Monday, January 17, 2011

More to Come

    The group is back, but the sharing of photos will go on. Over the next week of so if you scroll back to earlier posts you will find some photos added from the events of those days. We also hope to add a post on the events of this past Saturday, which was a very full and stimulating day.

The After Photos

Group boards the van to leave Tao Fong Shan

Logan Airport again

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Goodbyes, but not Endings...

    To end our adventure in China on a Sunday was perhaps the most fitting culmination of what our trip was supposed to be.  We awoke to leave our hotel at a reasonable time (0800) only to find that the food which was supposed to be sent to our rooms was not going to arrive before we left...this start to a day being hungry and grumpy was a true test of faith (lol).  But we persevered it made it to worship at the Mei Ling Christian Church in downtown Shenzhen.
  Although we did not understand most of the service (as it was in Chinese, with no translation), we felt God's presence in the music, and hospitality of the congregants.  During this worship, we were invited to be participants as we shared with our Chinese brothers and sisters (some 2000 persons) our "renditions" of Amazing Grace/My Chains are Gone, and a musical interpretation of Psalm 100.  Whether or not we sounded good, we were given a great deal of applause.

In the distance....Prof. Heim preaching and Hiiutung translating
Below, the church--it's so big that it is hard to get back far enough to take a picture, so this is from the front of their brochure

Group outside the Mei Ling church in Shenzhen after Sunday worship

 Professor Mark Heim (our fearless leader for this adventure) was also asked to share a brief message with the congregation.  He shared with our Chinese brothers and sisters a passage from Luke, chapter 24 verses 13-32; the story on the road to Emmaus.  What Mark had to say was beautiful, and this passage has been the text/theme that has inspired our group throughout this trip.  To summarize (almost too simply) that passage reflects the hope to see Christ in the other, through the other, and from the other, understanding that it is our new experiences and interactions with strangers that can have the deepest impact on us as Christians.
   After service, we once again had another HUGE meal, with the head pastor of the church, and a few other brothers and sisters from the congregation.  As we left lunch, there were a couple of young waitresses who wanted to share a song with us.  During the song, one young lady pulled Jordan toward her during a line which translated as, "I want my new husband to come home".  Jordan was then a big hit who got his picture taken with all the young ladies...boy was he red (We love you Jordan).
  Following lunch, we then spend a short time at a large fiber market where many styles of cloth and fabrics were sold.  Some of us bought scarfs, while others of us were soooo disappointed there were no suits that we could buy (who else do you know can say I got a suit tailored in China).
    Aside from these wonderful times, we finally made our way back toward Hong Kong (Yay Passport Control...not).  We are now back at Tao Fong Shan, our starting point.  Many have gone to bed, and others are packing.  We know that for now it is time to say goodbye to this beautiful country, but our faith in light of this trip is just beginning.  There are no ending to this story, only a newness of faith, a newness of reality, and especially a newness of our perspectives on Christianity around the world.  We look forward to returning home, and seeing all of you, our loved ones, our families and our friends.  Thank you for your love and support as we strive to learn to be the best clergy we can for the grace and glory of God.  God loves you, and so do we...see you soon.

Saturday, January 15

     After the fact, we can add in notes about our Saturday, which involved another move...this time from our hotel in Guangzhou to another in Shenzhen. We traveled by van from Guangzhou to the outskirts of Shenzhen where we had been promised a "light, simple lunch." We pulled up at a small local restaurant where we were treated to a lavish meal that contended for Erica's title of best meal ever. Our host was the owner of local factory, who then took us to the factory, gave us a tour and sat us down with his top management for a talk in their board room. The company makes solar panels for sale all over the world, but mainly in poorer areas, as they make them very inexpensively. He runs his business as a Christian enterprise, with Bible study twice a week for all employees, though 90% are not church member Christians. Some are believers, but do not belong to churches, and the company is their faith community.

The group at the NZX Solar Electricity Technology Company in Shenzhen with the owner GuHaiBo
   This stop was tailor made for Catherine Merrill.. The calling that brought her to ANTS is a vision for how the church can be a missing link in overcoming global poverty by connecting business entrepeneurs with the distribution systems and integrity needed in many struggling economies.

         In the evening, our group became guests of honor at an event that brought together a Christian businessmen's association in the Shenzhen area (based in the Mei Ling Christian church we would attend on Sunday) and groups from various churches in the area. It was a lively event with praise music and enthusiastic testimony and even more enthusiastic hospitality as many people came up to greet us, despite our lack of Chinese and (usually) their lack of English. Three members from our group--Tonia Petty, Erica Pettiti and Brandon Harrington--shared their testimony. And the entire group sang a couple of songs,with Kim Salico-Diehl on the keyboard and Brandon Harrington on the electronic drums.

Jordan Daigle and group at the Saturday evening rally'
Below-- Erica and Tonia share their witness.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Friday, January 14, 2011

Friday Blog

This morning was spent on retreat in our hotel in order to reflect on our journey thus far. Mark opened by once again lifting up Luke 24: 13 – 35. As the disciples' eyes were opened to see Jesus, our eyes have been opened, as we have encountered our Christian and Buddhist brothers and sisters. A second theme was raised by Hiu Tung, of pilgrimage. Our trip has been one of pilgrimage for each and all of us. Much sharing occurred around both themes.

The afternoon was spent in free time, and some of us revisited the Temple, and others went sightseeing and shopping at Beijing Street and Jade Market. In the evening we shared a meal and conversation with four Christian brothers and sisters from churches here, Alison, John, Paul and Charlie. Our group felt blessed by this experience!

Group late Friday evening with house church friends

Bits and Pieces

Bits and Pieces
      Although our hearts and minds are always full of the new places and people we are experiencing, we are equally touched by the sense of Christian community that we share as a group. Each day one of us takes on the task of blogging about our activities, and one or two others lead our devotions. A couple of the group with musical gifts have helped the rest of us make a presentable musical sharing for our hosts in various locations.
One of us is very knowledgeable about Chinese poetry, and  every day distributes to each of us a slip of paper with one or more poems for the day.We have a gifted photographer in our group. Others do the loading and unloading of luggage in the van. Three of our number cheerfully tripled up at the hotel here for the sake of our logistics. And at each step along the way one cares for another--keeping the 16 of us connected when strung out through crowds in train stations or on the street, seeing that someone is weary and could use a break or some tea, administering either warm sincerity or spirit lifting humor. It's hard to imagine this group without any one of us in it and we all feel we have come to depend on the others and the whole for gifts that go beyond what we can muster ourselves.

Catherine Allard and Gale Grayson

Kimberly Salico-Diehl and Catherine Allard

Above, Erica, Brianna, Joyce and Mark
Below, Brandon, Kim, Catherine and Erica

       A special place goes to Hiutung Chan, director of the Tao Fong Shan Christian study center in Hong Kong, our true leader. Hiutung's unruffled manner, gentle humor and deep insight are daily gifts to us. We travel not only on the road paved by his preparation of all our logistics, but even more on the network of personal relationships he had built among Christians  and those of many religious traditions across this whole region. We can clearly see what respect our various hosts have for him, and the many ways we benefit from it. It is a privilege to be his companions.

"A Place Beyond Knowing"

Thursday, January 13, 2011

There is a line from a poem by a 5th century Chinese poet, Hsieh Ling-yun which makes reference to a state of life that is “Wandering a place beyond knowing.” Our visit to China has been just that in so many different ways. Yet we are getting to know a people and a culture within this place, and it makes our hearts glad.

After a lecture on ancient Taoist principles of balance in food for healthy living, we visited the open herb market where large bags of beautiful mushrooms and spices, roots and branches of various shapes, colors and smells were open to see and enjoy. Owners, families and children were in each stall and people were pushing whole sale containers into place. All of it made for an amazing cultural experience as we began to enter the rich tradition of “wholeness and healing” as experienced in Chinese culture.

Dried herbs.....

and dried snakes....all part of the traditional medicine market in Guangzhou

This experience was followed by a lunch that gave us a very specific sense of how the herbs are used in the preparation of one great tasting meal after another. The balance in food addressed the basic needs of the soul to live in concert with what the earth creates. In some way or another we were all back in the Garden of Eden and we left the meal graced by the tradition.

We then visited the Guangxiao Temple and Zen Monastery. It has a rich tradition that reaches back 1700 years. Our guide was a monk who serves as the Guest Host. While we thought he was leading us through the buildings and spaces of the monastery, we later realized that he was creating space for relationship in which we could “wander a place beyond knowing” with him.

Their 6th patriarch in the 7th century said "Your heart is your Buddha," which is a key thought for the monks of the temple.

              A large statue of Buddha is central in the temple, and he is flanked by two historical figures: his nephew Ananda who memorized Buddha's sayings, and Kasyapa, whose life embodied the hard, disciplined way. Symbolic representations of Wisdom and Compassion flanked them.

Main hall of  the temple
            Radical Hospitality was recognized in the Guest Host, an amazing gift we graciously received.
             Our meal together following the visit to the Temple was a wonderful opportunity to eat together and later to pray as a Pilgrim People, sensing the wider compassion and the deeper wisdom in which we wander throughout our lives. Open before us is the awareness that the Spirit moves among us as we wander in a place beyond complete knowing. And so we resonate and realize our own growing as we share with this great people in this amazing land.
           Our thoughts begin where words end,          
              refining dark-enigma depths.” 
                                                 --Po-Chu-i, 9th Century poet

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Wednesday January 12, 2011

Wednesday, January 12, 201
    Note: our blog posts have been delayed, because now in mainland China it is not so easy to connect to all of the internet. We will post when we can.

Today we left Hong Kong and took the train to Guangzhou in China. One of China’s largest cities, Guangzhou is in the province of Guangdong, and is located in the southern part of the country. The trip was smooth, the train clean and comfortable, and the staff on the train wore lovely hats with a bright red trim, offering us coffee and tea (for a small fare) with a smile.  Entering China, with our passports and Visas in hand, proved to be quite simple. Some of us even fell in love, as if for the first time, with the immigration officers’ uniforms—a beautiful navy blue. And at least one of us almost, I say ALMOST, asked if she could take one home for herself (the uniform, not the officer) but her better judgment seized hold of the moment, so she just smiled at the officer with glazed over eyes.
The group at the seminary with president (far left) and faculty
         Our first visit was at Guangdong Union Theological Seminary. After a lunch at a restaurant in town, we toured their library and met with students and faculty for a time of sharing. The needs of the library are great. There are few theological books written in Chinese. Most of their library is written in English. The students have difficulty accessing the English books, so they are primarily used by the professors. Even with this great obstacle, the students’ desire to learn is so strong, that they soak up every bit of information that is available to them.  Later in the evening, when we met with the chairman of the Three Self Church Movement in Guandong (the entire province), we learned further that the greatest need for China’s Protestant Churches is a stronger education. There was a special emphasis on training teachers for seminaries. Many of the professors at Union Seminary have studied in the United States; their president has  been in the U.S. and visited Andover Newton. 
The library at the seminary

The dormitory wing of the seminary
We meet in small groups with students from the seminary.

       In our meeting at the seminary, we shared music through singing. The students all participate in the choir, a required course, and sang a Psalm using hand movements—they sang with a joy that came from deep within, we could not help but sing along. They were ministering to us. We broke into our groups and discussed our respective schools, the requirements, the coursework, etc. We learned of their deep sense of call. We learned that these students, after earning an equivalent to a bachelor’s degree, then return to their home churches to serve in a pastoral capacity. In one group we asked the question “What would you like for us to say about you to our friends back home?”  One young woman answered with great compassion in her voice: “Tell them that we pray for your youth, we pray for your young people; that they turn back to God.”

Students singing at our meeting