Some Random Thoughts While in China

We arrived in the city of Zhengzhou on Monday and it has been raining cats and dogs ever since. Which hasn’t made it real fun getting around the city! We were supposed to visit a few sites today, but they were all outside so we opted for a free day to hang out at the hotel, swim, and catch our breath. So I thought I would take the time to share some random thoughts about China- and one about the NFL.

1. Like many countries, traffic laws are a suggestion. Here in Zhengzhou, I counted 20 cars that through a light after it turned red. To cross the street, you have to get a critical mass of people and scooters who are willing to step out in front of the oncoming traffic at the same time in order to move like an amoeba across the street safely.

2. While the temperature is pretty fall-like here right now, the train and the local Wal-Mart are like saunas.

3. There are vacant cities everywhere. Not completely vacant, but everywhere we have gone we’ve seen 20-30 high rise buildings grouped together that are partially built and completely empty. It’s like a scene out of some post-apocalyptic thriller. In some places, these buildings form a city (or would form a city).

4. I know that there is diversity within China (different Chinese ethnic groups), you do not see a whole lot of non-Chinese diversity. This has made traveling fun as people are quick to pull out their cell phones and take pictures of the Americans- some even brave enough to stand with us while the picture is being taken.

5. Along with number four- Abbie is a hit here in China. People stop to watch her or will come to the store window to see her walk by. After being pretty shy about it, Abbie just smiles when she realizes she is being watched (and that people are taking her picture).

6. One of the funnier moments of our trip, so far, happened in the elevator of the hotel we are staying at. There was a Chinese couple in the elevator with us and he kept staring at Andrea- who was holding Malachi. Finally he said, “Isn’t he a Chinese baby?” To which we replied, ‘Yes, yes it is!”

7. In the Chinese culture, babies are kept well dressed- meaning multiple layers even when it’s warm outside/inside. This has been strange, especially when it’s warm, but we try to comply. In a few days we’ll be able to dress Malachi however we want. But we went swimming today with Malachi in the hotel pool. Not only did we all have to wear swim caps, but the hostess at the pool warned us that the pool was too cold for Malachi and that we should try to Jacuzzi. The pool was 80 degrees while the jacuzzi was over 100 degrees. They even came to check on us multiple times to make sure Malachi was ok in the pool. He did just fine!

8. Speaking of dress, children who are out of diapers where pants with slits in the back. When they need to go to the bathroom, they just squat and go. Even in public! We witnessed several examples of this at Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City. The parents had bags to clean up the #2- which was a little too much like cleaning up after a dog.

9. Malachi is from the Henan Province- and the Henan Province is home to nearly 100 million people. The province is the birthplace of the Chinese culture and has a 3,000 year old history.

10. Construction on The Forbidden City, where we got to tour, was started in 1420, seventy years before Columbus arrived in the Americas.

We are at the halfway point of our China adventure. Tomorrow we fly to Guanzhou, where Malachi will receive a medical examine and apply for his visa to enter The United States. This weekend we get to reunite with three other families who are in different provinces receiving their children- and do some site seeing. We are told that there is a very good open air market and a Chinese children’s boutique in Guanzhou- so we hope to find some treasures to bring home!

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Adoption Update: It’s Official

Today was the most tiring day of the trip so far (outside of flying from the US to China). Here is a run down of what we did.

-go back to the Welfare Center and receive our official adoption certificate. This means that Malachi is legally our son!
-go to the notary office to get some paperwork done
-get on a bullet train and take and hour long trip to Sanmenxia City to apply for Malachi’s passport. This was our second bullet train trip reaching speeds of 307 km/hour.
-Almost die (we could have!) as driver appears to intentionally go the wrong way against traffic to make the turn into the office where we apply for the passport easier. (Like many countries- rules of the road are merely suggestions)
-Return to Zhengzhou on the bullet train. This part of the journey was miserable as the temperature inside the train was at sauna levels.

After it was all said and done, we ordered room service nearly 11 hours after we left in the morning. Tomorrow is a free day before we fly to Guanzhou for Malachi’s health check-up and visa appointment on Friday. We continue to be thankful for your prayers and support.

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Adoption Update: GOTCHA!

Today was the day we “got” Malachi! Aside from a little bit of paperwork- he is officially our son!

The morning began as we had to exchange money at the bank for some of the fees associated with the adoption here in China. This should not have been a big deal- but it is currently a monsoon here in Zhengzhuo (Jung-Jo is how I remember to pronounce it) and the money trucks were late across the city. We tried two banks before we found one that could exchange our money. The first two families were able to exchange their money- and when it was our turn the system went down. We stopped at three other banks before we found one with the system working.

After going to the bank, we went to the social welfare building where we would meet Malachi. It was only seconds from the bank- and things moved quickly. When we walked into the building there were probably 20 families receiving their adopted children. We met a social worker named Angela, who worked at Malachi’s orphanage- then the moment came when we were handed Malachi.

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It all happened very quickly. One minute we are walking in the building, the next we have a son! We got our pictures taken by the Welfare office and filled out some paperwork- which will be completed tomorrow.

Malachi has been great. He is a happy young man and he has not cried at all. Now that we are back in the hotel room, he is playing with toys and babbling in conversation with us. Physically he looks good. His umbilical hernia has been corrected. He is standing on his own and taking a few steps. He will be walking all over the place in a few weeks!

One concern from the doctors upon seeing his medical records was his low weight. He seems to have increased his weight and looks very healthy. We are anxious to get him home to see the doctors at CHOPS for some more insight.

Thank you for the prayers- and keep them coming. We have four days here in Zhengzhou before heading to Guanzhou to receive Malachi’s passport to come home. Now that we have Malachi, we are ready to return home and will need some patience as we bide our time here in China.

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Adoption Update: Good-Bye Beijing

Yesterday (Saturday) we finished our touring of Beijing by seeing Tienamen Square, The Forbidden City and exploring a traditional Beijing neighborhood (Hutong) on a rickshaw. While in the neighborhood we ate lunch at the home of a Chinese family. The meal was traditional Chinese fare. It was the delicious. The owner of the home once cooked for the fourth Chairman of China. We also went to a traditional Tea House and learned the importance of tea in China. Of course we also had the chance to purchase tea! We concluded the day with seeing an Acrobatic Show in the city- which was a lot of fun.

Beijing is a sprawling city of 20 million people. We stayed near the center of the city. There is a wide variety of structures in the city. It really comes alive at night as the local restaurants begin to fill up around 7:30 pm. There is always a haze from the smog/pollution. Only once in the four days here could we see the sun- let alone blue skies.

This afternoon we will ride a bullet train to Zhengzhou where we will meet Malachi in the morning (Monday, September 15). The last three days have been enjoyable as tourist. Now comes the hard work of being new parents again!

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Adoption Update: Greetings From Beijing

Good evening from Beijing! We had a great first day. Today was a site seeing day. We saw The Great Wall, which was incredible and a lot of steep stairs. There were quite a few people gasping for air as we climbed the steps of the wall. While there are plenty of miles of flat surface on the top of the wall- we climbed the seep part!

Tomorrow is another day of site seeing and then Sunday we travel to Malachi’s province. We appreciate your continued prayers!

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Adoption Update: GO!

I cannot even begin to describe the excitement, anxiousness, and stress that I feel at any given moment. We’ve known for nearly two weeks that travel to China to bring home Malachi would quickly become a possibility. Yesterday evening- we received word that we had our final consulate appointment made (which would provide Malachi with a US Passport to enter the country). This means that we could officially begin making travel plans.

This afternoon, we signed on for airline tickets. Tomorrow, we’ll get confirmation about our tickets and have the skeleton of our trip to China. This is really happening!

In the meantime, Andrea has to get things lined up at school, I have to get things lined up at Wesley College and Hope Church so we can travel; we have to take care of a bunch of details here at the house, pack, and go over our travel check-list a thousand times. My hope is that when the plane takes off on the first leg of our journey that we’ll be able to breathe a sigh of relief because all the balls we juggle at home will be in God’s hands (and the hands of many capable people!).

Many of you know that China blocks many popular social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. To the best of my knowledge, I will be able to post to this blog (which will update on Facebook and Twitter). If you are interested in following our journey- stay tuned!

Lastly, please continue to keep us in your prayers. Pray for our travel and our adjustment to China. Pray for Malachi- that he would be healthy and ready to be part of our family. Pray for the transition period- how hard it will be for Malachi to leave his caregivers and be handed over to parents he doesn’t yet know love him greatly.

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Parables of Jesus: The Good Samaritan

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Around ten years ago, I read Tom Brokaw’s book “The Greatest Generation” about the stories and lives of the men and women who served in World War II. It was a captivating book. What really struck me about the book was the wives and families that were left behind here in America and how long one might have to wait to receive a letter. Soldiers and families were separated by thousands of miles and a huge ocean- as well as no real stable way to communicate- and families waiting weeks or months for an update- which would have been obsolete by the time it arrived.

Fast forward to about 2003 or 2004 when I was sitting at my desk in my office in Milford. Instant Messenger was all the rage with the cool kids- so I had it on my screen as a way to keep up with my students and friends who were using it. Instant Messenger was Facebook before Facebook and even Myspace. While I was sitting in my desk, I got a message from HTCIII. This wasn’t a student, but one of my best childhood friends who had deployed to Iraq with the Navy. Tom, as a flight doctor, was assigned to a squadroned based at an airbase in Iraq. For 20 or 30 minutes, we chatted in real time half-way across the world from each other.

In 2004, Andrea and I traveled to Paraguay to work with our missionary friends Andy and Lizette Bowen. Technology was different and they were much more isolated. Andy and Lizette had email, instant messenger- and now Facebook and Skype to stay connected with their family and friends as well as events going on around the world. I have had conversations on Skype with friends in Guatemala, the Philippines, and Uganda.

Our world has become increasingly smaller. At one time you could think of the world as a vast expanse with exotic cultures and traditions- now we must reconsider or reevaluate who is our neighbor. The world has become one big neighborhood where we can interact with and learn from each other even over thousands of miles. Defining our neighbor is no longer about thinking about who lives in our city, town, or neighborhood but realizing our connectedness around the world.

The parable of the Good Samaritan is a familiar parable if you grew up in the church, Sunday School or Vacation Bible School. It is a parable about both defining who our neighbor is and how we are called to live neighborly. 

One day Jesus is in some sort of a gathering- perhaps teaching and holding court when an “expert of the law” stands up to “test” Jesus. This man is a lawyer and his goal is to trap Jesus in an effort to discredit who Jesus is in front of the people. The lawyer, much like the Rich Young Ruler asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life.”

Jesus, in a very rabbincal fashion, answered a question with a question- asking the lawyer how he read the law…he was, after all, an expert.

The lawyer replied “Love The Lord your God with all your heart an with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.”  This is the center of the Jewish faith, the Shema and in our Christian faith and scriptures considered the Greatest Commandment. Jesus says that all the laws of Moses and the prophets can be summed up in loving God and loving our neighbor.

Jesus affirms this saying, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”

Now Luke, the author of the text, writes that the lawyer wanted to justify himself. He wanted to make himself look better in front of Jesus and the crowd by justifying his standing before God. And he does it through a very lawyerly way- he looks for a loophole- asking, “Well, who is my neighbor.”

When I was in college and in my required Philosophy course, most of us were trying to keep up with our professor as he taught. I know that I felt like I was over my head. I remember one class where the professor was waxing philosophically about reality and the blue sky and the green grass when a brave student raised his hand to do battle with the professor. Doing his best to hold his own, the student asked “How do we know the sky is blue? How do we know the grass is green.” To which our professor replied, “How do we that you have a brain” as the class erupted in laughter.

The lawyer is like my classmate, opening himself up to Jesus’ much higher level thinking and knowledge, asking “Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus tells a parable about a man who is on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho. This is a 15 mile journey that is very treacherous and known to be a haven for robbers and bandits. The man, presumably an Israelite, is accosted by these robbers and bandits who beat him, rob him, strip him, and leave him for dead.

In verse 31, Jesus says that a priest “happened” along the way. Those listening would have heard this a reference to providence that at just the greatest time of need for the dying man, God has sent someone to help. Jesus says that when the priest saw the man laying in the ditch dying- he went on the other side of the road and passed on by.

An important note, a priest would be considered unclean for 7 days for touching a corpse- which would mean he would be able to participate in leading worship at the temple.  In verse 32- a Levite came along and when he saw the man laying in the ditch he went to the other side of the road and passed the dying man by. While there were many ways one could become ceremonially unclean- touching a corpse was considered the worst. Pharisees, who made rules on top of rules, believe that if your shadow touched a corpse that you were unclean.

To each of these Israelites, fellow Jews, maintaining ceremonial cleanliness was more important than the messy work of responding to real human need. If you notice in the passage- the priest was “going down.” Many interpreters have commented that he would have been going down from Jerusalem (Higher elevation) to Jericho. Which means his priestly duties were over. Which means that helping the man would not prevented him from serving in the temple- because he already had. The person who was to reflect the very character of God passes by the man in need.

In Verse 33, Jesus drops a bombshell. He says, “But a Samaritan, as he traveled came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.” The Samaritan gathered the man up, bandaged him, cleaned out his wounds and put him on his donkey. There he took the man to a local inn and took care of him overnight. The next day, the Samaritan told the innkeeper to look after the injured man and that he would come back and pay whatever expense was owed for his care. The Samaritan did not put a cap on his care. He did not say to kick him out after three days- but that he would pay whatever expense was owed.

This parable- for the first century Jew listening to Jesus or reading Luke’s Gospel would find this absolutely scandalous and unlikely. In our culture, the Samaritan is a hero. They are someone who does exactly as the man in the story. But in the first century culture- a Samaritan was considered sub-human  and a good Israelite would have no interaction with a Samaritan. In fact, those listening to Jesus teach would likely think that it was Samaritans that would have beaten and robbed the man rather than one who helped. Samaritans were despised and hated by Jews.

You can hear this in the lawyers response when Jesus asks, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Notice that the lawyer cannot even bring himself to say “the samaritan.” He cannot stomach the thought of the Samaritan being the example of right living.

Jesus goes on to say, “Go and do likewise.”

Jesus’ command is for those who love God is to love their neighbor regardless of race, creed, or ethnicity. We are to show compassion on those who are hurting and suffering.

Throughout this week, I’ve been wondering how Jesus would tell the parable if he were in Dover, Delaware. I’ve been wondering what he would say to us about how to be neighborly by living out our love for God by loving our neighbor.

It might go like this…

“A man was walking down Kirkland Street when he was attacked by thugs. They beat him, took his money, and shot him for good measure- leaving him lying along the side of the road. A young professional was driving down Kirkland as quickly as he could- because he knew this wasn’t a street that a young professional wanted to be caught on- when his headlights caught what looked to be the shape of a person lying on the side of the street. Worried that danger might still be around- the young professional continued on their way.”

This is a scene that gets played out in various ways in our community and communities around the world every single day. Maybe it is not a shooting. Maybe it is someone having financial distress. Perhaps it is a husband and wife whose marriage is falling apart. We come across people who are beaten down, broken, and dying (both literally and figuratively) and we must ask ourselves whether or not we are living out the Great Commandment- Loving God and loving our neighbor.

The Samaritan, when he saw the man lying on the side of the road had to make a decision. Did he want to stop his trip? Were there robbers and bandits still around? While the man was stripped- he may have had some indication that he was a Jew- an enemy. Was it worth stopping for someone who hated me? There was risk involved in stopping to tend to the man lying in the ditch. But the Samaritan feeling of compassion was greater than the risk involved. He felt more than pity for the man- he made a commitment to get involved and help the man. The Samaritan’s compassion was greater than any fear he may have had.

There are several lessons that we can learn from the parable that are related.

  1. Our religion, faith, social class should not keep us from helping someone in need. The priest and the levite teach us that our religion or social class does not excuse us from loving our neighbor- whoever our neighbor may be. Which in the context of the parable can be anyone we are in contact with. Our neighbor may be the person that lives beside us, or it may be someone half way around the world. Our identification with Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior is never a reason or justification to keeping the love of God to ourselves. Our faith, our religion should not prevent us from helping others.
  2. The religion, ethnicity, or social class of the person in need should not prevent us from showing God’s love. The Samaritan teaches us that we are to show compassion and mercy on those in dire need regardless of religious or ethnic barriers. If the priest and the levite teach us that our faith should not prevent us from helping- the Samaritan teaches us that we should not allow another persons faith or ethnicity to keep us from showing love. In the Kirkwood example above- would we be more likely to stop if the person had the same skin color as us or different? How about if they were of Middle Eastern descent? Wore a turban? Spoke only their spanish or Hindi? If we are to love God- then we must be like the Samaritan who did not allow religion or ethnicity to keep him from showing compassion.
  3. Finally, the man in the ditch teaches us that even our “enemy” is a neighbor. Certainly, as a Jewish man he would have had little to no dealings with a Samaritan. But sure enough, it was not his fellow Jew who stopped to help- but it was his “enemy.” The Jewish man did not refuse the help of the Samaritan because he was in need- he needed someone to come along side of him so that he could live.  When we refuse to label people as enemies- we are able to see them as brothers and sisters.

In the lesson- Jesus affirms what is needed for eternal life with God. We receive eternal life when we love God with every part of our being and we love our neighbor as ourself. The lawyer wanted Jesus to affirm that our neighbor is someone life ourselves; perhaps someone of our own ethnicity, religion, or race. The lawyer wanted to know how small his neighborhood really was. Jesus turned his question on its head and showed the lawyer how big the neighborhood is. We are to have compassion on anyone we come in contact with for they are our neighbor.

This past week at Wesley College was the annual poster sale. If you had the opportunity to go to college- you likely remember the poster sale. You might buy Ansel Adams prints to hang on your wall or the album cover from your favorite band. I remember my Freshman year of college that I bought three poster- each with the artwork of the original Star Wars Trilogy. 

One of the offerings at a poster sale is the print of Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” Van Gogh was raised in a Christian home and sadly through much of it away in his early adult life as he slipped into destructive habits. Thankfully Van Gogh began to re-embrace his Christian roots and this spiritual awakening is evident in some of his paintings.

New Testament Scholar, Scot Mcknight, in his book “The Jesus Creed” writes, “The best-kept secret of van Gogh’s life is that the truth he was discovering is seen in the gradual increase of the presence of the color yellow in his paintings. Yellow evoked (for him) the hope and warmth of the truth of God’s love. In one of his depressive periods, seen in his famous The Starry Night, one finds a yellow sun and yellow swirling stars, because van Gogh thought truth was present only in nature. Tragically, the church, which stands tall in this painting and should be the house of truth, is about the only item in the painting showing no traces of yellow. But by the time he painted The Raising of Lazarus, his life was on the mend as he began to face the truth about himself. The entire picture is (blindingly) bathed in yellow. In fact, van Gogh put his own face on Lazarus to express his own hope in the Resurrection.”

“Yellow tells the whole story: life can begin all over again because of the truth of God’s love. Each of us, whether with actual yellows or metaphorical yellows, can begin to paint our lives with the fresh hope of a new beginning.”

Like the Church in Van Gogh’s starry night- the priest and the levite were to be “yellow” with hope when it came to embodying the love of God to our neighbors. But they walked on by- and if Van Gogh were painting them he might paint them dark and colorless. 

Our lives are to shine vibrantly with the mercy and love of God. If our lives were a Van Gogh painting- would the Master Artist paint us filled with yellow? His color of the hope of God? Are we sharing that hope, that compassion, that love with our neighbor? Are we willing to risk to help those who are in the greatest of need?

This week I want to challenge you to look for and pray for the opportunities to show your love for God by loving your neighbor. It’s a Code Yellow week- a week to show compassion and love to the world.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 3:3 “You yourselves are our letter written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the Living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”

Our lives, our actions, our words are a letter from Christ- written on our hearts by the Holy Spirit to the world. For some, we are the only interaction with the love of God a person will have. This week and in the days to come- rather than trying to shrink our neighborhood, let us see how large God’s neighborhood is and shine the light of Christ wherever we go.

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