Posted by: 1of10boyz | June 30, 2015

Water and Oil Don’t Mix – Christianity and Communism

You may remember from my previous post “A Changing Perspective” that I have lived in China long enough now that I am having experiences that are changing my understanding and perspective of life in China from what I originally created. I am learning that in some ways China is similar to other freer societies in the West. There are people here who have been Christians for generations; a thought that hadn’t occurred to me before. I have been conversing with a colleague that has been exposed to Christianity all of her life. I  learning about how her experiences here in China are different from other Chinese just as my experiences are different from other Expatriates living here.

There are two categories of churches in China, those that are officially recognized as Churches by the government and those that are not. Some of the churches that are recognized by the government include the Roman Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists and Christians (they are collectively called Protestants but I am assuming that the various Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, etc. fall within the same grouping although Americans would say that they are not the same). Some of those that are not recognized that you might recognize are Jews, Mormons, Russian Roman Orthodox, Jehovah’s Witness, etc.; these churches would fall into a group that is called “family churches” in China because they really aren’t allowed to do any real religious work outside of their own family relationships. There is also another subgroup of religions in these not recognized by the government that bears mentioning, the actively persecuted churches such as Falun Gang.

So how do you bring up religion in a conversation in a country that really doesn’t tolerate religion well? In our western society it is a much easier topic to bring up, I have lived in places where it was routine to ask someone you have just met if they have a “church home”, meaning have they found a place to go to church. I have been in places where the method includes a plate full of cookies or a newly baked loaf of bread. Those methods really don’t work well in communist China especially in a society that doesn’t really know how to react to those kinds of questions or gestures from complete strangers. In most cases I try to avoid the topic of religion altogether because it is against the law for Expatriates to passively or actively preach the gospel in China. It is much more challenging for any kind of religious conversation to happen in China between Chinese nationals and anyone that isn’t. There doesn’t really seem to be a good way to talk about religion here for an Expatriate so it going to be challenging to get the topic of her experiences going to be tough to get this topic into the conversation.

A quiet spot to eat and deepen friendships.

A quiet spot to eat and deepen friendships.

During nearly every conversation I have with new colleagues in China away from work I always try to cover one of my favorite topics, identifying who the communists are. My thoughts and understanding about China before coming here really aligned with and were indistinguishable from my feelings about their neighbor to the north, Russia or The Soviets as I have called them most of my life. Most of my life has been lived believing that the world would be a better place without communism, period. I still haven’t moved much from one of those “cute” little phrases from my days in the military: “Kill a Commie for Mommy”. Having said that, I have decided after living here for four years that I haven’t meet too many Commies that I would now consider enemies. I am sure they are still out there somewhere but I consider all the communists I have meet so far to be my friends. An interesting change that I would never believed I would say even just 5 or 6 years ago.

Interestingly in the group we had together there was only one communist, none of the new people in the group that I was learning more about were communists. During our discussion about being communist I learned about a unique conflict that I hadn’t expected for my Christian friend, she could not be a communist because she was a Christian. There is an apparent “water and oil mixing” problem between communists and Christians, one is water and one is oil and they don’t or aren’t allowed to be both. Now like everything else in these kinds of situations in China, sometimes that policy is very strict and other times it is more lenient. So there are likely Christian communists or is that communist Christians.

Now, my American brain really doesn’t comprehend how this can happen or why it would happen. I know that China has in their “constitution” that it has “the freedom of religious belief”, which I have mentioned several times in early posts that “the freedom of religious belief” is not the same as “freedom of religion”. I don’t claim to be able to describe the difference but I can tell you that there is a difference and it is obvious when you are here. I still don’t understand the “freedom of religious belief” distinction from “freedom of religion” but I will say that I would never trade “the freedom of religion” for the communists’ version of “freedom of religious belief”. My first reaction to learning this new tidbit of information is astonishment and I express that I can’t quite wrap my brain around how the communists know you are Christian. In order to understand this problem it requires her to tell us something that I hadn’t known before.

When she was baptized into her “state approved” Christian religion she had to declare to the government that this is what she was doing. No, I am serious; she had to tell the government that she was getting baptized to become a Christian. Because she was baptized into one of the approved churches the government now has a record that she is a Christian. My mind is blown. Since the government also gets to control who the communists are it now seems rather easy to make sure that your water and oil don’t mix and to make sure that you can’t be both a member of a state approved church AND a card-carrying communist party member (unless, of course, you are which is one of those “drive me crazy” things about China).

Not even sure how I feel about that.

As I think about the prayers I say each day, asking for God to bless this nation, to allow more of its people to have the opportunity to learn of the Savior, to learn of His plan for their happiness, to have the fullness of His gospel preached to them, I can’t help but think about the complications of life here when your government keeps track of your membership in religious groups. I know that God loves His Chinese children as much as He loves the rest of His children here on this earth. I know He wants them to have the opportunity to choose whether they will follow Him or if they will ignore His call. I also know that men do not by nature enjoy the kind of scrutiny about such personal beliefs as religion. I can’t imagine how it might feel living in a communist country that limits what other organizations you may participate in because you also have knowledge of a Savior that loves you and you have chosen to heed that call. I ponder whether I would be strong enough to withstand that extra scrutiny.

This new perspective is another reminder to me that God’s ways are not man’s ways, that God’s time does not follow my perception or the perception of other men on earth. God knows what is best for the Chinese people, when they are ready to have His gospel in its fullness here they will receive it. I know that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is reaching people in this country, it is happening now in a way that works with all the crazy dynamics of 60 plus years of communism. It works so that these followers and believers can build and grow their personal testimonies and can reach others who are ready to make the changes in their lives to become more as He would have us be. It doesn’t really make sense to me but it works and while I don’t have any real idea about those pieces of the puzzle I am beginning to understand more. I now have an idea of the kinds of pieces that exist in that part of the puzzle.

Me in the Conference Center in SLC.

I attended the October 2014 World broadcast of the LDS General Conference.

I am looking forward to having more conversations with my friend. Her perspective on life here is one I would never get without speaking to her or someone like her. I wonder what I will learn next? Still lots of questions that I want to talk about with her. Lots of things that I am sure I will learn. The most interesting thing about this is that the best questions I am sure to have, I don’t even know yet.

I really love being in situations where I am learning so fast that I don’t even know what the questions are but am super excited to know the question and the answer that will go with it. China is great for that, there is so much that I don’t know that I don’t know.

In the Salt Lake City temple visitor's center

In the Salt Lake City temple visitor’s center

If you haven't been here in SLC you must make the time to go

My photo with the Christus statue in SLC.

Posted by: 1of10boyz | June 27, 2015

A Changing Perspective – Christianity in China

This is the first of a two-part story.

One thing that makes living here in China for the past four years a great experience for me is my changing perspective. I have lived here long enough that I now get to have experiences that change earlier perspectives and understandings that were created when I first arrived. Things that I thought I understood and had figured out, I find are wrong or at least not really right. I enjoy these experiences as much as I did the original experience that made me think I had it all figured out.

The only thing that is constant with my experience living in China is that it isn’t consistent and nothing is really as at appears. Things that I think I have figured out, things that I think I can put into the perspective of my life’s other experiences end up still not fitting together and not making sense at all. My experience here is much like I guess it would if I had mixed three 10,000 piece puzzles together in the same box stirred them all together and then trying to put them together without having a picture from any of the three original puzzles to look at. Just as I think I have a couple of pieces put together I realize that I don’t even have the pieces from the same puzzle. That might sound frustrating, and sometimes it is, but I most often take it in stride. It is time to try to separate some more pieces.

I had one of those experiences that caused me to “see” something I hadn’t seen before. It was always here this way but seems that I looked but didn’t see. I realized that I had pieces from the same puzzle put together but they didn’t belong in the puzzle I think I have been working on. As with anyone in this kind of experience I would tell you I have been trying to understand China in the context of my understanding and experience from my life. What I realized is that this assumption that things fit together like I presume they do from my other life experiences only messes with my ability to comprehend the little things that make China so different from the rest of the world. The pieces of the puzzle I had been putting together weren’t part of the puzzle that I thought I was beginning to understand.

Several of my colleagues’ traveled to the biggest city in Shandong Province, a rather “smallish” city of 8.8 million people, during the recent Dragon Boat Festival Holiday. We spent the better part of the morning wandering around the city of Qingdao at the local antique market which is always a great time for me. I love that market because even though I have been there dozens of times these past four years it never is the same because the vendors change and the stuff on their blankets along the sidewalk always changes. It truly gives a unique picture of the saying “one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure”.

One row of stuff

the vendors and their blankets of stuff for sale. Beads to bull penis.

One of many little blankets of stuff for sale.

One of many little blankets of stuff for sale.

As we neared the lunch hour many of the vendors pack up and leave and we decided that we should meet at one of the restaurants nearer the downtown area. We traveled there without getting too lost. I have been to this location before but not to this particular shop and like almost everywhere in China, even a GPS doesn’t always help you get where you need to be without wandering all over.

One of my Chinese colleagues that was with us mentioned to me several weeks before that she has been a Christian all of her life. Her Grandmother is a Christian and had taught her about Christianity. You might remember that in China, your parents really don’t raise you; your grandparents raise you because your parents are off working and the retired grandparents become the primary care giver. Anyway the point is that she has been a Christian all of her life.

I have met several Christians in my time here in China, not as many as I likely would have met if I actually spoke the language and could actually have a conversation with the average person I meet in my wandering through markets and the countryside. She is the only one that I have met who was exposed to Christian all of her life. Honestly, this is the first Chinese person I have met that I know that might have had anything close to the kind of upbringing that I had, an upbringing filled with a knowledge of Jesus Christ all of her life.

I just haven’t met that many Christians so I guess I didn’t really consider that there are “Believers” here that have had the privilege of knowing for all of their lives that Jesus was The Christ, the Savior of the world. Sure, it was naïve of me to feel that there wouldn’t be Chinese here that grew up Christian all of their life or to think that this place is so different that there couldn’t be someone and their family that was Christian for many generations. Despite my time here it wasn’t something I had even thought possible, meeting a person here in China that was several generations Christian. I have presumed that she might feel like me in many ways because when you are in the minority compared to those around you, you see things differently, you experience things differently, and you have a different experience from everyone else.

Since she mentioned this unique Chinese perspective I have often wondered how her life might have been different from the billions of other Chinese here. I certainly expect it to be different. I know that my experience as a “Believer” here in China is different than many of the other Expatriates I interact with so I can only assume that her experience was as different as mine seems to be. Since nothing in China fits into my limited understand brought here from the mountains of the western United States, my puzzle pieces always seem to be a mismatch for the puzzle I am working on. I hope that understanding her perspective will give me a better picture of the puzzle so I can find a few more pieces that fit together.

I have wondered how to get her to share some of her story and how she would describe the differences from the many other Chinese I have come to know that not only don’t know Christ but have never even thought about whether they should know. I hoped from the moment that it was determined that we would eat lunch together that I would find a way to get more of her story and perspective.

As I have gotten to know her better these past few weeks, my curiosity of how her life varied from the many other Chinese I have meet is never far from my mind. In the course of conversation at our meal I was able to get her to talk a little about her experience. It wasn’t a long conversation because it wasn’t really a conversation that the other 4 people at the table would enjoy or for the most part even understand why it was a topic of conversation in the first place. I did learn some interesting facts and got her to open up a little about her perspective. I did get the opinion that she had not really thought much about how her experience here in China was different from her friends and the other colleagues I have known for a much longer period.

I hope to continue the conversation and to better understand how things were different for her. I am especially interested in learning that her grandmother became Christian until after the Cultural Revolution. I have read many books over the past four years about how being different during those years would only cause an even greater amount of unwanted attention. She explained that the Christians and likely every other religious person would have gone underground or left the country. The persecution would have been just too much to survive. I can’t imagine being a Christian during that period with all the blatant and encouraged attacks on religious shrines and places because those attacks were not just against inanimate objects but against people too; especially people who didn’t grab their red book and fall in line with the Red Guard. Being a Christian in China during that period must have felt a little like being a Christian in Rome in the early church, not a pleasant experience and likely a surreal environment.

Other things I learned in the discussion in part two. My next post I will call “Water and oil don’t mix”.

A Halloween Costume for me and some of the others that went to the movie dressed up.

A Halloween Costume for me and some of the others that went to the movie dressed up.

The challenge of not fitting in during the Cultural Revolution

The challenge of not fitting in during the Cultural Revolution

One of the propaganda pieces from the Cultural Revolution

One of the propaganda pieces from the Cultural Revolution

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