Friday, April 30, 2010

Jesus, Jack & Rosco

I think Jesus may have negotiated a beautification project with my building’s owner. Something strange has happened to the shoe-print stained walls and the lingering urine odor in the lobby. The walls are now bright white, and the air is fresh (well, as fresh as you can expect when the whole of the city is filled with various aromas). The stacks of bicycles and motorcycles scattered throughout the hallways have mysteriously vanished. The floor is swept. The elevators are wiped free of mosquito carcasses. The lights are bright and operable. We even have a coded front gate and an on-duty security guard now.

I like the security guard. I say “ni hao” to him every day. I think he likes me too because he always smiles big enough for me to see his missing teeth whenever I walk by. I imagine his name is the Chinese equivalent of Larry or Hank or Rosco. Nice guy names.

I suspect Jesus to be behind all the prettiness and safety because I will soon be living here in this building all by my brave self. I won’t have anyone to come home to. There will be no roommate to account for my safe homecoming. No other English speaker to listen for and understand my desperate cries should anything unsavory happen to me. Jesus decided to make provision for this lack by bringing Rosco into my life. He will care whether or not I make it home safely each evening. He will listen for my cries, though foreign and indecipherable. With Jesus and Rosco on my side, this living alone business will be a breeze. 

This morning I woke up early. Not on purpose. My phone rang at 7:43AM and I answered it half expecting a wrong number, but was instead greeted with a boisterous “Ni hao, Jaime!” I quickly recognized the thick Southern accent to be that of my new friend, Jack. He was calling from an airplane about to depart Qingdao for Shanghai.

I met Jack on Tuesday evening. He’s a rotund man with a belly like Santa Claus; he’s loud and jolly and so darn endearing you can’t help but instantly like him. He came to Qingdao to visit a mutual friend who invited us all to her house for a Chinese feast. The evening was spent around the dinner table listening to Jack recount story after story of his cross-cultural adventures. Jack’s a CPA from Tennessee, but said his real job is Ambassador of Christ. He’s traveled near and far making Christ known, gathering brothers and sisters and sons and daughters. I told Jack that I think he might be an opportunist because of the way he seizes every chance, obvious or obscure, to share the love of Jesus wherever he goes. He once sweet-talked a Tajik government official into issuing him a visa after he was discovered in the country illegally. Then he shared Jesus with him! He ministered to two Muslim men at an airport somewhere and managed to get himself an open invitation to stay in their homes should he ever visit Israel. This man could convince Osama bin Laden out of hiding and convert him to Christianity. I’m sure of it. He’s full of Southern charm, likability, and absolute resolve.

In between stories, Jack would occasionally burst into song. It seemed at times there was too much passion in him to be contained – even by all his size and stature – he had to let the praise and thankfulness and awe release. He may implode in gratitude to God otherwise. At one point, Jack asked me if I was a singer. When I timidly said, yes, he threw a songbook at me and made me sing hymns at the dinner table. Our Chinese friends joined in, singing the songs in their own language. Jack hung his head and wept.

I was so refreshed by my time with Jack. I just felt instantly bonded to him, inspired by his passion (which seems too flimsy a word). His goodbye hug on that night was so good and so tight, I could barely breathe in his affection. When he called me this morning from the airplane he told me he was so happy to have met me. He said I was now his adopted daughter, whether I liked it or not. He said he loved me; that he was proud of me; that he’d be keeping track of me and praying for me. I hope he does.

What a world this would be if there were more Jacks in it.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Oh, Failure...

This is from a journal entry I wrote back in October. I stumbled upon it this morning and it completely hit the spot. I thought it was worth sharing...

"Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you, and you will prophecy with them and be turned into another man. And let it be when these signs come to you, that you do as the occasion demands, for God is with you... So it was, when he had turned his back to go from Samuel, that God gave him another heart, and all those signs came to pass that day." I Samuel 10:6-7, 9

I can relate to Saul, but I don't want to be like him. Maybe in this experience I do, but not the Saul who loses sight of his calling and purpose; not the Saul who fails to carry out, long term, the new heart, the transformation that took place in his life this day. He reverted, and in his digression sought to prove that he was more than who he argued to be previously (Am I not a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel, and my family is the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin?). Oh, but I want to be like Saul on this day. He's anointed king, receives a specific prophetic word and then acts accordingly that it might be fulfilled. AND he was given a new heart! He wasn't just a Benjamite. He wasn't just from the least of all families. He was now the king. He became another man.

I want to become another woman. I'm tired of me. I want a new heart. I want to carry out the prophecy spoken over me. I want to take my position of authority. But I don't want to fail. I don't want to become like Saul. The thing that gets me though, is that God chose Saul knowing that he would fail. He knew he wouldn't be a perfect king, but he would be the right king for the right season. 

Saul's brokenness and tendency toward failure did not keep him from being chosen. On the day that he was anointed king he was filled with the Holy Spirit. He was re-created into the man he needed to be. At that point he stood a chance. But as he walked out his anointing, he moved farther and farther away from the Source that gave him the ability to do so. He would have failed, inevitably, but maybe not detrimentally. And maybe therein lies the answer for me.

I can relate to Saul. I can desire the experience, the encounter, the anointing, but I have to remain in the Source. There my failure finds redemption. I can't fear stepping out to serve the Lord based on my impending, inevitable failure. I'm prone to it - everyone is. But am I close enough? Is my heart soft enough? Am I connected to the One who, by His grace, absorbs my failure and extends His favor? 

Monday, April 26, 2010

A City on a Hill

So, I guess it’s true what Jesus said…

“You're here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? ...Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm putting you on a light stand. Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.” –Matthew 5:13-16

Last week in one of my English Corners I was attempting to explain some of Jesus’ teachings using the Sermon on the Mount as an example. Seems simple enough. Right. Except for the part where it wasn’t simple at all. It’s time I let you in on some of things I just did not anticipate about teaching the Bible in China…

Never mind the sizeable hurdle we have with the language barrier. It’s to be expected. And it’s actually pretty easy to navigate thanks to those handy electronic pocket dictionaries – even for words like omniscience and circumcision (which unleashed a chorus of gasps when it was “eDictionaried”). Some words can’t be eDictionaried, like transubstantiation.

The real obstacle is this: I am teaching the Bible to people who have had absolutely no exposure to it whatsoever. None. No concept of Christianity. No Sunday School. No “Jesus is My Homeboy” t-shirts. No In God We Trust. No The Ten Commandments on Channel 5 every Easter. No Easter, for that matter. For most of the students, what I tell them about the Bible is the only thing they’ve ever heard. On top of that, the majority of them have been told their entire lives that there is no God. Atheism is the official “religion” of the Communist Party and it is widely propagated in the public sector. And while Buddhism has a pretty strong influence in culture here, most people interact with it as legend or folklore – not so much a belief-system that’s to be taken seriously.

Let’s just say, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into when I agreed to tell Bible stories in my English Corners three times a week!

I began my Bible teaching endeavors at the beginning. I told the story of Creation and worked my way chronologically through Genesis up to the Exodus account. I stopped after the children of Israel began their wandering. I had been answering far too many questions concerning God’s justice and treatment of man. You know, the redemptive purpose of the stories in the beginning are much better understood if you already have some idea of the stories at the end. Honestly, what I thought would happen was that I’d start at the beginning and paint this portrait of mankind’s depravity. All the students would agree with me and feel so hopeless in their lost condition. We’d work through the stories, man would be lost, God would be the good guy, and everyone would be thrilled and jump around in celebration at the proclamation of the Good News! I pictured something very EeTaow-esque. But what happened was the students began saying things like, “God is playing games with man.” “Why is God so cruel?” “He just wants to control everyone.” God wasn’t the good guy. He was the bad guy, and poor innocent man was just His little pawn.

Wait… not exactly what I was going for.

So, I’ve changed my tactics a bit, not to avoid difficult questions, but to provide some important context. I don’t think starting at the beginning was a mistake. We were able to tackle so many questions and difficulties that may have never come up if we had started anywhere else. But when every problem we encountered was answered in Jesus, I figured it was time to make Him the focus. Now I’m spending lots of time in the New Testament telling stories about His message and ministry. We’ve gone through some parables, some miracles, some teachings. The questions still come up, but they don’t seem as cynical now. God can’t really be viewed as a cruel puppet master when seen through the life of Jesus Christ.

These last several months have been the most challenging ever in my entire faith walk – in a good way. Never have I been on display like I am now. “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” I can’t hide. Literally everyone at my workplace knows that I am a Christian. Some people respect it. Some people think I’m crazy. Several times I have had students laugh at me when they discover that I actually believe the stories I tell. I’ve been mocked for saying that I pray and believe that God speaks to me. I’ve been told that I believe in a fairy tale, that God can’t be real. I’ve had coworkers say, “No offense, Jaime” as they sit and discuss Christianity. I’ve received looks of pity and condescension (isn’t she cute for believing that) and disdain. My faith has been challenged in every way and from every angle. And it’s not like I’m walking around like some super Christian weirdo. I am not making a spectacle of my faith in such a way that it deserves criticism. I’ve been given an opportunity to share it openly in a classroom setting, so that’s what I do. Everything else people see is just me (or hopefully Christ in me).

I’m not complaining. It’s actually pretty incredible getting to experience faith in this way. I’ve always been sheltered in my beliefs. Sure, I went to public school and I’ve worked in some secular environments, but even in those settings being a Christian wasn’t weird –not like it is here. I’m a total novelty. Everything I do is scrutinized. Not because people want to see if my life lines up with my faith – to prove that I’m a hypocrite. But, rather, because they want to see how my faith affects my life. People want to see if what I believe distinguishes my life from theirs. And I think they’re starting to notice that it does.

In the midst of all the criticism and ridicule (which is rarely mean-spirited), I have received some pretty phenomenal feedback. I have had several students tell me how much they admire me. They talk about how I am always happy and smiling; that I’m kind and sweet and friendly; how they admire my faith and wish they could believe as I do; how I seem to enjoy life; how I don’t seem affected by all the pressures they’re affected by. That last one is a biggy. The Chinese put a great deal of pressure on themselves to be successful. They are rarely allowed contentment – self, family, and employer all demand that they work harder and earn and do more. I’ve shared with them what biblical contentment looks like, and expressed how freeing it is to trust God with every aspect of life. It takes all the pressure off when you’re not the one required to make something happen. I told them that my future is secure – even if I don’t know what it looks like yet! I think my life confounds them.

So, all the challenges and hurdles of teaching the Bible in China are totally worth it (of course). I think they exist for my benefit anyway. My faith is soaring! I'm getting to truly experience Scripture... "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander." -I Peter 3:15-16  I've never had to so blatantly live out what this verse says. It is SO so so so so good. I'm getting put through the wringer, and I love it. I need it. Maybe we all do, on some level. 

Yep, Jesus was right. “If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm putting you on a light stand. Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine!” I think I always thought this was optional… It’s not. I became a city on a hill the day I decided to follow Jesus. The question is, how bright have I been? I’m feeling pretty bright right now. But maybe some landscapes have higher hills and darker skies. Whatever the case may be, I want to shine ever brighter. 

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


It seems I do my best thinking as I walk to and from work each day. There’s something about my surroundings that stimulates introspection and wonder and laughter.

The spectacles vary from day to day…

Today there was a rather putrid smell in the air – a strange blend of raw sewage and wet, nutty coffee grounds. My concern over the smell intensified as I approached a small river rushing over the sidewalk with no bridge or detour providing a means to avoid walking through it. They were further confirmed as the smell dissipated with distance. Thankfully my trek through the rapids didn’t soak my pants or my shoes and I am now safely on the other side, odor free.

I’m also fascinated by the traffic here. Not the street traffic - the sidewalk traffic. Sidewalks aren’t the safe-haven they claim to be. One must be careful to dodge the hoards of people on a mission who, with all the space in the world to maneuver on their side, refuse to change course, forcing their opponent into a finely choreographed dance through the masses (this is most common at crosswalks). And people aren’t the only threat.  Once the crowd clears (or not), one must be mindful of sidewalk bicycles, motorcycles and the occasional car. It’s always a bit unsettling to hear horns blaring behind me, thinking I am safe and sound from whatever incident incited the commotion, only to discover that they're blaring at me… on the sidewalk!! How dare I walk so cavalierly on a pedestrian path!

My favorite thing is to walk while listening to my iPod. I love the soundtrack it provides for the odd reality that is now my own. The music adds color and dimension to the world swirling about me. Accompanied by the right song, the old man transporting his toddler grandson on the handlebars of his bicycle becomes less dangerous and more daring. The children weaving through the market, dodging grown-ups and giant slabs of pork shoulder become that much more carefree and entertaining. The work-worn faces of the villagers building the next sky rise become more vivid and pained and beloved. Eyes become landscapes of hopelessness. Smiles become reminders of redemption. It’s amazing, the power music has. My simple walk to work transforms into a pilgrimage where humanity dazzles in its frailty and creation dances with expectation. It’s beautiful.

Spring is finally beginning to make its appearance in Qingdao – though timidly. The frigid edge in the breeze is still present, but the trees are budding and sun is shining, and it seems as though it might be time to retire my big puffy coat (it was so good to me).  With this change in weather, I’m sensing a change in season for myself as well. I don’t really know how to explain it… I don’t feel anxious. I don’t feel overwhelmed with searching out and discovering some grand purpose beyond what I’m doing now. In fact, I’m finding a great deal of purpose in this season of solitude. In the aloneness and the quiet. Yesterday I had a good cry while reading and journaling from the Word. 

Here’s my entry…

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” 
-Galatians 2:20

I’ve always focused on the first part of this verse. It somehow seems easier to dwell on how often I fall short in this area; how I need to work harder and die more frequently. My flesh must die so Christ can live through me. And while this is true, I think it might be more productive for me to focus on the latter part: the Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me. Why in the world would He do that?! I just can’t understand it. I can’t comprehend a love for me so great and so perfect that it would be provoked to die on my behalf. What makes me so worthwhile? What makes me worth dying for? I know I should die for Him. But it’s incomprehensible that He would die for me.

A still small voice whispers… “Jaime, you were worth dying for.”

I am loved beyond what I could ever hope or imagine to be. This love is greater than fairy tale or fantasy because it’s real. It’s true. And I don’t have to just hope for it someday. I get it now. I get to live every day surrounded by and saturated in this love. The crazy, irrational love that seems only to exist in fiction is afforded to me in the 
extravagant love of Christ.

Revelations like this will be what shape my time in China, and ultimately, my life. Being here alone allows the Lord room to speak directly to my heart, to whisper His opinions in my ear, and to complete me (Hebrews 13:11 - repair, prepare, adjust, equip, make fully ready) for whatever lies ahead. I too often seek these things from the mouths of people. He’s taken me to a place where ready access to a prophetic voice is found only in His Word and at His feet.

It’s frightening, to be honest. I argue with Him constantly and remind Him that I’m no good at this. I’m not good at intimacy and consistency. Yet He pursues. I’m not here to prove myself. He brought me here to prove Himself… to me.