My last day in Tongzhou was spent at the church chatting with a number of pastors. One, Pastor Dong, made a delicious spicy noodle dish for lunch, a specialty from his home village in the west (see the slide show). I'd also hoped to update this blog yesterday, but I couldn't get on all day. Internet can be very frustrating.
So everyone came back to Beijing from their various provinces around China after their four days of church immersion. All of us are full of great stories to tell. We've gathered at a small retreat centre basically under the Great Wall of China, a stretch where the tourists don't come, a section that hasn't been repaired and kept up... the non-Disney version, as someone put it. The real thing.
Today is Mid-Autumn Festival in which we feasted under the full moon tonight, in the shadow of the Great Wall. Actually we feast every day, as you've seen from the pictures, but tonight's feast was additionally elaborate. I just can't stop talking about all these amazing dishes that have such a vast array of tastes. We discussed how in Canada so much has far too much salt or sugar in it, and that's how we enhance the food's "taste," but here food, which is so much more deeply a part of the culture, is crafted with great pride and care embedded in each dish.
So the nine of us are here together, along with host pastors or reps from our hosting churches, plus the China Vision leadership who are hosting us. The hospitality just keeps overwhelming. They've arranged everything: restaurant meals, rides, retreat centre, program, gifts... it's a lot like the grace of God: endless and unmatched. We Canadians don't have a hope of ever reciprocating with this kind (or degree) of overwhelming hospitality.
This morning we worshipped together, introduced one another (hosts introducing their assigned Canadian guest and vice versa), and had a long discussion about what we saw, what we learned, what we didn't understand, and basically asked lots of questions (both ways) about evangelism, discipleship, reviews for pastors, pastoral transitions, pastoral accountability, overworking, sabbaticals and rest days for pastors, and what next in this new partnership we're all so excited about. What keeps overwhelming me is how strategic and intentional these pastors are in reaching their cities, their provinces, and indeed in seeking to reach all of China with the Gospel. They are relying on the Holy Spirit, but they also have a plan, lots of plans, big enormous plans.
Just one story, since it's midnight, and we're getting up early to catch that flight to Chengdu:
George and Tobia were sent north east to Harbin, a city near Korea. The church there is growing radically. It would almost make more sense to call it a denomination, except there are no denominations in China. It's like this massive mega-church with about 800,000 in membership. Yes, that's right: 800,000. This church has over 1200 ordained pastors and about the same number of ordained elders in about 300 congregations plus a huge training centre that trains the ministers of the whole province, but all connected as one church! What's so amazing is that at the end of the 80’s there was just one old church building there, with two services and less than 1000 Christians. From under 1000 to 800,000 Christians in less than 25 years!
After a long hike along the Great Wall, a big feast under the harvest moon, and another session this evening we finished the day with communion together this evening. I can't seem to upload pictures, so I'll try to do that perhaps tomorrow perhaps in the airport as we wait for the Chengdu flight.