I came on this trip expecting to only take about one shower per week. I especially expected it to be that way in the village where there was no running water or electricity. However, this expectation was quickly changed as Megan Siebert and I woke up the first morning in the village.
It was difficult to communicate with our host grandmother because she hardly spoke any English and we didn’t know any Sosotho. Luckily, a lady next door came over to translate for us. First, we were asked if we had bathed. After saying we hadn’t, she took us into the second bedroom where they had hot water in a basin waiting for us. Although our translator was speaking English, we had trouble understanding her with her accent. We finally understood that we were to take our clothes off so that we could wash ourselves. At that point, all modesty went out the window. We had failed to bring washcloths because it wasn’t on our packing list, but, luckily, our host provided them for us. Megan and I learned that you wash from top to bottom and at the end we would wash our underwear in our bath water so that we could wear it again the next day.
Learning to bathe in a different country with trouble understanding directions is tough. However, we laughed through it and realized that it makes for a great story and was a good experience.
After a good sleep in Shanghai’s fine Long Men (“Dragon Gate”) Hotel and a great breakfast buffet, we boarded our bus for the 30-minute drive to one Shanghai’s great tourist attractions, the Shanghai Museum. Opened in 1994 to rave reviews by the world’s museum cognoscenti, this carefully designed museum has over 200,000 objects on display, ranging from colorful costumes of some of China’s 52 ethnic minorities, to an outstanding collection of Tang and Ming style furniture, to a remarkable display of Chinese currencies used over 3,000 years, to bronzes and to what has been described as perhaps the world’s finest collection of jade.
It was another 24-course breakfast in Puyang before boarding the bus for the 160-mile drive to Zhengzhou where we would board bullet train D284 for Shanghai.Just prior to departure, Mr. Li Da Qing, General Secretary of the Daming church, boarded our bus to express his heartfelt thanks and good wishes to our group.
Halfway to Zhengzhou we pulled into a truck stop for some relief and were amused by several of the ”Chinglish” signs in the restrooms. The sign above the lavatories urged conservation in water use: “Economy uses this water”; the hand washing area was dubbed “Water pool”; the foot pedal flushing device on the stools had the name “trample flush”.
After a nice buffet breakfast, we drove a few miles through heavy AM rush hour traffic in search of an easy access to the Dong Guan Church. It was built in 1917 by Mennonite missionaries and for the next several years served as the “mother church” of missionary work in the area. We were met by several elderly ladies who welcomed us by singing in Chinese “Silent Night” and in English, “Amazing Grace”.
Our final stop of the morning was at a large new church. Built in 2003, this structure has sanctuary seating for perhaps 1,000. We were welcomed by Madam Zhang Yan Min, one of the church pastors, and five young woman singing hymns around a magnificent new grand. In response to an invitation from the singing ladies of Mu En, our group reciprocated by a nice rendition of the “606”—the “Praise God” closing song in many US services today. Following the visit to the sanctuary, we were invited to a warm meeting room for some snacks and additional briefing about the Mu En Church.
This was the day we would make a round trip to/from Daming, about 50 miles away, and the site where the W.C. Voth famly served as Mennonnite missionaries in the mid-1920s.
We arrived in Daming some 50 miles away at 10 AM and proceeded directly to the complex housing the former Mennonite mission. There we met Messrs. Li Da Qing, General Secretary of the church, and Zhang Bo Sheng, a church spokesman. Nearby was a large red-brick church built in the past few years, but now used largely as a Christian training center with some 60 local residents in regular attendance. More than 30 “Bible training classes” have been held at this church since its return. In a corner of the complex we viewed the “memory stones” of the three toddlers who died in Puyang, viz., children of the Voths, the Browns and the Kuaffmans. We were told that Daming County now has some 10,000 Christians who meet regularly in 47 “prayer points” around the county.
This was to begin our three-day visit to Puyang and Daming, sites where Mennonite missionaries worked in the 1911-48 period before being expelled by the new Communist Government.
At the Zhengzhou train station we met our local guide, “George” who would accompany us to Puyang/Daming. After breakfast, we made a brief visit to the impressive Henan Provincial Museum which focused on the long and rich history of this area, termed by the some as the “cradle of Chinese civilization.”
Back on the bus we entered the major N-S toll road that extended from Beijing in the north to Guangzhou in the south. Along the way we were treated to good visual exposure to agriculture on the country’s North China Plain—an area not unlike that of central Kansas—with cold winters, hot summers, generally fertile soil, minimally-adequate rainfall and farmers in a constant battle with the elements. The typical cropping pattern here features wheat and then a second crop—corn, sown in early spring and harvested in the fall.
It was a relatively light “day” in terms of planned activities, but something the group welcomed after the rather busy program of previous days.
On this last full day in Beijing members of our group continued to explore this city—having gained confidence in the workings of the well-developed, and reasonably-priced taxi system. Some did some shopping; some explored the tourist-oriented areas characterized by fast food establishments and high-end boutiques; several visited the Beijing zoon for a look at that unique animal that is an icon of China—the panda!
Last weekend we got to attend a local Catholic church service with some of our host families from our home stays. Many of the women in our group were lent traditional dresses to wear, similar to prairie dresses. As we began to set out for church, one of the women in the community saw that some of us were not wearing the traditional dresses, so we were quickly ushered into her house and put into dresses. Five minutes later we were back on the path walking to church, wearing long heavy dresses with blankets over our shoulders as shawls. After the service I had a couple of women come up to me saying how proud they were of Lesotho and how happy they were that we were wearing the traditional dresses.
The church service itself was like a celebration. A choir made up of young men sat in the first few pews and led singing accompanied with movement and dancing. Towards the end of the service there was a particularly enthusiastic song, and throughout the sanctuary we heard sporadic high-pitched yelling noises made with the tongue and whistling made by women that added to the spirit of the music. We were warmly welcomed by everybody in the church, and throughout the service it was apparent that the Holy Spirit was present among the people.
The following is an entry from my journal. On this particular day we were still in the village of Tlokoeng, near the city of Butha Buthe.
Thursday, January 5:
I received a lesson in humility early in the day. Lineo (one of our host sisters) taught Terra and I how to sweep the proper way. A small crowd gathered in close to watch. They wanted to see how the Americans would perform the task. First, Terra and I had a go at it without any instruction. An onslaught of laughter followed our attempts. Not accustomed to being laughed at, I could feel my cheeks getting red. All I could do, however, was to suck up my pride and adjust my technique to fit their advice. (The Basotho are quick to give advice). Their laughter was then accompanied by shouts and cheers of encouragement. I think something invaluable can be found in a culture that so easily laughs (at others and themselves).
Interterm at Bethel this year is slightly different for me than it has been for the last couple of years. Two years ago, I took a travel trip to Costa Rica, last year, Jerusalem. So this year, I’m staying on campus. Kind of anticlimactic, right? Especially since five of the eight girls in my mod are on travel trips to Africa and Europe. While it’s definitely true that Interterm on campus is not quite as hustle-and-bustle as walking through an African village, visiting the Dome of the Rock, seeing the birthplace of math and science, or sharing a space with monkeys and brightly-colored birds, but there are still plenty of opportunities to connect with friends and learn something at the same time!