar with Korea and the other places I visit and makes them want to consider coming here to visit or to serve. Over 20% of the world's population lives in East Asia, which includes China, Mongolia, Korea, and Japan. Come see it for yourself. By faith. Maybe God will make you fall in love with the people He has here too.


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