At the end of the service we were asked to come to the stage to say a few words. The pastor asked us to do this during our initial conversation with him, but I neglected to mention that in the previous post for purely blog purposes.
Both Brad and I knew that really meant HE would say a few words for the both of us as that would be what China would expect. Remembering my father doing the same type of thing when we visited churches in Ghana, I gave him a brief run-down of ideas and left the specific words up to him.
Contrary to our hope, the pastor did not forget he had made a request. Upon conclusion of his sermon (around an hour) he invited us up. We walked to the front, up the stairs and to center stage. We were both handed a microphone and Brad started saying a few words, “We’re teachers here from America. We’re excited to worship with you… We’re looking forward to also worshiping the Lord with some fellow friends in Huangshi and Wuhan…” (The pastor for some reason didn’t translate that last part for the congregation.) My two cents were when I pointed to my belly and mentioned that we were also expecting our first baby. Everyone clapped.
We thought we were done but we weren’t. There was one last request. Jenny, who had come to the stage with us, asked us to sing a hymn, “maybe As a Deer” she whispered. Brad was NOT going to do it so I boldly knew this was up to me. Immediately concerned with not remembering the words to “As a Deer,” I turned around and sang the first verse of the hymn I did, Amazing Grace. I was off pitch and suddenly sounding a lot more country than I ever would want to admit to, but I got through it …. and then immediately tried to forget it happened. Not my best display of talent. Guess that was the point though, it wasn’t for my display, but for God’s goodness of bringing people together.
Brad was given a call a few days later and we were asked to join what he thought was the youth group meeting that next Saturday night at 7:00PM. Brad, I could tell, was super excited and wondered if we should get some little fun choruses together (and by ‘we’ did he mean ‘me’???) that students in the U.S. sing. I asked him if he really thought we would be asked to sing and he replied a big-eyed and confident, “YES!”
We went there straight from work at 7:00 as that is when my last class of the day ends. My feet were hurting and I was exhausted, but I knew it was important. We got there around 7:20/30 and walked to the building behind the sanctuary where we heard singing. We walked in the rear door and found a seat in the back row. Jenny, who was leading the music, allowed the group gathered to sing a bit on their own as she walked back to meet us, and then promptly separate us. We had not noticed there was a girls’ side and a boys’ side. She also moved me from the back to the front where she had reserved a seat for me next to an English speaking young 20-something and had left her English NIV Student Devotional Bible opened to the text of the talk that evening. (She later told me that everyone in her seminary was given this Bible.)
On that note, it was easy to see that this was not a youth group as we thought we had been told. Basically, if you were older than 16 and younger than 70 you were among peers. (If you were between the ages of three and seven you were to run around outside unsupervised and come in as needed to peek in on your mom or dad and make sure they were listening and behaving themselves.) I would say there were close to 80 people there, more women than men.
Jenny sat herself in the front row and led us through the same chorus a number of times, and when I say “a number of” – I mean like 100 (shout out to We are Schuberts blog). After that the speaker (who we found out the next day was her husband) got up to start his talk. He was speaking out of Isaiah. After he got started and Lillian (my translator) got her Bible opened and found her place, she pointed in my Bible to the verse where everyone else was. The first verses I read along with the group were Isaiah 6:9+10, “...be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.” I had to stop there and chuckle to myself as I continued to listen to the pastor speaking Chinese and glancing at the Chinese characters posted as notes on the LCD.
At the end of that sermon, as the case with the previous Sunday, Brad and I were each asked to come to the front and briefly explain how we came to know the Lord. Brad, going second, also then took questions from the audience about Christianity in America. The biggest question posed was how Brad most gave to God, through time or money. We’re teachers – he chose money… haha… I mean time. He was also asked about how Christians in America tolerate other religions. He said that even though we may disagree, Jesus calls us to love everyone. I guess the room agreed because they gave him a round of applause.
Before we left, we were graciously driven home by a ‘brother’, we were given two more bags of goodies, one full of a Chinese fruit, the other full of crispy goodness something. Think of the little crunchy pieces of french fries that get stuck at the bottom of the McDonald’s bag. Now, transfer that thought to doughnuts. That’s what the crispy goodness was. What is it about fried, crispy things that make me unable to STOP eating them? Once I got the bag home and had my binge, I had to walk away…never to return. I never did try the fruit. I think people just eat the whole thing. I didn't feel up to too many new things all at once so we brought that bag to work.
The next night (Sunday before last) at church Jenny’s husband extended an invitation to dinner with some other ‘brothers and sisters’ for Tuesday night. We gladly accepted. We were picked up at our school (it’s difficult to explain where our apartment building is) and brought to the restaurant where everyone else already was. What a spectacle we made when we walked in! The restaurant was pretty crowded and workers and patrons alike looked up to stare us down. I just nodded, said, “Ni Hao” and kept walking.
We were led up the stairs and into a back room. One thing that’s really cool about Chinese restaurants and coffee shops is that most offer a privacy option. Many restaurants have private rooms and many coffee shops have curtains that you can pull around your table if you wish. Very cool. If Brad and I ever open a coffee shop feel free to come in and enjoy your privacy. :)
The same English-speaking girl that I sat next to on Saturday night was there again to help translate for everyone. There were about 4 or 5 different couples, each with their kids. Everyone sat around the table, again divided by gender (interesting) and the kids sat on the couch behind the table and ate off the coffee table. (A few glasses were broken by the end of the night as the kiddos started getting a little restless.) Jenny’s husband introduced us to each couple by name. The last man we were introduced to was simply called ‘The Boss’. I don’t know if he’s “kind of a big deal” (he has THREE kids) or nicknamed in honor of Bruce Springstein (he happens to be able to carry a tune quite nicely and sings in the choir.)
Dinner commenced by singing a chorus. I smiled as I wondered how much my mother would have LOVED that. The next step was grace. Jenny’s husband led the blessing. All through the prayer others around the table kept saying, “Amen.” It was the only word that I understood. I didn’t know quite when to open my eyes and start eating. Unfortunately I got a little distracted from grace and chuckled at myself.
Dinner was wonderful. I think I counted 16 dishes placed around a lazy susan. Last year when we went to dinners like these, people moved the table on their own, allowing each person ample time to grab a piece of meat or vegetable with their two sticks and successfully transfer it to their plate. This time the lazy susan in the middle of the table ran on its own motor. Thank goodness we already had practice using chopsticks! If you didn’t time yourself appropriately, your chopstick coordination was doomed and you were bound to make a mess on the big table. A few times Lillian, who was sitting next to me, held the table steady so I would have enough time to get my piece of meat or noodle. I tried to act like I didn’t need her help. She was on to me.
We sat around and talked for a while after dinner. Jenny’s husband was next to Brad, who was next to me, who was next to Lillian, who was next to Jenny. We were the only ones speaking English as the others talked freely in Chinese. No one seemed to mind. We learned that many people are becoming Christians in China. Brad asked why. We were told that people want to copy much of what is done in the West, including Christianity. Isn’t that interesting? At a time when many people in the US are becoming more and more interested in Buddhism and other ancient eastern things, Asians are becoming more and more interested in Christ. We learned last year that the largest Christian church in the WORLD is in Seoul, Korea. Amazing.
The kids were running in and out of our room and starting to do a good job at bothering their parents. It was time to get going. In order to end dinner officially, we were all asked to sing again. This time we all could. Jenny asked if we would sing Amazing Grace so that Brad and I could also sing along in English. Everyone agreed. The Boss put it upon himself to lead us in a slow but steady, Chinese dominated yet English supported, first verse of Amazing Grace. How sweet the sound it was.
Heaven is going to be such a wonderful place.