Final Report on the English Language Workshop for Chinese Pastors and Seminary Instructors

Dear Friends,

The English workshop for Chinese pastors and seminary instructors is over and I’m back home. I was so busy the last week I was in Huangshan, I didn’t have time to put a weekly report together, but thought you would like to hear something about the final week. Besides going on with our regular schedule of teaching, there was much gift-giving and several farewell dinners. Global Ministries, sending agency for our denomination, sent small theological dictionaries (which were in English) which we presented to all of the students.

On Thursday of last week, Presbyter Ji Jianhong, Chairperson, National Committee of Three-Self Patriotic Movement of Protestant Church in China, came to be with us for the closing days of the workshop. I can speak no Chinese and he could speak no English so we had to communicate through an interpreter. This did not stop us from developing a good relationship. He was trying to learn to say my name and was having some difficulty, so I said, “Why don’t you call me Lao Mi, that’s what I’ve told my students here to call me.” He said, “If you are Lao Mi, then I’m Lao Ji.” The reason I’m telling this is that Lao Mi means “old Midkiff.” So he was telling me to call him “old Ji.” This name of Lao Mi was given to me several years ago by some Chinese friends when my brother and I were both in China doing some work for our respective universities. Don and I are twins, so the Chinese wanted to know which was the older. I reported that I was one hour older, so they stared calling me Lao Mi and they called Don, Sao Mi (young Midkiff).

Click to Enlarge

Presbyter Ji Jianhong honored the teaching team with a banquet and there was much toasting for all the hard work done, by the Americans and the Chinese, to make the workshop a success. Presbyter Ji officially invited the team back to teach the second year of the three-summer project. Presbyter Ji (Lao Ji) also led a closing ceremony on Saturday morning at which time several Chinese church leaders and the team members were invited to speak. I gave the official comments on behalf of the team, but Julie and Tyler Hanna spoke briefly—Julie saying how she was reluctant to participate in the project because she had never been to China before, but how she had had such an enriching experience getting to know the dear pastors and seminary instructors in the workshop. Tyler (the fifteen year old son who came to China with a broken foot) expressed appreciation for the kindness the Chinese had given him while his foot was healing.

I am going to include my speech for the closing ceremony HERE, but before I do, I want to thank you on behalf of the American team and the Chinese participants for your prayers and thoughtfulness for this success of this project. We will be returning next summer to continue our work.

Ronald Midkiff (Lao Mi)

Fifth Report from China
August 8, 2004

The highlight of this week was a trip to Huangshan Mountains. These mountains are considered a “national treasure” because of their beauty. For years I have seen paintings by Chinese artists of mountains and always thought that the paintings were stylized because the cliffs were so steep and the tops so pointed. Then, there would always be craggy pine trees clinging precariously to the rock cliffs. Now that I have been to these mountains, I know that the paintings are more realistic than I thought! The mountains are spectacular!

We decided to go to the mountains on Thursday because we learned that a large train load of tourists would be coming in on the weekend—when we had originally planned to go. The plan was for us to leave the retreat center at 5:30 a.m. (which meant getting up at 4:30 for me) so we could arrive at the mountains very early and be among the first to take the cable cars to the top of the mountain. Before we left the retreat center, each of us picked up a bag of food for our breakfast and lunch—which we were to eat as we traveled. In the bag were several pieces of a coffee cake, a small loaf of bread, two boiled eggs, and some packaged tofu and pickles. There was so much food, I don’t know if anyone was able to eat it all.

All but four of us hiked to the top of the mountain and came out on the other side of the mountain late in the afternoon. I knew I would never make all of the steps—just getting to the cable cars required many, many steps. So I rode to the top in the cable cars and took a short walk to two lookout points and then went back to the foot of the mountain. Two students stayed with Julie and me—Chen Yi and Ming Ming. We had time to visit a tea room which had opened in a former Confucian Temple. The tables and stools were made of blue and white Chinese porcelain with scenes of the Huangshan Mountains painted on them. Ming Ming wanted to treat “her teachers” so we had some tea which had been grown in that region of China along with some nuts, seeds, and our bag lunches.

Later in the day we were taken to the back side of the mountain to pick up those who had hiked across the top and ridden a cable car down the back side of the mountain. Well! I have never seen such a worn-out group in my life as they staggered back to the busses. They were sunburned, thirsty, and tired. The bus ride back to Huangshan city was quiet—everyone was either sleeping or too tired to talk.

Click Picture to Enlarge
Ronald's Class

The next day classes were a lost cause. The students were still tired—and their legs were very sore from climbing the mountain (mine were too—even thought I didn’t do nearly as much climbing as the others). The students had that “glazed over” look—finding it hard to get up and down with the sore muscles in their legs. One of the students said, “We are all walking just like E. T. (We had seen the movie “E.T.” earlier in the week and I thought that was a very accurate description.) We had morning classes on Saturday to make up for the Thursday classes we had missed. Students were getting back to normal—but not quite—still some soreness climbing steps.

Our instructional mornings are divided into three parts: First hour, textbook; Second hour, pronunciation practice; Third hour, Christian materials. This third hour has been such a blessing to me because during this time students share something of their “faith journeys” and their local churches. We have learned “The Prayer of St. Francis” in English and discussed what that means. It is during this time that we have read a number of Fred Craddocks’ stories. These stories have worked so well with these students because Fred tells the stories, but for the most part leaves the reader to decide its application. We are not here to teach theology, so it’s interesting to hear what the students have to say about these stories. When I ask the question, “What Christian/Biblical application do you think this story has? Immediately, the students will start reciting Scripture (in English), giving chapter and verse. For one of our culminating activities, I have asked my students to take one of Fred’s stories we have read and select a scripture passage and to outline a sermon or devotion based on the story and scripture. They will present this to the class the last day. This may not seem like a big deal—but can you imagine doing this in a foreign language!? The students’ ability to use English in talking about their churches and their faith has greatly improved over these last five weeks—and that is one of the main goals of this workshop.

I may get a short letter out toward the end of this last week here in Huangshan. With farewell parties, dinners, and closing ceremonies coming up this week, I know I will want to share some of that with you before I return to Georgia on August 15.

Blessings from Huangshan,
Ronald Midkiff

Fourth Report from China
China Team Leading English Workshop for Chinese Pastors and Church Leaders
July 30, 2003
Click on the Picture to enlarge.

This is a picture of our pastors and
seminary teachers in one of our
afternoon singing sessions. Note
the Chinese harp in the foreground.
The local pastor plays it beautifully.

We have been showing our pastors and seminary professors English language movies in the afternoons. What we have done is show about 45 minutes of the movie and then get into small groups for a discussion of what we have seen. I have been making out questions about what they will be seeing and they look for answers to the questions during the viewing. Then, these questions guide the small group discussions. So far, we have seen “To Kill a Mocking Bird,” “Finding Nemo,” “October Sky,” “Gone with the Wind,” and “E.T.” The other day when we were just starting to see “E.T.” some one asked “What does “E.T.” stand for, and before I could give a response, one of the pastors yelled out “English Teacher!” I needed for you to know about what movies we have seen in order for you to understand something that happened this week. Too, it would be helpful in understanding this story if you have seen the movie “Finding Nemo.” In case you haven’t seen this movie, let me just tell you that it’s a cartoon style movie story about sea creatures in which one young fish, Nemo, gets lost from his father and the story is about the father “finding Nemo.” There is a fish, Dorey, who helps Nemo’s father search for Nemo, but Dorey has a problem—she has short-term memory loss. Well, you can imagine that this had to be discussed in our small groups, because in order to understand some of the funniest parts of the movie, it is important to know about Dorey’s short-term memory loss.

The other night after dinner, I was walking back to the hotel and met several of our students who were out for an after dinner stroll. I invited them to join me for some ice cream at a little sidewalk café—they actually prepare the food and cook it on the street. This little café near the church also sells ice cream, and they have white plastic tables and chairs we can sit around—eat ice cream and talk. These students who had joined me were mostly pastors. One of them is from Zhengzhou, the first place I ever taught in China 20 years ago. When I was first introduced to him, he said his English name was “Wolf,”--which I thought was a strange name for a pastor. Well, I found out that his roommate here is a pastor from Inner Mongolia and his English name is “Tiger.” Now that I have picked up on the sense of humor that these two pastors have, I can see these names are just for fun. This Zhengzhou pastor--I now call Pastor Lee.

Pastor Lee is not in my class, but I’m getting to know him better than some of the others because we can talk about Zhengzhou and my time there years ago. Pastor Lee wears thick glasses, but he wears them down on the end of his nose, and he always seems to be looking at you over those thick glasses. The constant expression on this face is that of someone who has just told you a joke and waiting for you to “get it.” I just have to smile every time I see him.

Pastor Lee was in the group gathered around the sidewalk café table eating ice cream. As we were eating the ice cream, one of the women pastors said to Pastor Lee, “You should be buying ice cream for our teacher—that is the Chinese custom—students buy ice cream for the teacher—not the teacher buy ice cream for the students.” Pastor Lee responded with a wide-eyed look over his glasses, “I’ll buy the ice cream tomorrow night.” Then he cut his eyes over to me and said, “But you know, I’m like Dorey, I have short-term memory loss.”

This gives you some idea of how much English the students are absorbing and their sense of humor. One of the hardest things to do in a foreign language is to make a joke. Well, it is obvious that Pastor Lee is doing that very well.

The woman pastor I mentioned above—I believe her English name is Rejoice—said to me at the ice cream table, “I think you must be very tired, teaching so long every day.” I responded honestly, “You know, I think I have more energy here than I do at home.” Her quick response was, “That’s because we are praying for you.” My response to her was, “You are right. And there are people in American praying for me, too—and not just for me, they are praying for the team of teachers and each one of you pastors and seminary teachers.”

Let me ask for special prayer for these last two weeks. Our students are beginning to talk more of home, wives, husbands, children, so I know they are missing home. Yet, this opportunity to study English with native speakers in this retreat center is a rare opportunity for them. I pray that these students will have some peace about this longing for home and will be able to make the most out of these last two weeks.

After this weekend, we will have only one more weekend in Huangshang. We will be flying to Shanghai on August 14 and I fly out of Shanghai for the US on August 15—and will arrive in Atlanta on August 15. I lost a day coming over and will gain it going back.

I hope to be able to send one or two more reports before the end of the workshop. Next weekend, the pastors, seminary teachers, church officials, and the teaching team will make a day trip to the Huangshan Mountains. These mountains are one of the national treasures of China. I’m sure I’ll have much to report about this trip in my next report.

Blessings from China,
Ronald Midkiff

Third Report
July 23, 2004

In just two days, half of our time here will be gone! We can’t believe the days are passing so fast. Most of the pastors and church leaders in our workshop did not know each other before coming to this workshop. It has been so rewarding to see friendships develop among them. It’s interesting, too, that we have just as many women preachers/pastors as we do men in the workshop. We have about the same male/female mix among the seminary instructors, too.

This week we have started a new activity. Each class is writing a biblical drama and performing it before the whole group during the afternoon music time. This is helping the students—who already know the Bible better than we do—learn to pronounce the Bible names and stories in English. Today my class performed. In our small class the students wrote the story of Noah and the ark into a drama. We had to have a speaking part for everyone in my class. First, we had God to speak (a preacher with a deep bass voice spoke from behind a screen). We had the women coming up to Noah and asking him what he was doing and telling him how foolish he was to be building an ark in the mountains and there not being a cloud in the sky. My weakest student managed the funniest line in the play with “He’s crazy! He’s gone mad!” What made this funny is that I was Noah (the students insisted that I be Noah since I was so old!). Then Noah’s sons all had lines—one saying he didn’t know why Noah was building the ark, another saying he knew God had spoken to Noah, and another son wanting to help build the ark. After we finished this short drama, we all lined up and began clicking our fingers and recited a Jazz Chant that everyone in the workshop knew. It begins like this:

It was raining, raining, raining hard
It was falling on my head
It was falling on the stars
It was falling on the sun

The chant goes on for several verses which my class rewrote to mention Noah and the arc.

Since my students are the most advanced in the workshop, they have been asked to lead devotions in English for all the workshop three times each week. This morning the student in my class who pastors a church of 7,000 in Shanghai led the devotion. He used one of Fred Craddock’s stories in the devotion. I had introduced the story in my small class and the students were so moved by it, he wanted to share it with the whole workshop. Now, all of the classes are asking for copies of the story. Fred, if you’re reading this, I must tell you that they have made me promise to being your whole book of stories next summer—and your book on preaching, too. I have taught them how to give credit when using someone’s story. Fred, your name will be spread even wider than it already is throughout China!)

In the afternoons we are watching movies. I make out a list of questions and we show a movie for 30-45 minutes and then get into small groups to answer and discuss the movie. We have just finished “The Sound of Music” and we begin “Gone with the Wind” tomorrow. I am having to show movies I can find here since we did not bring enough to last for six weeks. I think we will conclude the movie viewing with “Ben Hur”. It will take about a week to see each of these last two movies—showing only 30-45 minutes a day.

Our team has been asked to sing at church Sunday. I’ll let you know how that goes in the next report.

I said to one of our team members today that it seems that all we do is eat, teach, and prepare for the next day. Our days are full, but the students are responding so thoughtfully and are working so hard that it makes all of our work a joy.

Continue to pray for our students and for the team.
Ronald Midkiff

Second Report from the China Team

We have completed our first full week of teaching and our second Sunday here in Huangshan. Yesterday at church, one of the students in our workshop preached (in Chinese, of course, so we could not understand him). His home church has 8,000 members and on any given Sunday he has 6,000 in attendance. His church is constructing a new building—and from what I hear the architecture is very modern Chinese. This is one of the things that the Chinese Christian churches are trying to do—not copy the western architecture for their churches, but discover a uniquely Chinese architecture for their churches.

The picture above (Click to enlarge) is of
the church and the retreat center.
The church is on the left, the classrooms
are in the middle, and the rooms where
the students live is on the right (dining
room on first floor). As you can see, the
river is just across the street from the
church. The hotel where we teachers are
staying is just to the left of the church.

One of the students in my class pastors a 7,000 member church in Shanghai, and his wife pastors another church. He probably understands oral English better than any of my students. I’m not sure that these large churches here are like the mega churches in the states. It is just that there are so many people here and the Christian church here is growing so fast. The biggest problem is not enough trained pastors. Here, some seminaries require a college education before admission, and there are a number of Bible schools which do not.

Late last week, I was asked to identify someone on our team to fly to Shanghai to read a script in English for a DVD the Chinese Christian Council (CCC) is creating for World Bible Day. The CCC will have a week-long exhibition in Hong Kong in August. The CCC will be showing how the Bible is being printed and distributed in China. The DVD will be part of the exhibition. I asked Scott Brown from out team to do the reading. I am hoping we can get a copy of the DVD to share with our home congregations.

The weather here is not so hot as I have experienced in other Chinese cities in the summer. However, it is still warm in the classroom when the electricity goes off and there is not a fan or air conditioning. The classrooms here are air conditioned, but most morning the electricity goes off for several hours. We are provided with plenty of water, so we are making it all right.

In the mornings we have the “meat” of our instruction—three hours of intensive study. In the afternoon we have an hour of singing English song/hymns/choruses and one hour of watching and discussing English language movies—forty minutes of watching movies and twenty minutes of discussion. We have watched “To Kill a Mocking Bird” and “October Sky.” Tomorrow we start watching “Finding Nemo.”

Yesterday afternoon, I had been working in my room on lesson plans for a long time and decided I needed to get out in the sunshine for a while. Since it wasn’t too hot, I decided to walk down “New Street.” There is an ancient part of town and a new part. I have not been to the ancient part yet, but yesterday I walked to a large department store which has a supermarket in it (the same as we found in Korea). I needed to get some tape and paper clips for organizing my work. There is a KFC just beside the supermarket, but I haven’t tried it out yet. When I started to return to the hotel, I went to the bus stop and caught bus twelve and it brought me all the way back to the hotel for about thirteen cents (one yuan).

Continue to pray for our students who are pastors, seminary teachers, and editors of Christian publications. Pray for our team that we may be a blessing to the Chinese here as much as they are blessing our lives.

Blessings to you,

Interdenominational Group Teach English.

This is a first report from a team that was invited to go to China to lead an English Workshop for about 50 church leaders from all across China.  The team members are Kenny and Shirley Crump from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Louisiana, Robert (a Disciples minister) and Julie Hanna from Portland, Oregon (the Hanna’s 15 year old son, Tyler, accompanied them), Scott Brown from a United Christian Church in New York, and Ronald Midkiff, team leader, a Disciples elder at Cherry Log Christian Church in Georgia.

Dear Friends,

We arrived in Huangshan late Saturday afternoon.  We had ridden the train from Nanjing—a seven-hour train ride.  We did have a “soft sleeper” so we were able to sleep a little during the trip.  We were met at the train station by Pastor Ester Ma and her staff.  We did not have to bother with our luggage—they took charge.  Too, they had a wheel chair for Tyler who broke his foot the day before they left for China.  Our team is housed in a four-star hotel next door to the church.  I really can’t tell you we are suffering very much adjusting to living in China.  The hotel is shiny clean and air-conditioned.  Too, it is tastefully decorated.  This is not the China I have experienced in previous summers.  Things are really changing here—more orderly train stations and traffic in general.  There are many modern buildings all over.  Of course, life is more difficult in the countryside.

Sunday morning I woke up early and went for a walk along the river across from our hotel.  There were groups of people in the river’s edge washing clothes—beating their clothing with a wooden paddle. My camera is acting up so I didn’t get any pictures.

We were told to be a church at 8:30 a.m. for the worship service.  The church was full, but a back row seat was reserved for us.  When we arrived, a man was up in front of the congregation teaching the congregation the hymns which would be used later in the service.  The electricity went off early in the service, which meant that there was no loud speaker nor were there any electric fans to keep the air stirring.  The guest preacher for the day was Reverend  Cao Shen-jie, President of the China Christian Council.  She is 73 years old and spry—a very small lady.  Her sermon was on sanctification—the best I could understand.  The church choir sang a beautiful Chinese anthem, using the flute and arhou (Chinese stringed instrument).  After worship, our team members and workshop attendants, along with church, city, and provincial, leaders were ushered into a small auditorium for the official welcoming ceremony for the English Language Workshop.  There was no English during the entire ceremony; we are not sure what was said.  Again, Reverend Cao was the chief speaker, but the city and provincial leaders also spoke briefly.  At the beginning we sang the Chinese national anthem.

After the ceremony, Reverend Cao invited our team to lunch in the hotel with local, provincial, and national church leaders.  Too, there were non-Christian civic leaders present.  Of course, there was much toasting and well-wishing for much success for the workshop.  Later in the afternoon, the team met with Reverend Cao again.  She speaks English very well and she told us of the purpose of the workshop and the hope for its success.  She answered our questions about the Christian church in China.  What a precious time it was to hear this 73 year old Christian talk of how Christianity has survived in China.  One of the greatest problems for the church is educated leadership.  The church is growing so fast that theologically train pastors cannot be educated fast enough.  Reverend Cao also told how Christianity was thought to be a Western religion that had been brought into China with missionaries who came on boats with the opium trade.  I’m oversimplifying, but she made the point (and I have read this elsewhere) that many Chinese associated the coming of Christian missionaries in the 1800s with the opium trade.  So for many Chinese, Christianity has a negative connotation.

What Reverend Cao of the CCC and the Chinese in the Amity Foundation have told us is that theological training needs to be restructured for Chinese pastors.  In other words, what is being taught in theology schools is over 50 years old and does not speak to the Chinese people as it should.  Since I’m not a theologian, I don’t understand all they are saying about this, but I hope to learn more while I’m here.

The church here in Huangshan has a retreat center.  The church has a small hotel or hostel which will house about 50 people.  This is where our students are staying.  The building is spotlessly clean and air-conditioned.  They also have a dining room where all of our meals are served.  They had reserved a faculty dining room, but we wanted to eat with the students.  They get to practice English while we are eating.  The retreat center has gotten lots of new supplies and equipment just for this workshop—new DVD players, computers, printers, chalk boards, water coolers—we cannot believe all of the trouble and expense the CCC and the local church have gone to, to make this workshop a success.

Our students are at a higher level in their English ability than we were led to believe.  I could easily use the next higher-level text for my students.  Our students are pastors, preachers (there is a distinction here), provincial church leaders, editors, and publishers—all very well educated.  We have a real challenge to provide the students with what they want and deserve.

The team is great!  We are of one mind and really are working well together.  Continue to pray for us.  The training we provide will help the Christian leadership in China achieve their stated goals.



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