Saturday, October 22, 2011

Love.Hope.Believe. DaYe Church, part 1

Last year Brad and I both worked on Sundays and couldn’t take part in the great Christian ex-pat fellowship in Qingdao. (In bigger cities foreigners and nationals cannot worship together, unless at a government sponsored Chinese church.) We were able to go occasionally and from there were able to join a small group of couples, but it just wasn’t the same as being able to go to church every week. I missed more weekend church last year than I probably had my entire life previous. Church became a luxury, a sought after event. I hated it – but I realized that was probably a good lesson to experience. Having only ever experienced life on an American public school system calendar, I have never had to sacrifice going to church before.

Being able to participate in church services was a must as Brad and I considered our options for this year. When we voiced that concern last spring to Mei and Mr. Embree they assured us Sundays off. We were thankful and excited about getting back into worshiping with other believers, especially English ones. (It's tough for me to stay focused when I sit through a whole service in a different language.)

Then we got here and realized we WERE the English speaking believers in Daye. Our little school was actually still hoping that we would be able to teach on Sundays since that is one of their busy days. Should we have made Sundays off such a big deal?

We were told there was a church in the city. Brad tried to ask around the office for directions but it was hard for the others to explain them (if they knew at all) so it was up to us to find it on our own. We’ve averaged one good, long walk a week since being here. Two weekends ago we walked in the direction of where Brad thought the church to be. Since he has superhero super directional abilities, of course we found it.

It was about 1:20 on Sunday afternoon. The gate was open a bit at the front of the grounds so we walked through and peeked in the windows and through the smidgen of space between the doors of the sanctuary. A lady walked up behind us and started talking. Even though we can recognize the “Where are you from,” and “what do you do” questions, what she was saying had us at a total loss. She motioned for us to follow her.

She led us to the building behind the sanctuary where she knocked on a couple doors and said something which encouraged people to peek their heads out to look. The man who must be entitled Bearer Of The Keys (in Chinese of course) quickly slipped out of his inside slippers and into his outside shoes and led us back towards the sanctuary where he opened the side door. A few others followed and sat with us inside. They knew enough key words in English and we knew enough key words in Chinese to figure out that the church had three services: 7:00AM, 2:30PM (the lady who initially spoke to us was here for that service) and 8:00PM. Since I was sporting Nike shorts and sweat, I preferred to come back to the later service. They seemed excited to have us back and told us to get there by 7 because it would get crowded (…we think…).

We got there a couple minutes before 7:00 and were the first ones to arrive. We were quickly greeted with water by this sweet older lady who we realized later was the gatekeeper. She spoke no English. A few minutes later we were greeted by Jenny, who knew enough English to explain that she had been through seminary in Wuhan. The older lady left and came back a few minutes later with a bag of little green oranges. Jenny left a few minutes after and came back
with….um… something else. The older lady also gave us her Bible covered in dark pink felt. After showing her our own, she accepted hers back. There aren’t many times when China reminds me of Ghana, but this was one of the times it has. People in the church being so happy you’re there they bring you whatever they have as a gift.

By 7:10, 20 people had arrived. At 7:15 we
started singing out of the hymnal. The music leader sang a few notes and the congregation mimicked his notes. I tried to mimic. I thought I was so cool, learning to sing in Chinese.

That is until I realized I recognized the sounds a little too well - he was teaching the song using solfège syllables! My 9th grade chorus teacher would have been so proud. Also like my 9th grade chorus teacher, he was a stickler for making sure everything was right! If he thought the congregation wasn’t singing up to par, he shook his head from side to side, sang it again and made them repeat. “Ra-me-fa-so-sooo.” It wasn’t until much later when he trusted them enough to let them sing the words. He continued to correct as needed.

By 7:30 there were 80 people. We started to hear the choir practicing in the foyer. Their sound competed with the sound of the congregation singing the SAME SONG they had for the past 15 minutes. As Brad put it, "they're bringing it, aren't they!?"

At 7:45 (125 people?) the piano player started accompanying the congregation on their sole hymn, taking the music leader by surprise. He flipped around to see what was going on behind him. I guess he didn’t feel his people were ready. A few
minutes after that the choir had their processional down the middle aisle, sang a couple songs and then exited to the right to find their reserved seats.

Around this same time we met the evening’s preacher. Since he’s an English teacher at a nearby high school, he came to chat with us for a second. He’s been part of this church for 20 years (this specific building has been here for 13) and is a volunteer preacher on a monthly basis. He said he used to teach Chinese, but about 20 years ago he started to teach himself English, and has been teaching English to high schoolers ever since. His English was actually pretty good – impressive! He then excused himself and went up the stage to prepare for his 8:00 start.

I seized the opportunity of a minute sans Chinese/English conversation to snap a picture. The music leader started talking to the congregation. Apparently he was alerting everyone to our presence. As I lowered the camera after not finding a suitable scene, I noticed Brad waving. I wondered to whom he was waving and looked up to see everyone turned and staring at us. Nice. The congregation turned back around. A boy about 4 on his grandpa’s lap, in a row close to us, started blowing kisses to Brad. Brad blew kisses back. The boy returned the kisses again and then giggled. His grandpa laughed, squeezed him in a hug, and curled him up on his lap.

The minister started his sermon. The music leader came to the pew to the left and in front of us, smiled at me, and sat down. The minister acknowledged his two non-Chinese speakers by calling out in English the text of the sermon. We quickly flipped to Matthew 15. The orange giver - gatekeeper had been sitting all along one row behind us to our left. She leaned forward and peeked at my Bible. “Yingyu, English,” I replied. She repeated my words and smiled and then pointed in her Bible to the number 11. The music leader, sensing that something was going on behind him (that most likely needed his attention) turned to be involved in our conversation. I pointed to chapter 15 and said “she-woo (15).” The leader nodded and smiled. The woman waved her hand and went back to pointing at her Bible. She then leaned forward and turned my Bible pages back for me to find chapter 11. She pointed to chapter 11 and smiled. The music leader grimaced at her, waved his hand in front of her face, and helped my pages find their way back to chapter 15. She sat back and turned ahead a few pages in her Bible. Having figured everything out, we all leaned back in our separate seats and finally started to listen.

Jenny had situated herself directly in front of us. Every now and again she turned around and translated as best she could. “Faith is built on God’s Word which is good and right…’Lord help me’ is a beautiful prayer from your heart…Pray from the heart and spirit. Worship from the heart and spirit… Love, hope, believe.”

Love, hope, believe.

Here’s looking to many more Sabbaths off from work.

pictured above: bearer of the keys is the sole gentleman, next to him is the gatekeeper, me, jenny is in the front in the short-sleeved sweater over the black and white shirt, jenny's daughter (English name = Sophia) is next to her.

1 comment:

  1. what an awesome post, dana b. felt like you were telling me the story as i read it. miss you so much. love that you had this special sunday. here's to many more. love, hope, believe.