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.

video


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)


video

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.

First Coaches Training (Day 4)






Monday was spent in an all day coaches training session led by Liz. Peggy has begun focusing her ministry in Beijing by identifying and training a small group of women who will coach their own teams in leadership skills and ministry development. Liz was the first to provide training.

Liz began by presenting the three "A's" of leadership: Appreciate who we are, accentuate our uniqueness, and activate God's vision for our lives. She allowed a significant amount of time for them to identify their personality type, gifts and talents and then skills and experiences in the past that might help clarify their particular passion and ministry. Each woman had an opportunity to share their story about one of these categories.




The first to share was a young woman named Helena. Her story was one of fighting depression. As she sought counseling, nothing helped until she accepted Christ and found a Christian counselor. Because she experienced healing, she now wanted to be a counselor for others who also battled depression.

As her story unfolded, I listened in amazement because I had been asking God to reveal to me a woman who had a passion for counseling during this trip. Before leaving Portland I had purchased an extra copy of Kitchen Table Counseling by Muriel Cook and her daughter Shelly Volkhardt to leave with someone. I also found out before leaving that the book was in the process of being translated into Mandarin! I felt strongly that it would be useful for ministry in China among the predominantly lay-led faith communities.

I felt certain that God had answered my prayer as I listened to Helena's story.
Then my amazement grew when another woman shared her story and passion, a woman already leading and deeply involved in ministry. Mawei who had a degree in psychology shared about her ministry and desire for biblical counseling. I had met Mawei during my September trip. Here I believe God had identified a woman who was gifted in leadership and could train other women in counseling skills.




Before lunch was served, Mawei, Helena and I had a long talk about such a
ministry. I told them I would bring the book to the second coaches meeting on Thursday and encouraged them to meet and read the book together. Later in the afternoon, I found a third woman named Jili who was also interested in counseling. Jili and Mawei were already close friends who met regularly together.

I am so excited to see this answer to prayer, to know that God has already been working in these women and preparing them for what I believe to be a significant ministry. There is very little Christian counseling available to the Chinese believers. This is a very new thing!

Liz, Peggy and I got back to our hotel late in the afternoon exhausted but thrilled with what God was doing in this first group of coaches. Liz had given them an assignment to complete before meeting Thursday - to write out their vision statement. We found out the next day that the women stayed long after we left and continued talking and processing. God is connecting these women in a significant way so that they can encourage each other as they seek God and His calling in their lives. Yea!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Sunday at a House Church (Day 3)

Today Peggy, Liz and I were able to attend a Sunday morning worship service at an urban house church led by Josh and Sabina, a mature young couple with a toddler and baby. Peggy arranged it at the last minute after I asked permission to visit a Chinese church.

Sabina with little Promise
Located on the 25th floor of a high rise, we walked into a small apartment filled with at least 60 people and several young children. Tiny chairs with seats no more than 10 inches in diameter were lined up in rows facing the podium and a pull down screen for projecting the words to the worship songs.

It was beautiful to listen to their voices singing along with the sound track on the computer that provided the instruments and lead singer. Then an older man strode up to the podium to share his "testimony" of how he had lost his job last year, had been offered a job as a restaurant manager but refused it because it would interfere with his "service" to the church on Sundays, and then found a job in the filming industry that gave him flexibility and freedom on weekends. His face radiated joy as he shared how following Christ impacted his job choice.

Josh then gave the message from Acts 3 about Peter healing the blind beggar. He exhorted the church to consider whether it was more spiritual to go to church to pray, which is where Peter was headed, or to stop and heal the beggar. Josh affirmed the latter and asked the believers to consider works of kindness as evidence of their faith.

Peggy and I looked at each other with amazement as we heard Josh's sermon. Since I had just experienced two full days of a "justice" conference in Portland, I had asked Peggy whether the Chinese churches were active in reaching out to the vulnerable in Beijing. Did they have a vision for "loving their neighbor" and impacting their immediate communities? Peggy indicated that these concerns were not quite on their radar scopes yet. Most of the churches were already poor themselves and did not have many resources for meeting needs outside the church.

Hoping there would be an opportunity to speak about biblical justice in a church, I started writing out a sermon from the things I had learned at the conference on the plane flight to Beijing. So I was surprised and thrilled to hear Josh's sermon parallel my own thoughts. He even drew from one of the same passages I did - Matthew 25 in the parable of the sheep and goats. Peggy and I were both encouraged to hear Josh's exhortation to his congregation and I was grateful for this wonderful group of brothers and sisters and this sensitive, godly man.

Me, Liz and Sabina
After church, we shared a meal prepared in the kitchen of the church apartment - seaweed, noodles, cabbage and rice. Then the table was cleared, the dishes cleaned and the chairs gathered in a circle for the moms and dads who stayed to listen to Liz and I speak on parenting, the topic suggested by Sabina when Peggy asked her what the church needed in terms of teaching and encouragement. Their church was growing and was just beginning a children's ministry. The moms especially were struggling to discipline their children in a culture that creates "little emperors," an outcome of the One Child Policy.

After sharing about my own insecurities in parenting, I encouraged the moms and dads to take responsibility for their children's spiritual growth rather than expecting the church to do that. After reading Deuteronomy 6:1-9, I focused on verses 4-7 and shared how my husband's family created a legacy of faith:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

I described how Scripture memory was important so that at each meal everyone had to quote a verse before eating, including guests. I described their family devotions each night and how they incorporated their "family gift" of music. Just as each person has a spiritual gift, I suggested each family might have one so that they could design their devotions around it. Our family gift was storytelling which Jon excelled in.

After some more thoughts on family values and practical suggestions, we opened it up to a Q&A. The next one and a half hours were amazing as I realized the struggles of these moms (with some dads listening in) are no different than American moms trying to do the right thing. They too are getting confused by conflicting books on parenting. If only there was one set of instructions that would work for raising all children!

We left the apartment and headed to the silk market where we did some shopping. Liz and I ended up eyeing the same purse but the purse chose Liz. :-)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Saturday Workshop at the Christian Bookstore (Day 2)

I am exhausted but happy and grateful! About 50 women gathered in a conference room on the second floor of a local Christian bookstore to listen to three of us on the team speak on various topics. The overall theme was relationships.

I was the first to speak. Since I had just finished teaching a class on the book of Psalms, I prepared one of them for China - Psalm 139. It has always been a meaningful one for me, but about 8 or 9 years ago, it became especially powerful in healing a deep wound in my heart. At that time I struggled with insecurity and feeling that my birth was a mistake. God brought these healing words from the psalm to my mind:

Psalm 139:13-18 (NIV)
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand---when I awake, I am still with you.

I had a couple of wonderful conversations with some women afterwards. One thing I love about the Chinese people is their honesty and heartfelt response to the truth of Scripture.

Kathy spoke on building bridges with those who may differ from us while Liz spoke on why we need community and why mentoring relationships are valuable.

Liz was especially a big hit because she told some great stories with a lot of dramatic expressions. She had us in stitches. So did her Australian translator. Rebecca has lived in China for 10 years and speaks Chinese fluently. With her bright red hair, she is a kick! She mimicked Liz perfectly and even added a bit of her own flair to the translation. I wish I had videotaped the two of them.

Back to the mentoring. Finding mentors, those who are older and wiser in the faith is very difficult in the urban professional house churches where most of the community is in their 20's and 30's. If a mentor is found, he or she probably is mentoring more than 5-10 at a time. Group mentoring becomes a necessity and the mentee isn't able to have much personal attention. Peer mentoring is probably the norm here. But that is not all bad. Something is working. The believers are committed and growing. Much of that happens in small home groups of 4-8 that meet outside the regular church gatherings. The believers certainly have a strong felt need for community in a culture of suspicion and hostility towards Christianity. Hmmm...perhaps not too much different in America.

The day was a wonderful beginning to our ministry efforts here in Beijing. I had so much fun being a part of a bigger team and seeing these other women speak so lovingly into the hearts and minds of the Chinese believers. As it happened to me on my first trip, Liz and Kathy have also caught the "bug" - getting to be a part of God's incredible work happening in China!

Friday, March 2, 2012

New Faces, Familiar Places (Day 1)

We arrived safely in Beijing after a long 12 hour flight. "We" meaning me, Peggy (the Global Partners in Hope leader of our team), and Dr. Liz Selzer, a new friend. I want to introduce these names to you so that you'll know who I'm referring to as I journal about my adventures here.

You would have met Peggy from my trip to Beijing last September. She is such a thoughtful and encouraging leader. Her story of how God prepared her for ministry here is pretty amazing - from managing over 600 women in her business to now sharing the gospel and equipping thousands of women in China.

Liz is also an amazing woman. We are kindred spirits with a love for study and equipping leaders. She has an MDiv, an MA in counseling and a PhD in education. Currently in the process of building her consulting business, she helps organizations and businesses in training their leaders and establishing a mentoring culture. I am so excited to be her roommate/teammate and learn from her during this time of ministering to the Chinese. Having our paths cross now is especially serendipitous because I will be speaking at a women's leadership conference in April on the topic of mentoring!

One of the main goals of this trip is to begin the training of a small group of women who have stepped forward with a desire to lead. These women called "coaches" will eventually form their own groups of women to train into leadership. The goal is to multiply these groups of leaders throughout Beijing and then repeat the process in another city. I feel so privileged to be a part of this vision, at least for this trip.

Back to the airport. We had to wait for the rest of the team to arrive from Los Angeles before we could head to our hotel (the same one I stayed in on my last trip). This team is from a church in Escondido, CA which is partnering with GPiH in China. Mary Waring has led teams to Beijing several times now. This time her husband John is with her though he travels regularly to China for business. Along with John and Mary is another couple named Greg and Kathy. While we women are speaking at our venues, the guys will have opportunities to minister to groups of Chinese men.

After a good night's sleep, we enjoyed a Friday (your Thursday) free of any commitments. This gave us a chance to adjust. The team met for a buffet breakfast in the hotel, again an amazing spread of food, my favorite being eggs over easy on top of a bed of fried rice and Asian bread. It was wonderful to spend time praying together. We decided to do this with our eyes wide open so it wouldn't create any problems in this public place. I loved praying that way! It felt more like a true community prayer with Christ sitting at our table with us. When I prayed for Kathy who was having difficulty with pain, I could reach across the table for her hand, look straight into her eyes and ask God to touch her body. I felt so much more connected to God and to the team by praying like this as if in a normal conversation.

After breakfast Peggy, Liz and I walked to Walmart. Yup, that's what I said. Walmart. Chinese style. Whole smoked ducks hanging from hooks. Cartons of eggs unrefrigerated. I couldn't read the Chinese to see if they were preserved in some way. Nothing looked American made. I guess I shouldn't be surprised since everything in Walmart stateside is probably made in China.

For lunch the team met at a Japanese restaurant next to the hotel. I ordered a big plate of calamari deep fried with wasabi flavored batter for $3. Yum yum!

Then we chilled for the rest of the day and prepared for the next day's workshop.

Thanks to all of you who are following me to China with prayers and support and encouraging words. Things continue to change even after just one day but I am happy to step into whatever God has for me. That can mean preparing talks I did not anticipate giving. But I am confident that whatever I do here God has already prepared me for it. This is the ADVENTURE OF WALKING WITH CHRIST.

It's 4 am China time as I write this (noon Pacific time). I hope my sleeplessness is due to excitement not jet lag. But it doesn't matter. I am grateful to be here.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Lenten Devotional About China

I was asked to contribute to my church's Lenten devotional guide with a story of my journey to China. I want to share it with you below as I get ready to fly out Wednesday morning. I am very excited, apprehensive, nervous, delighted, scrambling, and anything else you can imagine I'd be feeling at this point.

It's going to be different than my September trip in several ways. First of all, I will be with a larger team which means the speaking opportunities are more spread out. I hope to have a lot of personal contact with the Chinese believers. Second, I will be reconnecting with a couple of women from my last trip. This means a chance to know them more and deepen our relationships. Third, I will attend a women's retreat which doesn't happen in China much.

Thanks for following my journey out of Portland to Beijing!

Lenten Devotional 2012



Last September I was invited to go to China. Before departing, I spent time in solitude, praying and asking God to give me a message for those I would meet. It didn’t take long to hear one phrase repeated in my mind. “I see you.”

Those words resonated deeply in my heart. As I prayed for a nation of over 1.3 billion people and read books with their stories, I imagined how easy it would be for one to be lost in that crowd of humanity, to pass along unseen. The phrase also echoed through my memory chambers, as I recalled my own struggles to be seen. Yet…

…God saw a little girl born on a small Japanese island of only 464 square miles to a deaf mother who would never hear her cries. So He created a soul with a special ear for spiritual things.

…God saw a teenager who heard the gospel story of Jesus dying on the cross for her sins. So He planted the seed of faith.

…God saw a Bible college student who wanted to follow Jesus as a missionary to Japan, but knew she wasn’t ready to love the world. So He taught her to love a husband first.

…God saw a young wife and mother who was on the verge of losing her sanity and her faith and sent a mentor to guide her back to health and hope. So He deepened her understanding of sacrifice in serving her family.

…God saw a middle-aged woman stepping into ministry and into the world, first with Mexico and then Uganda. So He expanded her vision of His kingdom in other nations.

…God saw a grandmother with a seminary degree called to preaching and teaching. So He opened the door to China and gave her a message.

“I see you.”

God had seen me and I knew God saw them too.  As I offered these words to my new Chinese friends, I sensed the transforming presence of the crucified Christ, gazing with pure love into each of their faces.

For God so loved the world...

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Three weeks until departure

I spent the day today preparing another talk, my third. I needed to have one for Saturday, March 3 when we gather at a Christian bookstore to have an all day workshop. With a focus is on relationships, several of the women on the team will present a topic for one hour each.

I was having a hard time figuring out what to present. My first suggestion to Fangfang, our translator and organizer, didn't fly. She wanted one that I had put forward as a possibility a while back - Psalm 139. I had suggested it because I was teaching a class on the book of Psalms for my church and Psalm 139 was one of my favorites.

As I started reading and studying and thinking through the words and images, I got more excited. Of course! This psalm would be a perfect topic to start the day (Fangfang had already placed me in the first hour to teach). How can we even begin to have healthy relationships with others if we are not grounded and centered first in the love and care of our God? Community flows out of communion with God!

Two years ago, I was asked to write a devotional for the Lenten booklet being prepared at our church. The theme was Psalm 139. I was assigned verses 13-16:

For you created my inmost being; 
  you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
  your works are wonderful,
  I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
  when I was made in the secret place,
  when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
  all the days ordained for me were written in your book
  before one of them came to be.

This is what I wrote for the devotional:

God has been having his own advent conspiracy. Regardless of what biology and genetics has been able to explain, God never stopped his intimate involvement in bringing humans from the womb into the world. His conspiracy is to bring the Creator back into the story of life and to invite us to respond with wonder.

Your conception and advent into this world is a gift to God himself. You are his hand-made gift, not one chosen from a shelf or made in an assembly line. You are his treasured possession, never to be discarded. Like a potter molding clay and a weaver weaving cloth, his hand was intimately involved in creating you.

God saw your unfinished vessel as he wove your sinews and flesh upon a frame of bones. He created space for your unique soul to inhabit, a consciousness with dreams and desires, passions and personality. In fact, the Hebrew reads literally, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made distinct.” At birth, you slipped into a time and space carved out by God for you alone so that your vessel and your days would be filled with his great love.

Every day is advent conspiracy for God. No matter the circumstances of your birth and the challenges to your purpose in life, you are invited to join his conspiracy and embrace his hand-made gift of your unique and amazing vessel. So dance in the space you inhabit. Revel in the wonder of who God made you to be as an act of worship to the One who created you.

I can't wait to tell the Chinese people this story and this truth - that each of them is a gift, precious, cared for, seen, pursued, created with love and birthed for purpose.

Monday, February 6, 2012

A new blog for my travels

I am moving my journals of travels to China (and any other country) to this blog site. I want to use Story in the Middle as my personal journal. So this is going to be a challenge to keep the two sites up. At least this one will be active only during my actual mission trips. I hope you will join me as I head to Beijing again Feb. 29 returning Mar. 13!