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

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Reaching the Peak

In this day's exploration of Faith in a New China this group from Andover Newton Theological School experienced many peaks. We began the day having the opportunity to visit Tao Fong Shan's gift shop and see wonderful artistry for sale. We then gathered together with our brothers and sisters from Luther Seminary in Minnesota to have a pannel discussion about Faith in a New China. Our guest panelists were Rev. Jonathan Hu, Dean at Eastern China Seminary; Dr. Raymond Huang, Professor at People's University in Beijing; Dr. Otto Lui, an expert on House Churches; and Dr. Jason Lam, Research Fellow at Institute of Sino-Christian Studies. These four men provided much insight to us about Christianity in China, the influences of the Chinese government on Chinese Christian churches, myths and truths about House Churches. Andover Newton and Luther Seminary people were able to ask these four men questions of topics they desired more understanding. Having the opportunity to meet and speak with these men was the first peak of the day.

The second peak of the day was when some of the attended a Taize service for prayer and meditation at 12-noon, as we were invited, and the service was led by the leader of the Luther Seminary group. This half-hour service brought peace to mind and heart. The service included singing in latin, "Laudate omnes gentes" and "Christe Salvator," prayer, and a moment of silent contemplation. After the service we gathered for lunch, Andover Newton group, Luther Seminary group, and guests Rev. Hu and Dr. Lam.

Tonia Petty and Sheldon Hurst
The Chi Lin Nunnery grounds
After lunch we traveled to Nan Lian Garden at the Chi Lin Nunnery. This was the third peak of our day! We had with us a most wonderful and kind guide for the day, Josephine. The architecture is built with no nails; built like link 'n logs. The gardens had the most beautiful bonzai landscaping. Within the Lotus Garden were four golden Buddha alters. Below the gardens, in the temple, Nuns took part in worship and you could hear their chants broadcast throughout the Lotus Garden. Being able to walk the spacious gardens brought serenity and amazement. Peace was brought to the heart and mind through the design of each bonzai and the landscape of the entire gardens. There was amazement to the maintenance of each plant to maintain it's design. Towards the end of our visit to the Nan Lian Garden at Chi Lin Nunnery, the lay nuns emerged from their service, gathering in the front entrance of the Nunnery and Garden. With their faith so strong they all removed their robes of brown and yellow, enjoying one another's company, and so they scattered in socialization.

Sanctuary in the Won Tai temple

Josephine, our guide, and her great aunt.

devotees come for fortune telling
The third peak of the day was walking along the grounds of the Won Tai Shin Temple. The temple greeted us with shops decorated with items of reds and golds for sale, items for good fortunes, items to bring to the alters to ask for good fortune, and sticks of insense. It is here at the shop outside the Temple that we had the pleasure of meeting Josephine's great-Aunt. The Temple also greeted with preparations for the Chinese New Year. At this Temple we saw statues of the two dragons: Mother with baby under her foot and dragon with the world under it's foot. There were three golden Buddha alters, two small alters and then the larger alter (the main alter). Before the main alter were people praying with sticks of inscense, people shaking their container of fortune sticks, and people tossing onto the ground their fortune-reading pear-pits. In the front of the main alter was a display of the twelve animals of the Chinese New Year. Beyond the main alter and the statues of the twelve animals were several fortune tellers. After taking in the view of the Wong Tai Shin Temple grounds, Josephine brought us to the nearby mall to dine at a friendly Chinese restaurant.

The fourth peak of this groups day was the ascension, by bus, to Victoria Peak. Once at Victoria Peak we entered a mall, ascended to the mall's "Green Terrace" (roof top) to take in the view of Hong Kong. Victoria Peak is located on the western half of Hong Kong Island. At an altitude of 1,811 ft., Victoria Peka is the highest mountain on the island proper. The view was breath taking. The night view of Hong Kong all lit-up was better than any post-card or camera captured picture could capture.

Then for some there was a fifth peak to the day, the experience of the all known "Golden Arches" (McDonalds). Although we have all enjoyed the native Chinese food and have loved the tastes, some of us just needed to have a very familiar taste; a burger and some fries.

All of these peaks in this day's experience were breath-taking, peaceful, and full of amazement. What an experience in China so far as we learn and observe the Faith in a New China. Not only do we have the opportunity to interact with Buddhists and Chinese Christians, but we also got to share with brothers and sisters from Luther Seminary in Minnisotta, USA. We are thankful for the good teachers we have and have had. Dr. Hu shared with us a saying, "If you have a good master, you can be a good student."
We have been enjoying one another's company and laughter! "God is good all the time, all the time God is good!" Being given the opportunity to reach these peaks, God continues to show just how good God is!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Interdependence Day

The day began with a lesson in Chi Gong by Hiutung Chan for a group of us who are interested in learning the practice. We stood alongside the most beautiful outdoor labyrinth I’ve ever seen and exercised our imaginations and bodies as Hiutung led us through two of the eight styles of Chi Gong.
Our first adventure of the day was to Ngong Ping 360 on Lantau Island (home of the Giant Buddha). We traveled first by bus and then by cable car. The bi-cable we hung from in glass “cabins” runs for 5.7km (approx 3.5 miles) over Tung Chung Bay and a series of gorgeous green mountains. We will be uploading lots of photos when we return from our trip. For now if you wish to see the Giant Buddha or other attractions of Lantau Island you can go to
The first great ascension of our day was on the cable car. The second was up 268 steps where the Giant Buddha sits 34 meters high and is surrounded by six beautiful bronze statues of devas presenting offerings to the Buddha; all of which symbolize characteristics or values of Buddhism. 
We were blessed with the freedom to “walk with the Buddha” at our own pace and with our own intentions. The weather was beautiful, the photo opps were plentiful and our energy was ripe for blessings. There was a lot of playfulness (and maybe even a little rambunctiousness) among members of the group during our morning adventures.
After lunch we visited a Buddhist Temple and it was like entering another world. The beauty of the Chinese architecture, the incredible hospitality shown us, and the joyful presence of the Abbot (head of the monastery) was overwhelming. I suddenly found myself capable of no other state but reverence.

Our friend Hiutung had a long afternoon serving as interpreter between the monks and our group – we thank you, Hiutung! We learned about the monastic life of the monks, the Sutra stories expressed in murals on the walls of the Temple; and then so much more when we sat down around a large table with the Abbot and the founder/Dharma Teacher of the Temple for tea, a most delicious fresh fruit salad, and a question and answer session.

Hiutung and the Abbot communicating with us.

The founder is 85 years old and has been a monk since he was 12! We were blessed to hear him chant (as chanting is the primary practice for the monks at this temple) and to learn of the remarkable accomplishments of this humble man. Among other things worthy of mention, he founded the Interfaith Forum in Hong Kong which engages 6 religions. Buddhists believe in interdependence; that without help from other sentient beings we cannot survive.
I realized at the end of the long, full day that the Buddhists weren’t the only energy force in the universe reminding us of the beautiful truth that we are interdependent beings. We as a group have been relying on each other from the beginning – whether to survive travel related phobias; to be woken up in time for breakfast; to meet a dietary or other need; to order food in a Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong…the list goes on. The most profound reminder though was the experience three of us shared during our free time this evening. We decided to visit a bi-lingual, open meeting of the 12 step program of AA. Testimonies of experience, strength and hope were shared; sobriety for addicts made possible by admission of the truth that without help from each other, we cannot survive.
Now for the blessing of sleep...

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Gathering for Scattering

Most of our group photos were organized by Brianna who otherwise was more often behind the camera than in front of it.                                              
This morning's service at the Tsung Tsin Mission of Hong Kong Whampo Church developed their theme for the year, Gathering for Scattering.  It seems like a good theme for the day.

We gathered for worship in Cantonese, with Dr. Chan providing translation in our ears.  The worship space, at the top of a commercial building had images of birds flocking toward the central altar as you moved into the worship space.  On the way out, the birds were scattering, spreading the Word shared during the service.  Music is music, Spirit is Spirit, so even if we only understood a fraction of the service, we were part of another community called together in God's name.

Brandon Harrington visits with a member of the congregation.

After a Dim Sum Feast (huge table, 17 folks around, a dizzy lazy susan), we headed to the Kowloon waterfront to stroll in the smoggy sunshine, looking over at the architecture and mountains of Hong Kong Island.  Folks gathered and scattered around the statue of Jackie Chan.  And they gathered and scattered around a cardtable staffed by young women giving away bibles and Christian literature.

We had the privilege speaking with Rev. Bobby Lo about the 163 year history of the 26 churches in his denomination.  Founded by missionaries from Basel, Switzerland in 1847, the Tsung Tsin Mission has begun to send foreign missions back out into the world, including to serve the Chinese diaspora in Switzerland.  So what was gathered from Switzerland to be scattered all over pre-Communist China is now gathering in Hong Kong to scatter in Switzerland.

We also got to hear much more about Rev. Lo's work with the official Three Self churches in mainland China.  His primary concern is getting training for the Christian leadership called to serve the ever increasing number of Chinese Christians.  The Three Self churches come in all sizes, from the magnificant, seating 7,000 in one service, to the sweet bamboo circular church which brings 25 souls together as a body.  Whether Rev. Lo was speaking of his preaching or strengthening the relationships between the churches, seminaries and training schools, he emphasized the critical need of faithfully serving believers gathered together in order to power the witness and love necessary to bring the Word into the rest of the world once they scattered again.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Arrived in Hong Kong

We're all settling in to Pilgrim Hall, our residence here at Tao Fong Shan. We had a good flight--15 hours---from Detroit to Hong Kong. Hiutung Chan met us and took us to the study center. Everyone is off to bed in various states of exhuastion, but eager for tomorrow when we will be up for breakfast and off to church.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Chapel at Tao Fong Shan Christian Study Center in Hong Kong

                This hilltop location is where we will be staying in Hong Kong.

The Basics

This trip is a border-crossing immersion class for Andover Newton Theological School, part of a curriculum that trains Christian leaders and those in other religious communities for leadership in our pluralistic world.  The brief course description follows below. You can learn more about Andover Newton at

Faith in a New China: Global Christianity in a Multifaith Setting
BCIM  645 W  
Professor Mark Heim  and Dr. Hiutung Chan
Dates  January 7-17, 2011

Course Description:
This immersion class will involve travel in Hong Kong and the southern coast of mainland China. It is conducted in partnership with Tao Fong Shan, the Christian Study Centre in Hong Kong, which is a border crossings partner with Andover Newton. The class will focus on the Christian church in China: the reasons for its dramatic growth, the challenges of its life in a communist state, the variety in its internal life. It will focus secondarily on Buddhism in China and on the traditional religious elements of Chinese culture as reflected in traditional Chinese medicine. We will be based for part of the trip at Tao Fong Shan in Hong Kong and for part of the trip in the city of Guangzhou.

This class fulfills the Border-Crossing Immersion Integrative Catalyst.  It can also be taken as a free elective.

Preparing to Go

This morning Erica Petitti sent a message around to our group as we look toward our departure tomorrow.

Good morning!

On this day of Epiphany, the day the magi from the East arrived at Jesus' cradle, 
I am struck by the beauty of the  movement of God's Spirit through the ages, as our group packs
to travel to the East on a journey of faith.  Keeping our group in my prayers, as we prepared to travel learn from our Christian and Buddhist brothers and sisters.

See you tomorrow.