This month I am doing a series of blog posts highlighting my favorite China Moments over the past decade. There are ten total, which means there are only two more left to the series!
Michelle’s Favorite China Moments #9! Retreat to the Mountains.
We often joke in China that whenever you go on any kind of retreat with anybody in China it always involves climbing a mountain. When I look back at all the retreats I’ve taken with teams, students, Chinese friends, expat friends, and Chinese family- almost all of them involve a mountain of some sort. Some of the “mountains” are paved roads up a mountain where girls are spotted wearing dresses and heels, since appearance and the photo opportunities are of what’s most important in things like this. Some involve climbing man-made steps up a mountain, going along with the masses. Others are off the beaten path through the rough terrain that have you come back proudly with some serious scrapes and bruises after grasping on branches and sliding down rocks and sleeping on the hard ground. I have already told you stories of my Great Wall Camping experience here and here.
Some of my favorite China memories involve retreats upon a mountain, which I find very appropriate since Jesus often retreated with his followers up to a mountain. Recently I went on a leadership retreat. We went up our mountain and about halfway up there was a ridge that we could gaze over. And as we stood there catching our breath on our “mountain” we could see the city of Beijing. We went up to a quiet place and gazed out on the city that we had been called to, prayed specifically for our city, and reflected on the words of the Great Master. But at the end of the day, we had to go back to the masses of people. A holiday weekend in China provides new meaning to “masses of people.” But we couldn’t just stay on that mountain, much as we might have wanted to. Because each time Jesus had one of his mountaintop experiences he always went right back down to the masses to meet the needs of the people there. What a picture we were given that day!
Family Retreat. How do you find a quiet place in Beijing, a city of 19 million people? That year (2009-2010) was quite a fruitful year on our campus. At the end of the year, just before many of our family group of students were to graduate and venture to places all over the world, we took them on a retreat. One of the students knew somebody who knew somebody (love how that works in China) who knew a like-minded family that had a retreat center away from the center of Beijing (but still in Beijing). I had no idea such a place existed in such a bustling metropolis! Three hours of public transportation got us there and we spent two days together in that place. Introducing these students to a bonfire and s’mores was the greatest delight I had in a long time. We focused on what it means to be attached to the vine and bearing fruit. We played games and worked on team building to demonstrate that we were indeed a Body and needed to learn to walk this road together. We spent time together before we would each disperse to the places that the Father had for us. What a precious community of people!
A year later I went on a retreat with some of the leaders at the large Chinese fellowship I attend in Beijing. For the first time in a long time I just sat at the feet of the people. I didn’t have to plan anything or be in charge of anything. I could just simply come and BE with my Chinese brothers and sisters. The teacher became the student. The cross-cultural worker just stopped and humbly learned from the people she had come to “reach”. I sat at their feet and received wisdom from them. An older grandmother figure talked of God’s faithfulness as we prayed over her weak body. We sang Chinese hymns with a simple guitar. A young couple dispensed wisdom on the young peoplein the group of what it means to follow hard after God in their marriage. One sister gave a testimony of trusting God in her singleness. At 35 years of age and single in China is a big deal for these people!– What joy it was six months later to be able to attend her wedding, a beautiful ceremony that put Christ in the center! What a glorious gift from the Father who takes care of those who trust in Him. And what a glorious gift that I can learn so much from my Chinese family.
On my last Sunday (my last day, really) in China I went back to my Chinese fellowship again. Itwas the Sunday after our American Thanksgiving holiday, and the fellowship decided to make Thanksgiving the focus of their morning. They displayed a slideshow of pictures over the past several years- pictures of my Chinese family and the way they are reaching their community…in China! All along with the music of “Our God is An Awesome God.” I was doing fine with leaving China until that very moment. Because in that very moment I just lost it. I became most keenly aware of what I was leaving behind. I felt the tears come down, flowing in thankfulness that the Father allowed me to come and be here for awhile. Knowing that someday we’d all meet again- if not in this world, then most certainly in the next. Of that I have no doubt.
Stay tuned for the final post of “Michelle’s Favorite China Moments” (#10!) coming soon!