Chinese 101: My Story Part 2

The below article is a part of a series of articles that were written and posted in the fall of 2017 as we were starting deputation. Since there are so many new followers and subscribers of this blog since that time, I thought I would re-post the series and fill them in on how I learned Chinese.

As I made my way to the second floor, that all too familiar feeling of embarrassment began to creep back into my gut. Noticing my tall and overbearing figure slowing emerge from the stairwell, a couple of workers behind the counter smiled awkwardly as I walked toward them.

“Wo yao zhege,” I mumbled in broken Chinese, my finger pointing to a picture of a chicken sandwich. “Taocan,” I punctuated, to be sure the worker knew I wanted fries and a drink, too.

She then said something in reply that I couldn’t understand, though I felt it safe to assume it was a question. Guessing she was asking if I wanted that for here or to go, I mustered a “Zhebian,” which I had just learned to say the day before from a new acquaintance. His English was just slightly better than my Mandarin.

The worker smiled and took my 100RMB bill to make change. It was more than enough to cover my McChicken Sandwich combo, but I could never make out the price they quoted.

After about a minute, I was presented with a tray arranged just as it had been every other day for the previous three weeks or so. Taking it, I made my way to my usual spot and awkwardly sat down two tables away from a group of middle school students whose mouths were left gaping seeing such a large white man with a beard in person for the first time.

This had been my routine for weeks. Not knowing where to start with learning the language and being unable to order anything like fried rice or noodles at the shops littering the streets of Longyan City’s downtown district, I had settled for a steady diet of McDonald’s for lunch  every day until I could make headway in the language. They had a menu with pictures I could point at, after all.

But, how would I make headway? I had virtually no books and thus far no one willing to teach me. The few acquaintances I had made during that first month all seemed more willing for me to teach them English than for them to teach me Mandarin.

I determined that I couldn’t spend my days in China like this anymore. I had to break away from the rut of not being able to communicate with those around me. It was becoming embarrassing, after all, to show up in the only McDonald’s in Longyan everyday for lunch and mustering an order with less than articulate Mandarin grunts and guesses.

More than that, I wanted to preach. That’s why I came to China in the first place. I reasoned that learning to order noodles and fried rice would be the first baby steps on the long journey to Mandarin fluency that lay ahead. So, that was it. As I walked out of McDonald’s that day past the group of middle schoolers with mouths still wide-open, I resolved to give my all to studying the language one order of fried rice and dumplings at a time.

Chinese 101: My Story Part 1

The below article is a part of a series of articles that were written and posted in the fall of 2017 as we were starting deputation. Since there are so many new followers and subscribers of this blog since that time, I thought I would re-post the series and fill them in on how I learned Chinese.

Shortly after my arrival in Longyan, Fujian, China, I came face to face with the importance of being able to speak Mandarin Chinese – and being able to speak it well. My goal was always to preach proficiently in Mandarin, but arriving in Longyan made me acutely aware of how my language skills would also make or brake my day to day life.

You see, Longyan, though a small city by Chinese standards, boasts a population of over 2 million people; and when I arrived in December of 2010, you could count the number of non-Asian people that lived in the city on just two hands! In other words, there was only a one in a few hundred thousand chance of seeing one white or black person in the city. In addition to the minuscule foreigner presence in the city, extremely few locals spoke a proficient enough level of English to be conversational. That meant that not learning to speak Mandarin Chinese was to isolate myself from the millions of people around me.

Accomplishing day to day tasks – shopping, banking, taking a taxi, asking directions, eating out, getting a haircut, and making friends – all were going to be next to impossible unless I learned the language. In China’s largest cities – Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Beijing – and even in its middle sized cities – Xiamen, Xi’an, Dalian, etc – it is relatively easy to meet other foreigners (Americans, English, Australians, etc) or Chinese with a proficient level of English (tour guides, businessmen, English teachers, etc). But, comparatively speaking, in Longyan there were hardly no such people.

Sure, I worked at an English school, but I was one of only two foreign teachers; and the locals that taught at the school could barely carry a daily conversation in English – and they were English teachers! They were hired to teach basic vocabulary to children so didn’t need a great grasp of the language to do their jobs. The American that I worked with had arrived in China three or four years before me and was already fluent in Mandarin, had his circle of Chinese friends that didn’t speak English, and didn’t spend much time with me outside of work.

So, how did I learn the language? And how did I complete day to day tasks in the meantime? Those are questions to be answered beginning in part two…

Another Somalia, Less A Portugal

China is big.

1.4-billion-people big.

I know that. Most of you that follow my updates know that.

“Big” implies a high birth-rate and a high-death rate — to the tune of 15 million a year being born and 10 million a year dying.

15 million born a year.

10 million dead a year.

As was recently brought to my attention, that is one country of Somalia born a year.

That is one nation of Portugal dead a year.

Or put another way, Iowa and Illinois born every year.

One North Carolina dead every year.

The birth rate highlights the need. The need is huge.

The fields are white and ready unto harvest.

The death rate highlights the urgency. Action is required.

What will you do?

What will you do to reach these millions of Chinese with the gospel?

“Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.” Matthew 9:37-38