When I was a young person coming back to faith in Jesus in the mid 70’s I was taught I had the answers to the questions of life. My experience as I traversed different parts of the world and met different kinds of people that this was not all together true. Yes, my young life had changed as I made following and learning about Jesus a priority, but I had a lot to learn from the people I met. Yes, I could offer prayers and encouragement from my perspective and I did see people encouraged, and even recovered from sickness. Yet, I learned to be quick to listen, slow to speak. Well, I had to be, because I was learning a new language! One of the many gifts of learning a new language. I also was learning and seeing beautiful things in the culture and people around me that I had not learned in my own culture. I learned to look for what good things God was already doing in a person’s life and in their culture. I learned to affirm those good things. Of course every culture has it’s light side and dark side, including my own. Now as I look back on those early years I think it was arrogant and naive to believe I had all the answers. Is it possible that Christians are hoarding Jesus? Saying and teaching that the way I interpret his life and teaching is the only way seems a bit narrow and exclusive. As if I know all the mysteries of Christ who died for the sin of the world, the very same who is reconciling all things, all people, all creation to himself. I do believe those points. I just don’t pretend to know what they mean exactly or how it will happen.
Here in the form of a poem are some reflections from Mark 9:38 – 41 John said to Him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, we tried to prevent him because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me…”
(My anthropoligist husband wrote this article about what we experienced in China in the late 1980’s when we lost our baby boy in a late miscarriage. Now China is depriving it’s Muslim and Christian citizens of the right of religous funerals . Now throughout the world we are all experiencing a disruptions in our funeral practices not for political or religious reasons but because of Covid19 pandemic.)
It brought up memories of the funeral of our son David in Guldja (Ili), Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in NW China (XUAR) My wife, Julie was 5 months pregnant in early Nov 1988 when she had a late miscarraige. We named the baby boy David. We had become friendly with the Russian family who were the caretakers for the Christian graveyard. (photo) We wanted a graveside religious ceremony for the baby and went to the college’s foreign affairs officer for permission. Mr. Guan, from the Xibo minority group and a Russian speaker, knew of a Russian priest still in the area, and was willing to introduce us. We did not speak Russian. Julie and I had previously bonded/interned with a Chinese Church in Taiwan and wanted a Chinese speaking pastor for the ceremony. We even had an address. After an initial delay Mr Guan agreed to take us to the pastor’s home and called the school’s driver to come pick us up. Pastor Lin, 80 something, was a seminary graduate from Lanzhou, and in very poor health. Brother Wu was visiting Pastor Lin and his family at that exact time and, when he learned about our need, volunteered to perform the ceremonies. He was taking over many of Pastor Lin’s duties as a young lay leader in the unregistered church. We made plans to meet at the graveyard early the next afternoon.
At Ili Teacher’s College we were under strict guidelines to not attend any of the Han Christian services that met periodically in the city. I still remember the earlier stern talk from Mr Guan ( the wai ban) telling me that if I attended one of the services, the school would shortly thereafter escort me and my family to the border. Instead of going to the border (the USSR was only 64 kilometers away!) we were now headed to the home of a Christian pastor of an unregistered church.
We were so surprised the next day to find that Brother Wu had brought over a dozen church members to join us. We gathered around the gravesite and they joined in our grief for losing our son. Those tears are beyond price and went a long way in opening pathways of healing for Julie and I.
In light of the recent regulations banning Muslim and Christian funeral ceremonies, I am reflecting on the basic humanity of Mr Guan and the Communist Party officials at our school. They were decent and allowed us to grieve our child in the way that was most meaningful to us. In Uyghur and Kazakh society and now, increasingly, among Chinese Christians throughout China, that decency is being taken away.
Julie and I remember the comfort of prayer and ritual around that gravesite on a cold windy November afternoon. That comfort has been taken from Muslim and Christian families in China. It is not right for a government to deprive the comfort and healing of religious rituals in a time of death. .