Saturday, April 25, 2009

Enemy Territory

As things are starting to slowly (or maybe quickly, actually) wind down, I want to take a moment to really, really, really thank those of you who were offering up prayers for what I've been doing here. What you have done has meant more than you could imagine. I believe that without any evidence of it, but just recently I found out that there truly is evidence of what your prayers have meant. Let me explain.

As my teammate and I are preparing to leave our city after this semester, we both had to ask the question - what next? I was pretty well set on returning home to the States. But my teammate thought that he might like to stay over here for a little while longer. Through a long list of connections, he got in touch with a guy who is kind of the regional director for an organization very similar to our own and very well respected.

My teammate went to meet with this man and discuss some opportunities for future teaching positions over here. Well, the question of, "Where have you been teaching?" came up in their conversation. When my teammate mentioned our city's name, the regional director guy kind of gasped. My teammate was confused and asked what the shock was about.

The director explained that their organization used to send teachers to our city, but they pulled out of here several years ago because this city was a disaster area, in a spiritual sense. Respectable, true believer teachers from their organization would come to our city, and within a year's time or so, most of them had some kind of major moral failure. Apparently it was mostly of a sexual nature, but it also was broader than that.

Anyway, these were true warriors - not burdened believers who had a history of this sort of thing. This happened so frequently that the organization finally canceled the program here. And this is the only city in the history of the organization that they have had to shut down for moral failures. Whoa.

Now, our organization has been in this city for a while, too. And we haven't had as many troubles as their organization did. But my teammate and I did learn of several teachers from our organization that also had significant moral failures in this city. Now, we stand on the foundation that many have built here before our arrival, but there is no doubt that this is a negatively charged city in terms of spiritual things. All the dreams, oppressive feelings, visions, etc. that I have experienced here have confirmed to me that we are in enemy territory.

But here's the thing - my teammate and I have really had great success here! No, we haven't been perfect individuals, but Grace has been poured out on us, and we have been protected from any severe moral dilemmas or errors. And why is that? Well, yes, it's partly because my teammate and I are serious about our work here, but that is just part of it. It is largely, even hugely, because you back home have been keeping us in your prayers! Do you see the majesty of it? Man, words do not do it enough justice!

I'm serious - we have been protected here because you all have been faithful to us with your prayers and petitions for us. I am eternally grateful to all of you who have bent your knees and bowed your heads time and again to bring our names before the One who has redeemed us. Truly this work here has been a partnership - not just a couple of lone rangers fighting for Truth. We could not have been so successful without all of you. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Now my teammate and I ask you all not to grow weary of doing the good that you have been doing, but to keep up the prayers. We are here for another 2 months, and we don't want anything to wreck the good foundation that has been laid here. And once we leave, if your heart is up to the task, remember this city still. Righteousness is longing to break free here, but it is not there yet. My teammate and I can feel the birthing pains of it, but the delivery is still some time off. This city needs you - remember that these are your brothers and sisters, too. You may not know them personally, but you know them by proxy. Please don't forget them. I commit to doing the same.

Thanks again.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


Well, sorry for my long departure from blogging. I'd make excuses and whatnot if I felt it was necessary, but instead I'll just ask you to look for more details to come in my next newsletter. In the meantime, I want to mention something that we did in class just the other day.

I did something I hadn't done in a while - I created something new! Most of the time when I've been using materials for class, it's been a modification of something that I or someone else had already made. But just recently I decided to use my own creativity to do something. Rick and I have been making a lot of changes to our general routine in class this semester. And through that process, we have begun to try to ask the question - what is it that our students really need to prepare them for the journey ahead? Well, 2 things we identified were negotiation skills and long range planning.

In response to this, I used that noggin' o' mine that God so generously gave me, and made a game to test the students on both of these skills. I called it (quite simply) The Negotiation Game. The object of the game was for students to engage in trading with other students over a limited selection of raw materials. If a student collected enough materials, he or she could create a product that was more valuable than the materials themselves. And the idea was to try to make as much profit by the end of the game as possible.

The reason the game was so good was that the students really had to stop and think about their strategies. What would be the most effective way to make money in this situation? As it turned out, the students who made the most profits were not those students who created products - it was the students who traded raw materials the whole game. Many students had tunnel vision during the game - they decided which product(s) they wanted to create, and then they went on a buying spree to obtain all the raw materials they needed, paying little attention to how much they spent on each trade. Needless to say, they lost part of their profits on every trade they made.

However, the clever students realized that to make a product, you would have to lose some profits on each purchase of raw materials. But to sell raw materials meant making profits on every sale. And selling raw materials at the beginning of the game resulted in small profits, but selling them towards the end of the game, when materials were scarce, meant big profits. Rick and I were proud to see that several students made profits in excess of 25%! And they were justly rewarded - with candy!

Also, it was a great game because the students just enjoyed it. It looked like a tiny Chinese Wall Street. Ha. They were going crazy trying to purchase all their goods for the best prices. It was really a lot of fun watching the whole thing unfold.

So, sometimes being a teacher, trying to come up with creative ideas for the students, is really a pain in the neck. And this project wasn't without its painful moments, too. But, in the end, seeing the thing work out so successfully was just a great joy. I wish some of you could have been there to see it!

Any news from back home???

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Traditional Chinese Medicine

You know, they say you're supposed to do stupid/silly things in foreign countries, right? Well, I wouldn't say what I've done is stupid, but it might seem pretty strange back in the States. Over the past year and a half I have tried out various types of Traditional Chinese Medicine. It's cheap, plentiful, and generally effective. The two drawbacks - sometimes I don't know if I trust the doctors completely because they are used to working on Chinese people, not foreigners, and it's generally pretty slow to be effective. But let's review a few of the things I've done.

The first is not so shocking and included mostly OTC herbs and suspensions that were supposed to help me recover from some sinus problems. Some of the stuff didn't taste so great (imagine old, unsweetened root beer mixed with rusted iron and dirt), but it was helpful. I had tried this kind of treatment back in 2004 during my first visit to China. It was much more shocking at that time. Now it seems pretty common. Ha. Oh, and to accompany this, I was also asked to open my windows for about 10 minutes before I went to bed to let in fresh air. At the same time, I was to put my feet in a pot of really hot water. Then I closed the windows, put on lots of clothes (they love lots of clothing in China - it's kind of like the old joke of how flight attendants use baking soda as a cure all), and then rest up. It seemed okay.

Next up were Chinese massages. Some of these have been pretty standard fare - like what you'd get in the States. But some of them have been a bit different - walking on my back, cracking my neck, burning some herbs that smelled like a cousin to marijuana, and crazy (but oh so relaxing) Chinese foot massages. These have been nicely helpful, and I'm still going through a round of these to try to help with some back muscles that just won't loosen up.

Soon to follow was acupuncture. Now, this was generally a decent experience for me. They took the needles, stuck them in where I had some hurt muscles, twisted them around a bit, left them there for a while, heated them up, and repeated. Occasionally I would bleed a little from this (the needles were not so tiny), but it was pretty mild overall. What I saw some people enduring looked much worse (e.g., a set of them in the ear - YIKES!). These helped me for the time I was using them, but my back, in particular, has still had some problems.

So, one of the most recent treatments I've tried is called Fire Pots or Capping. It's both painful and not painful. Your body adjusts to it pretty well, so it's manageable, but every now and then the doctor will put some oil on my back, put one of these jars on after that, and then run it all up and down the muscles that follow my spine. Yowser! See the picture to get an idea of what this treatment generally looks like. Ha. (Yeah, that's me in the picture).

And, most recently, I have experienced the one treatment that I hope never happens again. You know the little needles they use to poke your finger so they can test your blood sugar and whatnot? Well, the doctor had a metal mallet that looked a bit like a meat tenderizer, and in the middle of the mallet head, there was a little needle like that on there. Well, the doctor took that object and beat me with it! He used it on 4 different spots on my back and legs, and he hit me about 40-60 times per spot. That was about 200 little punctures he made in my back. Then he took those jars I just mentioned above and put them over the holes. It's a bleeding technique that supposed to help your blood flow better and to help remove toxins from the body. IT IS PAINFUL AND THEN SOME. I would not recommend it to a friend.

But so far, that is my experience with TCM. Haha, my life in China is not SO much different from my life in America, but it's little things like this that regularly remind me that I am DEFINITELY in a foreign country that has a very foreign culture compared to what I've known. Anyone else had similar experiences?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Little Impressed

You know, being in the field of work I'm in, it's not a common thing to get to splurge.  First, it can be wasteful.  Second, I don't make much money anyway, so it's hard to splurge.  Third, in this kind of work, you can't help but feel a little guilty when you spend your money on yourself.  Still, I'm just a person, and yesterday I wanted to splurge a little.  So what did I do?  I bought an Apple iPhone 3G.

My previous phone was beginning to give me troubles - keys not working well, text messages not received, sending text messages in triplicate without my permission...I admit, I got a little frustrated with the phone.  So, far my only complaint with the iPhone is that what people have said about the battery life is true - it don't got muchuvit.  Oi.  But that's not why I'm writing tonight.  I'm writing because I was a little impressed with this overpriced piece of machinery (note:  I say it's overpriced because I bought an international version of the phone, which means it's legally unlocked for all networks, but you pay full price for the phone - no discounts or anything).

So, what did the phone do for me?  It got me back home!  I'm currently staying with a friend in Hong Kong (yea for long holidays for teachers!).  My friend is still working at this time, even though it's so close to Chinese New Year.  So, a decent amount of my time here is spent by myself, just roaming the city.  Not bad, really, but I'm only decently familiar with HK.

Well, tonight I was off wandering the streets of Mong Kok on the Kowloon side, and I decided it was time for me to start heading back home.  Except, I didn't exactly know where I was or how I had gotten there.  Ha.  I'm not the best with directions either.  Many of you can testify to this.  So, what did I do?  I pulled out my new gadget and said, "iPhone, get me home!"  It then responded with a, "Please wait while I find your location...Okay, here you are, and this is where you want to go."  I followed the iPhone's commands, and now I'm safely back home in my friend's home.  Amazing.

Now, I know technology will keep improving, and some day this will look old school.  But today is does not, and today I am a little impressed with my gadget.  Thanks iPhone, for possibly being worth the investment.  Apple, please don't make a new iPhone too soon again and make me feel like all my splurging today has quickly been invalidated and outdated.  Ha.

Happy Chinese New Year, everyone!  It's the year of the bull/ox.  Cow in Mandarin is pronounced "niu."  This sounds a bit like "nyoo."  So the trendy and oh so unfortunate thing to say is "Happy Niu Year."  Oi.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Work, Toil, or Something Worse?

The other night we had one of our Western Dinners with our students. During this time, we take them to a nice restaurant here and treat them to a steak dinner. It's a great thing to share with them, and watching them attempt to use a fork and knife for the first time is just funny. It's almost always a joy to see these young men and women get dressed up, learn a little western culture, and enjoy an experience that most of them have never had before. But as Rick and I were coming home from the dinner, we saw something that made our hearts kind of sink.

We got back from the dinner a little after 10pm. And as we were walking to our apartments, we saw a group of about 6-8 Chinese men, who were probably in their 40s and 50s mostly. They looked a little tired and a good bit beaten up by life. We smiled and said a polite "Ni hao," to them as we passed by. We didn't think much about it at first, but shortly afterwards, we realized that these men had been working on track and field area on our campus. "Ouch," we thought.

They work all day long, by the sunlight in the day and just by the moonlight at night. Most of them don't look clothed enough to stay warm. Most of them look like they haven't seen a good, warm meal in a long time. Yet, we pass by them wearing nice suits and ties, carrying back our leftover wine from the meal, and something just didn't set right with us. Yeah, okay, I know finances have a lot to do with the scene we saw, but I think I felt sad for a much deeper reason.

I know the ground has been cursed. I know work in this world is not fully redeemed. I know toil is something we face in this world, but I felt like what we saw was worse than that. It looked like toil, burdened by societal abuse and hopelessness, slightly warmed over by an ignorant contentment. What we saw looked much worse than just toil. It looked like hell. Ouch, ouch, ouch.

Also, I talked with a student tonight who told me about how his parents have shown their love to him by providing much for him, working long hours even at the expense of their own health, and sacrificing their own needs to care for his needs. How amazing their commitment is! Still, he knows there is more to love than just this. He'd love to have a hug, a word of encouragement, or even the chance to simply feel comfortable showing love to his parents. He really hopes he can, in time, understand what love is supposed to look like, yet he doesn't really want to share his understanding with his parents because he thinks it will only make them angry and discontent. They are happy enough with their lives now - why should that balance be upset? Whispers of death filled our coffee cups and turned them cold with lies.

China, my heart breaks for you! You could teach us in America a lot about the recklessness of our self-centered nature, and I hope I never force my culture on yours, but I hope and pray that someday you can come to understand that life and love have so much more to offer than what you have seen of it so far. God willing, maybe I will have a chance to show you.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

It's Christmas Time

Well, it officially feels like Christmas now. I've been listening to Christmas music lately, but it just hasn't put me in a holiday mood, but that changed today. Today was a fun day.

First, this afternoon I received a package from some friends back home. It was filled with all sorts of goodies and silly things, too. Yeah, I know I probably shouldn't have opened it until Christmas, but I'll be out of town Christmas day, so I felt justified in my actions :P

Second of all, tonight we had movie night with our students, and we watched "Christmas Vacation." Although I nearly cried a time or two because the yearly tradition is that we watch this movie as a family, I loved getting to laugh with the students as they saw the movie for the first time.

It's great to see Todd and Margo making fools of themselves, the Griswold house and its 25,000 Italian imported twinkle lights, Aunt Bethany and her misplaced patriotism, Ellen's oh-so-sly (or is it not-so-sly?) flicking away of the dried out turkey, the fried pussy-cat, the dump truck driving through the nitroglycerin plant, Clark's beautiful monologue regarding his wonderful boss Mr. Shirley, cousin Eddie, cousin Eddie, and cousin Eddie. Ha! Such a good movie.

Anyway, it is still a little sad being so far away from home on Christmas for 2 years in a row now, but I'm glad the Christmas spirit has hit me. And next week we will travel to Shanghai to enjoy the holiday with other teacher friends there. We'll do a gift exchange and an amazing Christmas dinner of pizza. Ha. Should make for a good time.

Wishing you all a great Christmas season and holiday! Please drop me a line if I haven't heard from you in a while!

Monday, December 1, 2008


It's funny, when we talk about going on a retreat, I think most people don't even consider the military/war meaning of this word. Yet, hopefully, if a spiritual retreat is done well, it should take you out of the front lines and move you back to the infirmary or something like that. Well, we just went on a retreat, though I'm still a little baffled by the whole experience. Let me try to recall without going overboard.

All of the teachers from our organization went up to Beijing to get some R & R. It was very good getting to connect with everyone again, especially since it's just a team of 2 here in my city. There were about 40+ folks at the retreat, and it is pretty amazing when you have the revelation of, "Oh, wow! I can talk at full speed and you understand me!"

However, we learned some information at this retreat that was a little unexpected. I shouldn't mention it here, but I'll say that because of this information, I now feel like it may be appropriate for me to stay for a third year here. I am prepared to do this, but it isn't exactly what I was planning. Still, I know my plans always need to be flexible, so I can flex.

But somewhere in the midst of a bunch of "foreigners" and with the strange news we got, my heart started to get a little confused. God (well, I'm assuming it was from Him) gave me some interesting visions for what's ahead in my life. I'm very excited about these visions, but there isn't much info about how or when they will come about. So, I will wait for these answers, and that's okay. But something else still isn't resolved in my heart, and I can't pinpoint it.

If I had to guess, I'd say it's that God is really asking me to have a closer walk with Him. And, to be honest, I really want that, too. At other times in my life, I'm not sure if I could say that and honestly mean it, but He is continuing to reveal Himself to me, and I just want to know and see more. But, I don't know if it's warfare or what, but I feel blocked from this closeness. My heart won't seem to quiet down, my workload doesn't ease up, I'm too often too tired, my sleep is often interrupted by the enemy, loneliness pangs sometimes disrupt my focus...etc. I don't mean to make a list of complaints or excuses. I'm just trying to process what's going on.

We're back in our city now, and already we've been hit by hard times. The students have recently given us some troubles, a couple of the foreign teachers here really seem to have some spiritual baggage with them (and a third teacher we know from before is coming next semester, too), several nights have been plagued by enemy activity...It's a war zone. God is being good to guide us through it all, but it's heavy.

Thank goodness our victory is assured in Him! And there is light breaking through. The students seem to be responding to our correction we've given them based on their bad decisions, and just the other night I had a dream of a lady I might call a priestess. She seemed full of evil intentions for our city, but I could tell that she was flustered by our presence here and by what the church is doing here. As I woke up, I saw her apparition in my room, but it faded with two loud screams being heard in the distance. I can't say I understand everything that's happening here lately, but I think that's okay. He is our God, and nothing will change that! Amen!