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!
“It smells like Africa!” Mariah exclaimed on the first night we were here. And yes, it does- as hard as it is to believe, we are really in Africa. After an almost-15 hour flight, we landed in South Africa and were immediately impressed by the fresh air and vastness of this beautiful place. The next morning, we made our trek into Lesotho. I was the first one to be sick in Africa (which is very fun while traveling). Bill only turned on the windshield wipers five times, although it didn’t seem to be raining…(everything is on the opposite side here, so turn signals can easily be confused with the windshield wiper switch).
This was a busy day of worship, wonder at what we were observing–and some winter in the form of continued chilly weather–a daily high in the upper ’20s!
At 7:50 AM we were in our bus and headed for the 8:30 service at the large Chong Wen Men Church in central Beijing. The church was established in 1870 when it was called Asbury Church–the first church constructed by American Methodists in northern China. Like many churches across China, this one was closed to Christian service during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) when it served the state as middle school. It was opened in 1982 and now holds five services on Sundays–four in Mandarin and one in Korean. About 3,000 believers are, as the church literature states, “plugged into ” church activities here. Some 300 new believes are baptized each year. Additional to the Sunday AM services, the church sponsors a Bile study on Tuesday, a “Spiritual Growth meeting” on Wednesday, prayer meeting on Thursday and “sisters’ and “youth” fellowships on Friday. The church complex also includes a book store where Bibles (all Chinese; Chinese-English, etc.) are available at reasonable prices. We also saw CD’s, “Songs of Love” by the church choir for a reasonable RMB 10 (about $1.30) each, a few of which our group purchased.
This is Saturday and a day dedicated to some serious sight-seeing–the Great Wall, a jade carving factory and retail outlet, the Ming Tombs. Overnight a light snow had fallen in the city but this did not significantly impede traffic. The temperature was in the mid-20s as we began our 25-mile drive north to what Astronaut Neal Armstrong callled the “only man-made strcture” he could see from his space craft. Our BC group was in high spirits to see what was probably the touristic highlight of this Interterm adventure. The common saying in China is “One hasn’t seen China until one see the Great Wall!”
On this cold, gray day, with light snow continuing to fall, tourist traffic to/at the Great Wall was lighter than usual. This structure, undulating like huge a dragon across the mountainous terrain of north China, dates from abut 200 BC and at one time snaked over some 3,000 miles from the Gobi Desert in Western China to its eastern terminus on the shores of the East China Sea. Today only a small length of the Wall has been rebuilt. The part we were visiting was characterized by high, unevenly-spaced steps–some as high as one’s knee–and proving a particular challenge to the short of stature! The Wall-perhaps 25 feet high and 30 feet wide at the top–is a breathtaking achievement! It is believed that as many as one million workers (perhaps 20% of China’s population at the time) labored in its construction.
Day 4 of our Middle Kingdom adventure! Beijing weather this morning was typical early January–no snow, but chilly, with morning lows of 16-18 degrees F. and a modest breeze from the NW. The overall health of the group was very good–probably a solid 8.5 ranking on a scale of 10 signifying perfect health and 1 a near-death situation!
This was the first day of our “business/economics” related meetings. Enroute to our first meeting with the American Chamber of Commerce, Guide Bill spoke of the growing problem of educated unemployed in China–of the 2010 university graduating class, no more than about 50% had secured jobs within the first year after graduation. Our Chamber meeting was held on the 6th floor of a gleaming newish glass and steel office complex in Beijing’s central business district. Our host, Mr. Matt Wisla, Vice-president of the Chamber for Communications and a 7-year “veteran” of his work here, provided a very fine overview of the structure, objectives and modaliteis of the American Chamber in China. He noted some 1,200 US companies now operate here, ranging from the “big boys” (General Motors; Caterpillar, etc.) to the small companies seeking market niches to source local production for manufacturing operations in the US. The overall objective of the Chamber was “To help US businesses succeed in China”. He spoke of the Chamber’s work in advocacy, networking with US and Chinese interests, and provision of information relating to the Chinese business environment. With regard to the latter he spoke of an annual “white paper” comprising some 30 chapters and 400 pp. with assessments and recommendations useful to American business operating in, or contemplating operations in, China. He mentioned close cooperation with the American Embassy in Beijing–with recently-departed Ambassador Jon Huntsman and newly-appointed Ambassador Gary Locke.
This was the day to learn more of Beijing, the new and the old. The hotel morning call came promptly at 7, then a nice Asian-oriented breakfast on the 2nd floor of the Rainbow. Customers in the coffee shop included Chinese (perhaps 70% of the total) who were in Beijing on business or here to celebrate the upcoming Chinese New Year–the Year of the Dragon– and international tourists. Offerings included an abundance of fresh vegetables, variations on the egg, several types of bread including the steam buns that are a feature in most north China breakfasts. My impression was that the vegetarians among our group would find plenty to eat at this breakfast!
By 8:30 AM were aboard Driver Liu’s bus for a 15-minute ride through heavy traffic to the Temple of Heaven–a standard item on the Beijing tourist visit and an increasingly popular site for local Chinese, many of them retired, who came to these spacious grounds to play cards or dominos, to sing–with a new emphasis on 1950s revolutionary songs–do aerobics to rather bouncy music and even some social dancing with limited touching! Despite a very chilly, 15-degree morning, but windless and with brilliant sunshine, we were surprised to see the large of Chinese who came out for these activities.
Friends and Family:
What I expect to follow is a series of rather brief, informal notes, hopefully prepared on a daily basis as time permits, coming out our January 2012 Bethel College Interterm experience in China.
The theme of this first-ever BC Interterm to the “Middle Kingdom” is a focus on the business and economic enviornment of this fast-developing country, with time taken to see some of its incomparable tourist attractions in and near Beijing, Shanghai and the lesser known sites of Puyang and Daming–locales where Mennonite missionaries served in the 1920- to about 1948 when they were expelled by China’s new communist government. Comments on my comments are always welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org I alone take full responsibility for any errors of fact, interpretation or judgment of which there will undoubtedly be some!
The substantive content of this Interterm experience is part of Bethel’s Cross Cultural Learning experiences and was developed by Dr. Allison McFarland, Chair of the Bethel’s Economics and Finance Department. The Bethel entourage included, in addition to Dr. McFarland, Bethel’s President Perry White and his wife, Dalene, Jake Goering of the North Newton Community, my wife, Shirley and me and Bethel students Dustin Abrahams, Sean Classen, Jordan Esau, Rachel Evans, Emily Harder, Kyle Howard, Jenae Janzen, Arthur Kauffman, Doug Kliewer, Abram Rodenberg, Matt Shelly and Paul Voran. Perhaps based on travel and living experience in China, Bethel had kindly invited Shirley and me to “facilitate” this initiative.
Well, it has been one whirlwind of a semester (a fact that has resulted in many things falling through the cracks, especially my blog posts)! With the end finally here and only 2 more finals to take, I can’t describe my feelings as anything less than thrilled—thrilled to go home, thrilled to relax, thrilled to move on to something new. It’s at the end of the semester, though, that I can’t help but think about what I’ve experienced and what is to come.