It took weeks to score a visa. I had to visit the visa office twice with various sets of paperwork. Then I was sent to Consulate. I had to go through a metal detector (which my hair barrett set off) and wait in a sub-zero tiled room for over 3 hours to fork over more money than any other nationality. A week later, I went back through the same metal detector (sans the barrett), retrieved my passport and eagerly flipped it open to see the pale colored sticker that served as my single entry visa for Mainland China.
For the last two weeks, the Mission hosted a United Methodist Women’s group called Ubuntu. Its a Swahili word that means “I am human, because you are human.” The Women’s Division and Mission Volunteers Division coupled and created this program for UMWs to go out into the world and learn about various Methodist projects, connect with other women, and establish relationships and learning through dialogue. Its an incredible program geared towards justice and learning. Two of my favorite things. Hosting the group here was a challenge and a blessing. The group ranged in ages from 13-80, and for months before they arrived, our small welcoming committee agonized over every detail from bottled water to hired buses, from conversation starters to bug spray. We didn’t exactly know what to expect as we waited in the airport with our brightly colored signs, but needless to say, all expectations were exceeded. I don’t know who I was inspired by more – the faith of the 13 year old girl who wrote songs about justice and beauty, or the 80 year old woman who hiked a 30 minute mountain range to go to a village church in China. It was exhausting, hosting the group. Nearly a year of planning went into this, and every minute of the last two weeks has been spent buying cases of bottled water, acting as tour guide, answering thousands of questions about our work here, praying, listening, traveling. When they flew out early Sunday morning, I was so excited to be able to walk to the bus by myself, not having to look back and do head counts. Yet I could not have been more pleased that they were here. They represented the Church with grace and respect. They connected on a level with the women here that is rare. They stayed two nights in the BH, sleeping on the floor, scrubbing toilets and accompanying clients. They cried when they had to leave. It was beautiful to see the pure elements of this journey truly lived out.
I had the glorious opportunity to join in their journey into Mainland China as an extra observer. We were there visiting projects by the Amity Foundation. (I’ve linked to them before, following the Sichuan earthquake earlier this year.) We saw clean water pipes, bio-gas fueled by pig waste, a new primary school, a church where the villagers stood on a cliff and sang us a welcoming song as we climbed the hill. The roads and doorways were lined with freshly harvested corn and chili peppers, adding beautiful spots of red and yellow and orange against the deep blue sky. The faces of the children we met were shining with dirt and laughter. The women we met spoke as openly about communism as they did bio-diversity and community sustainability. We saw villages, Christian villages, living out the true principles of Communism, and other villages ravaged by the effects of a market economy. We used squat toilets and gallons of hand sanitizer. The food, oh the vasts amounts of food, were laced with chili and odd parts of meat. We spent our last day in China visiting the county’s biggest tourist attraction – a waterfall. It was incredible, as the spray from the power of water drenched me. We drove through mountains that never seemed to end. I was sad at first, thinking my time in Asia would end without me ever seeing the Great Wall, but now I know its okay, because I saw the real parts of China. I saw communities working together. I saw children learning and laughing. I saw what they call 9th world poverty amid a mind-numbingly beautiful land. I saw the results of hard word and faith. And I saw hope. And fear. And trust. These things I saw, these people I met, this dirt I have collected at my heels – this my friends, is China.
(click to enlarge)