Spotlight on Beijing

photo by Jeam Wong, October 2011

A few weeks ago I was asked to write a little blurb for my organization about the city where I live and work.  It was meant to be to place a spotlight on the city of Beijing so that others can become more aware of our uniqueness as a city as well as the challenges that we face there.  I wanted to capture the essence of who we are as a community, with a limited amount of words.  That’s hard to do.

This is what I came up with (I took the liberty to edit parts of it to be able to put on this blog):

The Chinese love their history and Beijing has plenty of it.  Beijing, a city of 19 million people (give or take a million), just welcomed in the Year of the Dragon.  Like the dragon of folklore, the Chinese find power in that auspicious link to the past through the ancestors and emperors who have gone before, coupled with the glories of the revolution.  Everywhere you turn in Beijing you can see reminders of this.

At the same time Beijing has an intricate link to the future as they feel like they have something to prove to the world and are increasingly leaving their mark on it.  The past decade has seen the emergence of a large middle class—nearly 40% of the urban population—and a huge migration from the countryside into the cities. (The Economist, January 2012).  They attract people with higher buildings and Olympic parks and go for the bigger and better in the electronics industry. Beijing is home to some of China’s top universities.  They hold the seats of power.  In many ways people look to Beijing as a barometer to understand the political and spiritual climate of the times. Beijing is right in the middle of everything.

Because of this people are flocking to Beijing. Whether you’re talking about minority groups from the west and south, migrants from the countryside, graduated university students fresh off the boat, or international students from Africa and other part of Asia, the masses are pouring into this city.

In search of dreams and the glamour of success in Beijing, however, many are worn down by a myriad of challenges and disappointments.  Beijing is notorious for its 100,000-member strong “ant tribe”- those recent college graduates who have gravitated to the fringes of Beijing settling for low-income jobs, living at basically poverty-level existence.  “The glittery dream has dissolved into a pumpkin,” someone recently said.  Even our own like-minded students, in a desperate desire for community when moving to Beijing, get hooked up with the wrong kinds of people because the adversary glories in luring people with the counterfeit.

In such a vast city with so many needs and challenges, it’s easy to get lost.  It’s easy to get overwhelmed.

What are we as a community doing here?  How do we live in the city in a meaningful way?  Faced with the massive needs of this city, where do we even begin?

We begin in the English classroom.  We begin with Sunday lunch in the basement cafeteria across the street.  We begin with coffeehouses and baseball games and waffle nights and teacher performances.  We begin with the blind children in our neighborhood.  We come alongside our Chinese brothers and sisters to ask how we can help and then to learn from them.  We begin simply by caring about each other and by being His hands and feet in this city in the way that He asks us.

Beijing boasts of [5 teaching teams] and our Beijing staff, consisting of both Americans and Chinese laboring together.  All of our summer teachers come this way for training and debriefing.  Our new teachers get their feet wet for the first time in this place.  It is a home to anybody from expecting parents to international donors on vision tours to the DPRK team passing through for rest and renewal.  We rub shoulders with anybody from the first grader at the [primary] school to the Chinese government partner at the State Guesthouse.

There are unique possibilities…and unique challenges.  Hopeless desperation…and hopeful opportunity.

We choose to live as those with Hope.

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