Friday, June 8, 2012

The Story Gets Bigger

I want to keep you informed as to some changes that have been made in my schedule for training and the trip to Beijing. Unfortunately (but not really) the training in Colorado in July had to be cancelled. However it ended up being best for what is slowly developing into a vision and greater partnership between Entrust and Global Partners. I think the best way to explain it is to copy part of an email written by Liz from Entrust:

The inability to get enough women together for the Colorado training in July in order to present it to the Chinese women in September I feel was the Lord's confirming my check in spirit that our September meeting [in Beijing] should be more of one that...
  1.  Helps us at Entrust clearly see how best to assist.
  2. Helps us to plan WITH the Chinese for the strategic roll out of this training throughout China and get THEIR input from the outset, which will enhance their ownership of this training and not let it become simply a another program from the west.
  3. Plan at the outset how to make this most accessible and sustainable for their people. To make this self-sustaining from the outset and have them help us determine how best to do this so we get maximum impact for minimum costs. Much money is wasted when we depend on our western way of thinking rather than asking the nationals the best way to do this.
 Postponing our first actual training [in Beijing] to the December meeting will allow us...
  1.  Additional opportunity to get your women trained for co-facilitating opportunities.
  2. To get the curriculum translated into Mandarin, as we cannot go forward with the training without it, because it will leave them no option for passing it on other than lecture. Hopefully we can have the translation done by September with the new quote of $33,000 for both courses making it still quite a stretch but better than $55,000!!!!
  3. For more time, from the information glean at our September meeting, to determine if it would be appropriate to bring other partners into the project at this time or not.
Because Peggy and a team from Entrust will be going in September to lay the groundwork for the training to follow which is where I fit in, it is not absolutely necessary for me to go as well. Instead I will attend the training in Colorado in November and then go with Peggy in December to Beijing. 

I am feeling much better about this plan both for me and for the strategy that is beginning to unfold. I believe it is wise to slow down, lay the foundation for the training and prepare the men and women in Beijing for what will be asked of them. 

THIS IS BIG! The vision includes ALL of China. I am thrilled with what is happening and honored to be a part of this. Please pray for everyone involved. 

Thank you!

If you are still interested in supporting me financially, please go to my last blog post where I describe how to give to Global Partners in Hope on my behalf. So far 20% is covered.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Deeper Into Middle Country

It seems as though God keeps reminding me to only focus on the next step and not think I can make logical plans for the future. I have to accept a pattern that is developing in my life – God’s plans for me are not ones I can predict.

When I got back from China, there were three things I was pretty sure about. One, I am wanted and needed there. Two, I feel the most alive there while operating in the fullness of my gifts, education and experience. Three, I want to go back regularly.

How regular was the question. In light of finances, responsibilities and involvements at home, I figured once a year was doable.

But God seems to have other plans. He doesn’t seem to go for doable plans; he makes faith-stretching plans.

This week Peggy asked me to be a part of a team (right now it’s just the two of us) that would train the leaders she gathered during our March trip to Beijing. Peggy is partnering with Entrust to use the materials they developed and implemented in Europe and Russia for church leaders. The curriculum covers five areas in which a participant will gain typical competences: administering, discipling, evangelizing, lay counseling, and teaching through facilitation, equipping them to mentor others from a biblical basis.

This is very exciting for Peggy and Global Partner in Hope as they move forward in equipping Chinese leaders to train their own people and strengthen the believers who are eager to grow and impact their cities and their country and who deeply believe they are called to be a witness to the world.

It’s amazing to me that China is so open to outsiders who bring much needed training. The Chinese Christians are bold evangelists and house churches are multiplying like crazy. But there is a great need for leadership training. I don’t know how long this door will remain open, but I feel a deep sense of responsibility to do what I can to come alongside these beautiful brothers and sisters. The opportunity to be trained with these materials and then use them in China is incredibly exciting for me.

Believing that God wants me to step forward, this is what it looks like for the months ahead. Peggy wants me to fly to Colorado for the training in July. A friend has generously offered me a way to fly there free and the cost of the training will be covered by scholarships.

However instead of waiting a year for my next trip to China, it is important that I go in September with Peggy and a team from Entrust to get the training off the ground and use the materials with the group of leaders we started training last March.

To tell you the truth, this is a huge faith step for me and I am humbled to be asked to be a part of Peggy’s team. I love teaching, I love training, I love developing leadership and I love the Chinese people.

So this is what I need to ask and trust God for:
  1. Prayers. And I don’t ask this lightly or because every one who does ministry is supposed to. I want to participate in what God is doing and that means an awareness and sensitivity to his guidance and movement. Prayer is critical!
  2.  Financial support. I know not all of you are able to help me this way – please don’t feel obligated. But if you want to help financially, scroll down below where I’ll share the link or address where you can give (tax deductible). I’m grateful for whatever you are able to give whether $10 or $100.
  3. Church connections. If your church is interested in partnering with Global Partners and being a part of what’s happening in China, let me know. If I go regularly, I will need to raise support. Also GPiH partners with churches to send teams who want to help teach and encourage the believers there.

For those of you who have followed me throughout my China adventures, thank you for supporting me in so many ways and for encouraging me. For those of you new to my blog and China trips, I’d love for you to join me on my journeys and get a glimpse of what God is doing in another part of the world.

Most of the news coming out of China isn’t very positive but believe me when I say, there are some amazing things happening there. The believers are experiencing the reality of a “middle kingdom” (“China” means “center country”). They are navigating a Kingdom within a kingdom and it is not easy, to put it mildly. I have never heard them ask for handouts (as I have in other parts of the world), but they are definitely asking for help.

And I want to help in ways that will not hurt but will equip and build up the church in China.

For financial support:
  1. You can send a check directly to GPiH (14441 Dupont Ct. Suite 101, Omaha, NE 68144) with my name indicated on it, or
  2.  Go online to GPiH (next to your first name in parentheses, write “for Harriet Congdon”). 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Last Day and Last Thoughts

A sign at the Great Wall
which we visited on the
previous Friday
I did not post anything about my Friday (Day 8) but it was a free day spent with the whole team at the Great Wall. The day was beautifully clear with a bright sun and crisp air. Mary, John and I spent the most time on the Wall walking, climbing stairs and wiggling our way up onto the roof of a lookout fort. It was great fun to be with them. We treated ourselves to crepes filled with chocolate and bananas or apples. See the video of the vendor making them.

After the retreat on Sunday and most of Monday I stayed in the hotel trying to recover from my cold. Peggy and Liz went to Jufong's Bible study group where Liz spoke on mentoring. She inspired most of the women to figure out how to start a mentoring movement among themselves. Since there are very few older women of faith, they would need to engage in peer mentoring. A few years down the road I am expecting these women to be those older mentors for the younger ones. It will be exciting to see!

Monday afternoon I got stir crazy and went sightseeing with Peggy, Liz and Helena to the Forbidden City and to a famous "hutong," a preserved and working neighborhood built in the 1200's. It was probably not a good idea to be out in the cold air but it felt good to get outside. Helena and her husband treated us to a dinner known in the southern provinces of China. I am going to need to go on a diet!

From left: Greg, Kathy, me, Peggy,
Liz, John and Mary
Tuesday morning before leaving for the airport our whole team gathered for the last time. Kathy and Greg. John and Mary. Liz, Peggy and me. All of us remarked how easily we bonded as a team and grew to love and appreciate each other. We made plans to reunite in San Diego where the two couples are from.

Rooming with Liz was also a treat. We got a long so well. And the connection was timely for me because of her expertise in leadership training and consulting. Liz is a great listener and she helped me think through my own vision and call to ministry. She affirmed me and validated the dreams I had. It was good to have an outside voice who understood women and leadership.

Great Wall
The most frequent question I got from my sisters in Beijing was when I would be returning. Jon and I talked about this while skyping last week. We both feel I should return as often as possible. Hopefully Jon can accompany me at least once soon. In ministering to the men, Greg and John believe a men's ministry is important to develop in China. I know that Jon would have a significant impact there as well.

I saw so many prayers answered while in Beijing that I have no doubt if they are praying for me and this is what God has for me, I will be returning to them.

Great Wall

The two trips, last September and this one, have opened a window for me to gaze into the lives of the beautiful believers of Beijing. And they have opened their hearts to me. So now the question is, will God open a door for me to go regularly?

Women's Retreat - Sunday (Day 10)

Sunday, Peggy was to speak first and then I was slated to be the last speaker to close the retreat. Saturday night was rough for me as my cold reignited with fury. With a very sore throat and much coughing, I did not get a good night's sleep though NyQuil helped a little. I was worried about my talk.

From left: Mary, Peggy, me, Liz, Kathy, Fangfang
We arrived and entered the conference room before the other ladies. As they started filling the seats, I was surprised to sense the charge in the room and see lively women rather than the blurry eyes of women who were half awake, as is the norm at home. Hope started the morning with a series of questions and requests for commitment.

The first was a commitment to apply all that they had learned at the retreat and to be a Christian influence in whatever sphere they were in. Nearly everyone in the room stood up and committed themselves to this. The second was a request for those who wanted to lead some sort of group. About a 15 or 20 stood up. The third was a request for those who wanted to be a coach and train other leaders. About a dozen came forward to the front. The last was a call to those who wanted to receive Christ as Savior. We knew there were 7 or 8 women who were not believers. Six came forward wanting to become Christ followers! What an amazing time!

Mary with Aileen who heads
a ministry to prostitutes called
the Starfish Project
After this Peggy spoke about Lydia and her leadership, an appropriate and inspiring model for the women. Then it was my turn. I was still coughing quite a bit before I went up though my throat was feeling a little better. When I took the mic I asked for prayer...and grace if I had a coughing fit at any point. In the next 90 minutes not a single breath was threatened by a cough. My lungs felt completely clear! Later after I sat down I had the worst coughing fit ever but it didn't matter by then.

In my message I took the women through the genealogy of Matthew 1 and briefly described the four broken women included by the gospel writer. Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba. Stories not normally told in a culture that exalted respectable men. Then I traveled through the gospels and told stories of women Jesus encountered, encouraged and exalted. Women who were rejected by their culture and families. Women who were considered the lowest of the low. The Samaritan woman at the well, the Canaanite woman, the woman with the bleeding, the sinful woman (probably a prostitute),  the woman taken in adultery, the widow with two coins, Mary learning at Jesus' feet, and Martha in a theological discussion about resurrection. And of course the resurrected Jesus showing himself to the women first, not the men, as witnesses to an event (women were not credible witnesses in Jewish courts).

But my final destination was the story of Mary of Bethany pouring perfume on Jesus during the week he was to be crucified. This story had been the focus of one of my favorite papers for a Greek class at seminary. I love this story. And I love how Matthew tells it (ch 26). In recounting this story of devoted love sandwiched between stories of betrayal, I wanted to encourage these incredible Chinese women that God saw their acts of courage and love, that their story was part of the larger story of God, and that their story was "gospel," good news to those who saw their lives and were drawn to God because of their faith in Christ.

I ended with a ceremony. Hope and Fangfang helped me to set up a table at the front with two bowls, one empty and one filled with water. I asked them to consider what their "jar of perfume" might be, a gift to give to Jesus as an act of devotion and commitment to Christ. Perhaps a cup of water to a thirsty man on the street, a plate of food to a hungry neighbor. Perhaps a word of encouragement to a coworker. Or a bold step to do something new, something unique. Then they were invited to come forward, grab a cup and pour water from one bowl to the other as an act of faith.

Everyone came forward. After they poured their cup of water I gave each one a poem I had done in calligraphy written by Corrie Ten Boom. It seemed appropriate.

Afterwards, Hope led the women in a time of prayer requests. It was heartbreaking to hear of some very difficult circumstances. Quite a number of them shared about troubled marriages and their attempts to live out their faith in the midst of abuse or with non-believing husbands. The women were open and vulnerable with their stories. I cling to the truth that God redeems their stories and lovingly weaves them into a wonderful tapestry for His glory.

Women's Retreat - Saturday (Day 9)

Sixty women. Sixty lovely, eager, hopeful, many broken, some despairing Chinese women in one room. Listening with anticipation for God's truth. Ready with open hearts to receive His grace.

Five American women. Just bonded through the previous week of travelling, speaking, ministering and eating great food. Each with prepared talks that were determined independently and eager to be a part of this rare weekend in the outskirts of Beijing.

Then Wednesday we were told that the retreat center would not be able to allow foreigners to stay overnight in their facilities since they were not licensed to do so. Concurrent with our trip were nationwide Communist party meetings being held in Beijing. Security was tight. Having missed the Friday night activities we got up early on Saturday morning and traveled by van to the retreat. We returned to the hotel after dinner and repeated the routine on Sunday returning after lunch when the retreat concluded. Though we missed some of the Chinese speakers and their evening activities, in the end we were grateful to be able to sleep in our own beds Saturday night. And I needed it since I had caught a nasty cold.

It turned out that all but one of us had prepared a talk on a woman from the Bible as well as the Chinese speakers. The whole weekend flowed together naturally and powerfully. We arrived Saturday morning just as Mawei had begun her talk on Deborah from the book of Judges and exhorted them to "rise up, O women!" Liz followed with her talk "You Are Mine" from Isaiah 43:1. When she sat back down with us, she was nearly in tears as God ministered to her own heart regarding this deep truth. With Esther's story, Kathy encouraged the women to step up with courage while Mary used Abigail's story of wise mediation.

After lunch, the women brought out clothing and goods to put on a table for resale. All proceeds would go towards the scholarships for women who could not afford to come. They were short about $150. In the end, they raised $1,150! The extra funds would be put toward future needs in ministering to these women. THANK YOU TO THOSE OF YOU WHO ALSO CONTRIBUTED TO THE SCHOLARSHIP FUND! When the women heard how many of you had helped them to get to the retreat, they were SO appreciative.

At lunch one of the women asked me what was the purpose of a retreat. Such an experience was totally foreign to them. I explained the need to get away from the normal routine of life, from the demands of the home to focus on God and each other. I told her it was an opportunity for undistracted attention on our spiritual and relational needs. Later I heard stories of how conversations went late into the night. I heard about the activities and the tears that were shed as relationships were built and spirits lifted up through words of encouragement and hope. After the retreat I was told that the women were so impacted by the retreat that they wanted to have one every month! Don't worry. That won't happen but certainly one will be planned annually.

From left: Helena, Helen (leader), Holly,
Mawei (mentor), me, Amy, Helen
In the late afternoon the women were given two hours of free time during which I met with a small group of ladies organized and led by Helen who had asked me to mentor her in Bible teaching. We were going to walk through the first lesson of a book I gave Helen earlier in the week which surveyed all 66 books of the Bible. It was funny when I learned the names of the women - Helen, Helen, Helena, Holly and Amy. Add Harriet and you have five "H's" plus Amy. We should have changed her name to "Hamy." :-)

The time went fast and was fun though the book was not as helpful as I had hoped. I either need to find Chinese Bible study books or write my own curriculum for them. Afterwards both Helen and I agreed that she should read the lessons on her own first and then choose what information she thinks will be useful to their understanding of the Bible. Since they are doing a read through the Bible (no outside books or studies), she can supplement their reading with the tidbits of information she picks up from the book I gave her.

Unfortunately I didn't finish the lesson and I had to hurry to catch the van back to the hotel. It was a wonderful day at the retreat. I looked forward to returning the next morning to be with these women.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Two Dinners with Beijing (Peking) Duck (Day 6 & 7)

I was able to rest much of Wednesday which was a blessing since my cold symptoms had returned in the morning. Peggy and Liz were gone most of the day for a business training.

At 3 pm, Helen came to my hotel. I had introduced Helen last September when I spoke to her small Bible study group. It was my favorite evening. She and her friends were so responsive to my "story of the Bible" and were excited to read through the whole book as fast as they could. After I returned to the U.S., Helen asked me to mentor her in Bible teaching. So this day was dedicated to deepening our relationship and discussing what mentoring would look like across the Pacific Ocean.

The five hours together turned out to be more than what both of us expected as we found more areas of connection. I heard more of her story and I openly shared some of mine. The bonding was fast. Especially over a lovely dinner of Bejing duck.

I had brought with me a Bible study book that offered an overview of each book of the Bible. It was written with 52 lessons to be completed in a year. I encouraged Helen to use it as a supplement to the read through of the Bible and as a training tool for the development of her teaching skills. Since several women from her group would be at the upcoming women's retreat, we agreed to find time to meet so that I could go through the first lesson with them. Furthermore I wanted to assess their comprehension level and learning styles.

Thursday was the second coaches training day in which Liz taught about goal setting and team building. I and the other women on the team had an opportunity to meet with the coaches in smaller groups in order to get them started on applying the principles of goal setting to their vision statements. I spent time with the two women who were interested in counseling. It was a blast! But it was also easy because these women had already started working on goals. These women are sharp and enthusiastic!

One of the women wanted to talk to me about homeschooling because she had heard a previous talk in which I mentioned my experience in it. Her daughter was 6 years old and about ready to graduate from Christian kindergarten (apparently illegal in China). There are no Christian schools beyond kindergarten and the public school in China has some challenges including classes that have 60 children or more! You can imagine how this affects the kids. The homeschooling movement is just beginning in China. It'll be interesting to see if it becomes a part of the educational landscape as it is in the U.S.

I also had an opportunity to ask two of the women about the dynamics of Chinese marriages. It was interesting to hear that in the current culture, women are trained to dominate over their husbands and demand submission from them. They said men are becoming more passive. Not good. But I also wanted to find out what their ideal dynamic was. Did the church teach submission of wives to husbands? They said yes, but only to balance what the wives were doing to husbands. Their ideal was mutual submission rather than a hierarchical view of authority. That was fascinating to me.

We returned to the hotel experiencing a bit of an adventure and a scare. The training was located in an area of Beijing that did not have very many regular taxis. We had to negotiate with two "private taxis" to get a fair price for the five of us. Peggy and I took a car that rattled all the way to the hotel. I could tell he needed new brakes badly. We nearly fainted when the driver made a left turn straight into the path of a bus! It didn't look like it was going to stop and neither did our driver. With both Peggy and I staring out the right side of the taxi, we passed with only a couple feet of clearance before the bus braked.

After a little rest, Peggy and I had dinner with Judy who picked us up at the hotel with her driver. I mentioned meeting her at the kindergarten. She took us to her favorite Chinese restaurant where we met a close friend named Rita who had introduced Judy to Christ. It turned out Peggy had met Rita last year on a previous trip.

It was a lovely dinner of, again, Beijing Duck. It's such a tasty dish that I did not mind having it two nights in a row. Now I will associate duck with memories of two evenings with three lovely Christian Chinese women.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

100 Fold Kindergarten and Qinghe Bible Study (Day 5)

Today, Tuesday, was a very long day for me, especially as I felt a cold coming on. But it was also a very rewarding day.

Peggy, Liz and I travelled to the outskirts of the city to a Christian kindergarten school called "100 Fold," a name based on Matthew 19:29. "Kindergarten" ranges in age from 2 to 6 years, basically preschool. The principal, Ann, is a lovely young woman who volunteers her time to run the school because they don't have enough money to pay her.

During the morning session, Liz taught a group of moms whose children attended the school. She talked about God as Father who delights in His children and considers them His own. She also shared about the importance of community. They loved her stories.

Afterwards she opened it up to questions and they asked about parenting. The topic is hot in China!

After a wonderful healthy lunch of rice, seaweed and vegetables, I had the afternoon session with a dozen of their very young teachers. Based on my church's recent series on vocation, I presented a "theology of work" with a focus on their roles as teachers. I told lots of stories from my experiences as a homeschooler as well as Jon's as a high school teacher.

Later, Ann came up to me nearly in tears with a long hug. Before the session,
a teacher had asked her what the topic was but Ann did not know. Apparently Mawei who also volunteers at the school had picked my topic off the list I offered. Ann then told me that it was the perfect topic for what she was facing
in the school. Many of the teaches were discouraged and one had just quit. Feeling discouraged herself, my words brought her hope. I was deeply humbled by her response because this topic was my least favorite to prepare. But God used it despite my own feelings!

A woman came to the kindergarten sessions though she had no children there. Judy is a close friend of Mawei's. Later as she and her private driver gave us a lift back to the hotel we found out she was a business woman in
real estate. With her slim jeans and tennis shoes, we had no idea of her affluence. Judy and I talked quite a bit as I heard her story and her desire to be a great mom to her son.

Before we got out of her car, Judy arranged a day to take us out to a very nice Chinese restaurant. She was delighted to discover that the dinner would fall on a special day - Woman's Day. Wow! They have a day in China in which they celebrate the women with festivities and perhaps a part of the day off of work! We need a day like that in the U.S.!

By the time I got to my room my body started to really ache all over and my throat was feeling sore. I tried to take a nap but couldn't. At 6:45 pm Fangfang, my translator, picked me up and on the way to the Bible study we prayed for God's strength because she was also feeling exhausted. Even before we arrived, my aches disappeared as well as Fangfang's exhaustion.

The Bible study group was part of a very large church that splits into smaller communities throughout the week. When I arrived, there were 30 or more men and women. After 30 minutes of singing (they were learning new hymns), I proceeded through the "story of the Bible" in the next 90 minutes!

I presented six major themes of the Bible and told them I had two basic goals: First, that they would appreciate and value the Old Testament as being very important to their New Testament faith and understanding, and second, that they would see their own stories as being part of the larger Gospel story which was a romantic love story of God's pursuit of humankind.

I couldn't tell what was going on in their brains but they seemed to be following me. Afterwards, I ended up being surrounded by a half dozen men wanting to ask questions. One wanted me to come back next time I came to Beijing. Whew! I thought I had blown it and lost them. Fangfang later assured me that I was very clear in my teaching. She had no problems translating the journey through the whole Bible! It was a fun evening.

We finally left after 10 pm and I crashed when I got back to the hotel.