Beyond Babel: Learning Mandarin Part V

In May of 2015, my dream finally came true. After years of countless hours of listening to podcasts, conversing with shopkeepers, and leading small group Bible studies; one of the pastors finally asked me to preach at a college and career Bible fellowship, which was one of the ministries of the local, national church.

I was given a couple of weeks notice and set out to prepare myself well. It was to be, after all, my first time to preach in Chinese. I chose for my text Luke 9, in which Peter affirms Jesus as the Christ and Jesus defines the terms of following Him. I was given forty five minutes to preach, which was to be followed by small group discussion.

This Bible study, different from the one mentioned in my previous post, ran over fifty on an average Saturday evening and was steadily growing. By 2015, Anny Grace and I had been attending for over a year  and had gotten to know everyone in the group. We had prayed together, studied the Word together, and laughed together. As I became a more and more integral part of the church, the Lord finally blessed me with the opportunity to achieve my goal of the last five years.

That night I preached with virtually no hiccup in my language ability! Afterward, friends approached me to thank me for the message. I was successful! But, my success was not due to anything inherent in me. Rather, it was due to the work that the Lord had accomplished in me and used to push me to learn Mandarin to honor Him.

Walking home with Anny Grace that night, I remember her sharing with me in my excitement for reaching this milestone in my life in Longyan.

I was on top of the world and excited to see what the Lord had in store for me next. One thing that I discovered in a matter of days was that having attained my dream of preaching in Chinese, it was high time I set my sights higher.

Unfortunately, I had already heard from the pastors in the area that they would not let me preach in any Sunday morning worship services for fear of my drawing unwanted attention to them and their congregations from the local government.

Struggling with what to do next, I was reminded of a small group of missionaries whose blogs I had stumbled upon online just a year previous. They were boldly proclaiming their faith. They were planting churches. They were training men for the ministry.

I wanted to be a part.

Weekly Devotion Philippians 1:20-21

“According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

Paul desired to be ashamed in nothing, but to be bold that Christ would be magnified in his body, whether by life or by death. For Paul, to live is Christ. Christ is the only object for which he lived. To die is gain. Paul wanted Christ to be glorified in his death and knew it would be gain to him.

Lord, give me boldness to not be ashamed of Christ and His gospel. May Christ be magnified in my body whether I live or die! Use my life, and even my death, to make the light of Christ known in the dark places of this world!

Beyond Babel: Learning Mandarin Part IV

I froze. Why would he ask me first, of all people? I mean, my Chinese was getting conversational, but I was nowhere near confident enough to be put on the spot like this in the middle of a Bible study.

I fidgeted in my chair as my mouth began to dry. “I didn’t know I’d have to discuss this today,” I managed to get out in Mandarin thinking my face was certainly turning red in embarrassment.

“Oh, ok,” responded the pastor with a hint of confusion. “Jiang YunTian, what do you think?”

I was relieved that the spotlight had shifted from me, but also left wondering why the pastor would ask me an open ended question like that on my first visit to this Bible study. He had spoken to me at church before and knew my level of Chinese was still quite lacking. Why would he think my Mandarin could handle the question? Didn’t he realize that I was just hoping to come in and listen to their discussion to practice listening for Bible terms? Did he not have the forethought to know how embarrassed I would feel being put on the spot like that in front of my believing friends?

I wished I could answer the question. I yearned to be able to have free discussion with Chinese believers about the Bible. But after the blow to my pride I had just experienced, it seemed like me putting myself out there and coming to a small group Bible study was a bad idea.

Myriad are the instances like this that I could use to tell about my struggle to learn Mandarin. Stories from in church and out of church. With friends and with strangers. Whether in the supermarket or at the bank, I was constantly either making embarrassing mistakes or being left to give blank stares that communicated I didn’t understand.

But, through it all, the Lord taught me much about myself and about Him. He taught me what it means to humble yourself to become like someone else. I was often faced with minor humiliation, as in the story above, as a result of wanting to adapt to Chinese life. But, that is nothing compared to what Christ endured becoming a man and becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

As one can see, my first forays into national churches in China weren’t easy. There was much to struggle through, both in regards to language and culture. But the Lord was continuing to bless and getting my Mandarin skills ready to preach.