Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Beijing, part 1

My arrival in Beijing had one parallel to every arrival and departure thus far—I made it, but was late getting in after a long flight delay getting in.  Leaving Mianyang (where we traveled to see CAVA’s work in nearby Feilong), we found our flight delayed 2 hours.  When we boarded, they announced another delay due to “bad weather” in Beijing (later, when we got here, no one seemed to know about bad weather).  We knew it would be interesting when they served the meal on the ground before we left!  Finally in the air, we got to Beijing Capital Airport a bit after 1 am, and in a small providential grace, my suitcase was already on the carousel by the time we got there.  We met our driver and headed to Myron’s apartment, arriving at 2 am, collapsing at approximately 2:05 am into bed.

Our first day in Beijing started with a visit with Diane Lichtensteiger, director of CU’s ERAP program that provides English teachers to a number of schools in Beijing.  Her long term leadership has meant great stability for the program, and her long time connection with GBC has meant that we have been closely connected with the ERAP program from its inception (Myron was its first director).  I had a great opportunity to hear from Diane about the year being completed, and the special challenges and opportunities that the ERAP program faces.  Since the meeting took place at People’s University, it was a stroll down “Memory Lane” for Myron, as Diane actually lives in one of his old apartments from his days teaching there.  We did get to eat at one of the university’s newer cafeteria/restaurants for lunch.

A scheduled afternoon meeting was delayed, so we headed to the hotel/apartment where the Blumenstock family would be staying, to make arrangements there and drop of some supplies.  We headed to the airport to greet them upon their arrival, and after going back to their hotel, we walked to dinner at “The Great Wall Restaurant.”  Their hotel is just down the road from Myron’s apartment, and the restaurant was in walking distance to both. 

Jim and Karen are here (along with their daughter, Ella) for a month to begin work on a research and teaching project with Asia Biblical Theological Seminary (ABTS).  This project received one of the three grants that GBC is facilitating.  The research is meant to measure opportunities for theological training in China, and the instruction is focused on doctrinal instruction and discernment.  Jim is one of three full time faculty members at ABTS and is its interim dean, and Jim and Karen grew up at GBC and have been sent out by us, so my day was spent with special members of my GBC family!  Jim (as interim dean of ABTS) will be working alongside a local pastor and church to establish the framework for the teaching, and possibly to begin instruction.  Other faculty from ABTS will rotate into Beijing in coming months.  This has the possibility of greatly expanding ABTS’s reach and influence, and filling a great need among China’s believers as well.  It is an exciting opportunity for us to help along.

My new “cultural experience” took place this evening—a traditional Chinese foot massage.  If you are thinking comfort, think again!  Traditional Chinese medicine believes that pressure points in the foot are connected by “meridians” to the various organs of the body.  Pressure and manipulation of these points should affect the corresponding body part.  I don’t know if it works, but it turned out to be an occasionally painful, generally relaxing, sometimes startling, and immensely enjoyable experience!  I don’t fit the standard issue pajamas that they give you to wear, though.  I would have to lose a LOT more weight to get close, and probably a few inches in height, too. 

Sunday, May 29, 2011


My first days in China have been spent seeing aspects of the work of CAVA—the China ActionLove Volunteer Association (ActionLove” is not really one word in our language or Chinese, but it was crafted this way to emphasize the need to show love in our deeds).  CAVA was the vision of Huang Lei, whom we know as “Job.”  A house church pastor, Job had a vision to help house churches to work together to respond to humanitarian crises.  CAVA was created a few months into 2008 out of this vision.  No one could know that the need and opportunity for such a ministry would come so soon or be so great. 

The tragedy of the Sichuan earthquake on May 12, 2008 became the impetus to mobilize house church Christians from 12 provinces to respond to the emergency.  CAVA created teams that came to the center of devastation.  By May 19, three teams were working on the ground within days of the quake to help rescue and relief efforts, bringing aid, and later working in resettlement camps with refugees.  They then turned to seeking longer term solutions to help people rebuild their lives and address their deepest needs.

Community centers, where people could gather and find resources to address local needs and concerns became CAVA’s strategy.  13 centers have been created along with a kindergarten.

On Saturday, May 28, we visited the kindergarten.  Sixty children of the village of Pengzhou attend, and Belinda, the Taiwanese director, leads an educational program that is in the process of being licensed by the government.  Various other community activities are hosted at the site.  We had lunch there with Job and others, and heard of the plans to use kindergartens as a possible platform to respond to a need the government has acknowledged and is struggling to meet. 

While there, we participated in a worship time for all of the CAVA volunteers from the various centers.  What a privilege to be with so many who have given months or years of their lives to serve in this region.  Most of the volunteers come from house churches in China, although others have responded from Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Malaysia.    I didn’t know the words of the worship songs, and my translator had trouble keeping me up with what Job said as he spoke, but the passion and commitment of the people serving was palpable. 

I  couldn’t help but think of growing up hearing stories of China—both of missionary days before the Communists came to power in 1949, and of the “Bamboo curtain” that had cut China off from the world and, we thought, the gospel.  But as Paul wrote, the gospel is not bound.  We now know the church continued underground for decades.  What is so encouraging about the current situation is the new-found boldness and openness of Christians from the house churches, encouraged in large part by the positive reception to their ministry in Sichuan.

Today (Sunday), we traveled to Feilong, another village that was rebuilt after the earthquake.  A farming region, Feilong was transformed as the government built large housing blocks and moved the farmers into new homes in the middle of the fields that they farm.  The Feilong Community Center was built and staffed as a result of generosity expressed by GBC at Harvest time.  It was amazing to drive into the village and come to the corner that our center occupies.  The director, Zhang Ying, and his wife Tian Hui, greeted us and a group of young girls performed a dance routine as a welcome.  They showed us around the center, and explained the opportunities and challenges they face.  Like many rural villages, Feilong has lost most of its young people and young adults.  Out of the thousand or so people living around the center, less than 20 were in the 15-35 year old range.  There are children and older people, often grandparents raising grandchildren while the children’s parents have gone off to bigger cities to find work.  In seeking to make contact with the community, the center offers programs for children, a lending library, and visits families as needs are discovered.  Two of the young girls who welcomed us were sisters whose father is gone and whose mother has leprosy.  The staff heard about this through the girls, and have been able to help support this mother and her daughters through the generosity of GBC.  It was an incredible blessing to look around the center at its furnishings, equipment, and staff, and be able to praise God that we had the opportunity to provide this.

A more pressing challenge is different points of view between levels of government over the center’s freedom to continue.  The county government has said that the community centers must close (there are eight in the county).  However, the local government wants the center to continue, and has even donated a TV and some books to the library.  This is an important matter for prayer—that the hearts of the officials would be turned to allow Feilong and the other centers in the county to continue their ministry.

Wang Hui, our driver for the day and, more importantly, the supervisor for Feilong and two other centers, encouraged us to pray earnestly this next month for the work to continue.  He also said that our visit reminded him that he and his co-workers are not alone, but that believers elsewhere are standing with them.  That is the message we hoped to carry, and the one that he and others seemed to need.  He remarked how it blessed him that we would “suffer for Jesus” in coming to see their work, but I gently corrected him, telling him that seeing what God is doing in and through them is not suffering, but makes our lives rich.  There is nothing so humbling as seeing someone who has (in his case) left his home for three years, lived apart from family and friends in an area destroyed by earthquake, who thinks you are suffering when you fly over, stay in nice hotels, visit, and then go home.

Pray for the people of Sichuan, one of the least reached areas of China.  Pray for Job, the leader of CAVA.  Pray for Wang Hui, Zhang Ying and Tian Hui, the supervisor and directors of the Feilong Center.  Pray that the light that has been brought to Sichuan through these and other brothers and sisters in response to the earthquake would shine in the hearts of the people.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Greetings from China!

Hello all!  I’ve arrived after lengthy (and delayed) flights in China, and have begun my travels here.  It was good to connect at Beijing airport with my host and friend, Myron Youngman, and journey together to our first stop, Chengdu.  This “second tier” city of 16 million (China has approximately 175 cities of 1,000,000 or more people) is the provincial capital of Sichuan, the area most effected by the earthquake a few years ago.  Efforts to rebuild and restore lives continue, and that will be the first visit we make today—to a center associated with CAVA, a Christian relief organization based here in China, and the first of its kind to work in cooperation with local governments as it does its work.  Friends and family at GBC may remember a visit from “Job,” the founder of this group, who introduced us to this very new opportunity of response to the needs created by the earthquake.  These centers have sought to help people meet pressing physical needs, but other needs as well.  We have been involved in development and function of one of these centers that I hope to see Sunday. 

Having last been in this beautiful country in the mid 1990s, I have already been impressed with the huge strides made in the cities in terms of infrastructure and sheer growth.  I’m sure that will hit hardest in Beijing when we return there, but even the airport I flew into was the third generation from the I arrived in 15 years ago—and a massive testament to the business development and wealth of this economic powerhouse.

More later, but for those wanting to keep posted, I am 12 hours ahead of my EDT home, so just think half a day ahead and you’ll know what time it is here—and all of China is on one time zone, so that’s even easier.  Myron sends his greetings to all at GBC, and so do I!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

A Good Review of a Book That Critiques Another Book

Now that is an odd title, and this is an odd post to mark my return after some weeks of silence. But my friend, Doug Phillips, has written a great review of Michael Wittmer's Christ Alone, which is a response to Rob Bell's Love Wins. Wittmer's book is the best and longest response thus far, in part because it tackles more than just Bell's new ideas on eternal punishment. But you may not have time to read all the responses, or even Wittmer's whole book. Doug's review will serve you well. Then, you may go ahead and decide to read the book!

Read the review here.