Tuesday, December 15th
by Nora Sanders
As I write this on Monday evening, I am remembering that at this very time just a week ago, (Tuesday morning in Beijing), our China delegation was gathering at the Chongwenmen Church for our final time of shared reflection and communion. The intimacy of the worship, led by our Moderator, spoke to all that we had experienced as a group over our 11 day journey together.
The wall of the room where we met was dominated by a large picture bearing words in Chinese script (pictured above). Like so much of what we had seen in China, I could not read it, but fellow traveller Rev. Yi Feng Everest Kao explained that it was the timeless words from John 1:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made, without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.
The church is a fine old Methodist structure from missionary times. James Endicott, perhaps the greatest United Church hero in China, had preached there in 1956. His granddaughter-in-law, Betsy Anderson was part of the delegation. Our Chinese host managed to pull up a picture on his laptop of Endicott in the pulpit in 1956. Betsy was thrilled.
The preceding evening we met with Beijing Christian Council leaders at their office building, a structure left from missionary times also. Our host commented how the room we were in served for a while as place of worship. Ray Whitehead surprised our host by asking if this was the Rice Market Church where he had worshipped in 1979 when it was the only Protestant church open in China. It was. The building was adjacent to the hospital where delegation member Maylanne Maybee’s grandfather had practiced medicine in the 1920s and 30s.
Throughout our journey, as we looked forward to renewed relationships with the China Christian Council and Three Self Patriotic Movement, these reminders of our historic relationships in China enriched the sense of possibility and purpose.
Leaving the church, after having a few photographs taken next to the Christmas tree in the church’s courtyard, we walked back to our hotel to finish packing up for the flight home. Even on that short walk, most of us were breathing through masks that we hoped would filter out the smog that hung heavy in the air. Our last day in Beijing was the worst day for air quality that we experienced.
Even after such a wonderful trip with so much learned, so many fascinating conversations and new experiences, I was glad to be heading home. I couldn’t wait to be back home with my son, and I have to admit that I was looking forward to being able to go outside to run or walk in a place where I can breathe deeply without worrying about it. Without even thinking about it.
Maybe I will never quite take it for granted again. I am very aware that when I came home to Canada, I left behind millions of people in Beijing and elsewhere in China and the world who cannot take the air they breathe for granted. With that came the understanding that the whole world could be headed that way if some major changes don’t occur. It was ironic to be experiencing this even as world leaders, (and United Church representatives to COP 21 Mardi Tindal, Christine Boyle, and Barbara Wilson), were gathering for the Paris Climate Conference).
As Canadians we will have our hands full to live up to the COP 21 commitments. Recognizing the unique challenges presented by the sheer size of China’s population (about 1.4 billion!), we Canadians have no right to be smug. We are all God’s children sharing the same earth.
And so we journey through Advent, expectantly looking ahead to the arrival of the wondrous infant who offers peace on earth and goodwill to all the earth’s peoples.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
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