Mission to China 2005

Huangshan Oral English Workshop
for Chinese Pastors and Seminary Instructors

First Week Report  
(Click on any photo to enlarge)

The teaching team as follows: front, left to right - Debbie Pallatto-Fontaine, Liz Searles, President Cao (President of the China Christian Council), and Beth Eliason.
Back, left to right - Ronald Midkiff, Pastor Bao (CCC Director of this program), Scott Brown, Edith Warner, and Pastor Ma (local church).

Six American teachers are leading the second of a three-summer English workshop for 41 Chinese pastors and seminary instructors. The teachers for this project were identified by Global Ministries (CCDOC and UCC) and the Amity Foundation. We have completed our first week of teaching.

This team met first in Shanghai on July 9 for an orientation with the China Christian Council (CCC). We were able to meet in their new spacious headquarters. We then flew to Huangshan on Saturday night. Pastor Ma (pastor of the local church and director of the retreat center where the workshop will take place)met us at the airport. Pastor Ma is a petite woman with boundless energy. In addition to pastoral and retreat center duties, she goes to the countryside to establish new churches. Her church also runs a kindergarten and a clinic.

Sunday morning I awoke very early—my body still on Eastern Standard Time. I walked out of our hotel which is next door to the church and walked across the street to look at the river. I remember from last year what a nice, clean, flowing river passed right through Huangshan. But this year, the water level in the river was very low. Pastor Ma told me that they had not had any rain in two months. Even though the river was low, people were still gathered by the river’s edge to wash clothes—beating them with paddles to make them clean. One man was washing clothes with one hand while talking on a cell phone with the other. Most people in China never had a “land phone” in their homes, but most of them now have cell phones. It is common to see someone riding a bicycle down the road talking on a cell phone.

The children in the
church kindergarten

At morning worship last Sunday, the choir processed down the aisle and to the choir loft. The choir was twice the size of last year’s choir. They had new robes with music notes embroidered on the stoles. One of our seminary instructors had come a few days early to prepare the choir to sing a mini concert in the morning worship. It was beautifully done, using the new piano. One of the pastors in our workshop preached. The American team of instructors was introduced to the congregation.

After church we were invited to lunch with President Cao, president of CCC. She also hosted several provincial and civic church leaders at this luncheon. At 2:30 in the afternoon we met in the retreat center for the official opening ceremony. At lunch I had noticed that President Cao seemed very tired. I learned that her flight from Beijing had been delayed, and she arrived in Huangshan at 4:00 a.m. that morning. However, when she stood to give a talk to the pastors in the workshop, she became invigorated and animated. She spoke in Chinese and then served as her own English translator (She speaks fluent English.) She challenged the pastors to work hard and to use English the whole time they are at Huangshan. She told them that language is communication and you must use whatever English ability you have to try to communicate your thoughts. What good words for our beginning!

We started teaching on Monday morning. This year we asked the students to change classrooms every hour—having three different teachers during the three-hour morning session. Well, you would have thought we had asked them to perform an impossible task. In China the students keep the same classroom all day and the teachers come and go. But as the week progressed, the students have gotten adjusted to the new schedule. Last year students stayed with the same teacher all morning. We realized that the students need to be exposed to different English voices (or my students would all be speaking the most beautiful English—Southern English—and not be able to understand those harsher Northern sounds). Our plan is to get cloth bags with our program logo printed on them for the students to use to carry their books from class to class.

The highlight of the first day for me was the distribution of two books which members of Cherry Log Christian Church (DOC) sent to be used in our “Christian Materials” class. We presented them with Craddock Stories and The People’s New Testament Commentary by Craddock and Boring. Fred Craddock is becoming very famous among the Chinese pastors. I think they would like to name him “Saint Fred of Cherry Log”!

In the mornings we have three classes: Integrated English Skills, Pronunciation Practice, and Christian Materials. In the afternoon we have an hour of music and an hour of English movies. On Monday during our music hour we realized what a musically talented group we had. We were singing a song to the tops of our voices that had the words “Hallelujah” repeated several time. Just as we were on the loudest part there came a loud clap of thunder and lightening and it began a pouring rain. It hadn’t rained in two months and our “hallelujahs” brought it on! It has rained some all week and the water level in the river is up.

This summer I am teaching the two classes in which the students have the most limit English skills. In the Christian Materials class, I was having to do quite a bit of preparatory work before having the students read a Craddock story. I was selecting stories that were short and would have limited vocabulary and simple story lines. The second day of class one of the pastors pointed to the opening page of Craddock Stories where Fred is pictured and said, “That touched me very deeply in my heart.” I looked closely to see what he was referring to. Under Fred’s picture is a quote from him: “When I was in my late teens, I wanted to be a preacher. When I was in my late twenties, I wanted to be a good preacher. Now that I am older, I want more than anything else to be a Christian. To live simply, to love generously, to speak truthfully, to serve faithfully, and leave everything else to God.” Now these lower level students have begun reading Craddock stories on their own—their motivation is very high.

Some of the pastors are finding it difficult to be away from their churches for six weeks in the summer. There is much activity and growth among the churches. One pastor and provincial church leader came to me this morning to say that he had been called back home to deal with two problems. In one case the government was asking that the church be moved farther back from the street and in another case he was trying to get land for a new church building. He hopes he can get these problems settled and return soon, but he didn’t seem hopeful. Before he left, he gave me bags of “goodies” for each teacher on the team.

The teachers on the team this year are excellent. All have had China experience—two are presently living and teaching in China full-time but have joined us for the summer:
Edith Warner from Canada, Scott Brown from New York, Debbie Fontaine from Connecticut, Beth Eliason from Louzhou (Massachusetts), and Liz Searles from Chengdu (Chicago).

Please pray for us, for the pastors, and the CCC leadership in China.

Ronald Midkiff, Team Leader

Second Weekly Report from Huangshan Workshop

Our workshop continues to go well. We have expanded our first period to give more time studying Integrated Skills—listening, speaking, reading, and writing. The pastors requested this change, but the teachers seem to like it, too. It gives us more time with one group of pastors—to get to know them in a more personal way.

Some of our pastors are from the area that has been hit very hard by the typhoon that came through China last week, so there has been much concern about that. One of the pastors, his English name is Caleb, was telling me about how his family had to move all of the furniture to the second floor because the first floor was flooded. He said that his brother had put their refrigerator up on a table in the kitchen, but the flood waters washed the table and the refrigerator away. He said that his sister-in-law’s store was a total loss. He was also trying to find the words to tell me about a factory near his home that had damage from the flood. He was really having to search for English words to convey his meaning. He pointed to my leather belt and said the factory made leather products (didn’t know ‘leather’). He said, “The water came into the factory and the leather was… was…was….baptized!” He burst out laughing because he knew that “baptized” was not quite the right word. But we have told the pastors to use the language they have to try to communicate their ideas—to take a chance with the language they possessed—and Caleb was doing just that.

One of our teachers, Edith Warner, has been sick with a cold for several days and finally the cold got so bad that we took her to the hospital. Several of the doctors at the hospital are members of this local Christian church we attend (next door to the retreat center), so Edith has had special attention. They wanted her to stay in the hospital for five or six days, but she wanted to stay in her room at the hotel and go daily to the hospital for two pints of liquid with antibiotics to be given to her intravenously. A young Chinese English teacher who is a member of the church accompanies us to take Edith to the hospital every day. It takes about three hours for the intravenous feeding. Edith is already feeling much better; however, we are not letting her teach until her treatment is complete. The other teachers are covering her classes.

The Craddock stories are growing in popularity among the pastors. I have my students to read a story and then think of a scripture that would support the story. I have asked my students to go another step—to think of a sermon topic for the scripture and to make a list of several points that should be made in that sermon. Then I ask the question, “Do you think you could use this Craddock story in your sermon?”

I am beginning to encourage the pastors to write their own stories. There has been some talk of translating some of Craddock stories into Chinese and adding some stories by Chinese pastors to the collection. At lunch the other day Pastor Bao told this story:
"A Chinese pastor was invited to an international conference. The language used at the conference was English. This pastor was not expert in the English language. He could read some with difficulty—and even speak a little. At the end of one of the sessions this Chinese pastor was called on (without warning) to pray the benediction (in English). He reluctantly stood and bowed his head and he said, “Gracious God” and then he stopped. He could not find the English words he wanted, so he said, 'A,B,C,D,E,F,G,H,I,J,K,L,M,N,O,P,Q,R,S,T,U,V,W,X,Y,Z. God, you know the prayer in my heart. Amen' "

So the stories are coming, I hope we can get more of these written down.

Continue to pray for us, pastors and teachers.

Ronald Midkiff

P.S. In last week’s letter, with tongue in cheek and being a speaker of Southern American English, I made some reference to those teachers on the team who spoke with the “harsher tones” of Northern English. My wife, Nancy, thinks I should have put a smiley face after that statement to let everyone know I was joking. I didn’t put it then, but here it is now J.

Third Weekly Report from Huangshan Workshop

As of today, our oral English workshop for pastors is half over. These past three weeks have flown by, and I know the last three will go even faster.

In this weekly report, I want to introduce six pastors who are in my “Christian Materials” class. The attached picture will show them and I’ll give you their English names: Hannah, Jennifer, Sarah, Mary (not pictured) John, Daniel, and James. Last year this class was in the “Intro” level class which means that they had the weakest English speaking skills. This year they moved up to level 1. Last year they were not asked to lead a morning devotional in English because of their limited speaking ability. Last Monday, this class was in charge of their first morning devotional. They chose the topic “Jesus—the Light of the World.” They selected a congregational him, “Shine on Me” and then each had a few sentences about the meaning of the word “light” as it was used in the time of Christ. They each read a scripture from the New Testament on “Jesus—the Light of the World” (several of these were from the gospel of John). Then this class of pastors sang a song that I had never heard entitled “May Thy Divine Life.” Written by a Wei-zher Jiao (1888-1970) in the Chinese style of music:

May Thy divine life disclose thro’ me,
Jesus my Lord, O King of kings;
Let me be able Thy likeness to bear,
And shine for Thee everywhere.

This song was accompanied by Pastor James playing the Chinese flute. If nothing else had been said or done, we would have been lifted up. This song was followed by a responsive reading and a closing prayer. They did so well—we could all understand every word that was spoken in English!

Now, let me tell you a little about what these “Level 1” pastors are doing in class. As I have told you earlier, they are reading Craddock stories and then discussing what they mean (remember, Fred doesn’t tell the meanings—he just tells the stories). All of the discussion has to be in English. The other day they had read the story Fred tells about being at a conference at Clemson University and a young woman stood to give a devotional and she read the same sentence in about 70 different languages then sat down. The sentence was “Mommy, I’m hungry.” Fred then says that on his drive back to Atlanta he saw a billboard advertising a restaurant which read “All you can eat, $5.99.” That was the end of the story. I asked the pastors what they thought the story meant. They discussed this in English for about an hour, but there was never total agreement as to its meaning.  (Note: For me to discuss this in English is a challenge, but can you imagine what a challenge it was for these “level 1” pastors?) The women pastors said this means, “We should feed the hungry in Jesus name.” The men pastors said, “This is talking about feeding spiritual hunger.” The women would quote scripture “When you have done it unto the least of one of these, my brothers, you have done it unto me.” And the men would quote scripture “But I will give you bread and you will never be hungry.” And so it went, back and forth, quoting scripture. The nearest to agreement that was reached was when one pastor said, “Perhaps it’s talking about both kinds of hunger.” And the women asked, “But which hunger should be fed first?”

We teachers are not to get into theological discussions with the students. We have this one class called “Christian Materials” where we introduce materials and then let the pastors discuss the meaning among themselves. It’s a “tight rope” I walk here, because I want to jump in and put my two cent opinion in, but I leave the discussion with them. I am so pleased with the progress these pastors are making in their use of English.

We celebrated two birthdays this week: Debbie (one of our teachers) and Pastor Ma (pastor of the local church and director of the retreat center). I’ll attach a picture of the students presenting a cake and flowers to the “birthday girls.” (Side note: My wife, Nancy, had a birthday this week, too.)

Continue to pray for our pastors and the teachers as we move into the last half of our workshop.

Ronald Midkiff

Fourth Weekly Report from Huangshan, China

August 6, 2005

Two weeks from today I will be back in the US! The past four weeks have gone by so quickly; I ask myself if our instruction time has made a difference. Then I hear the students giving morning devotions and telling stories in English, and I can’t believe the improvement. Last Sunday one of my level one pastors, Pastor Li, preached in the morning worship (in Chinese, of course) at Huangshan Christian Church. However, at one point in the sermon he told a story, and he told it in Chinese and in English. What a brave thing to do! He has served as a model for others to take risks with the language ability they have (see attached picture of Pastor Li).

Pastor Li told me a story about his parents which I would like to share with you. His father was born in 1937 and while he was very small, his parents had to hide underground for a long time with no daylight because of the Japanese occupation of China. Because of being in the dark for so long, Pastor Li’s father went blind. Later his father married a woman from the countryside who never had a chance to go to school so she could not read. However, this young couple became Christians and had a Bible—but neither of them could read it. During the Cultural Revolution, Pastor Li’s father had to hide the Bible in an outbuilding from their home because officials would come and search the house for the Bible. The young couple wanted to save the Bible for their future son. One time during the Revolution there was a big flood and his parents were away from home. This young couple jumped into the flood waters to tried to swim back to their home in order to save the Bible, but the current was so swift they could not. When they could swim no further, they cried out for God to save them. Later they found themselves washed up on the river bank. They rushed home to look for the Bible. They found it, but it was under water. For three days, the wife took the Bible and separated the pages, one by one, and dried them by lamp light. When Pastor Li was born, his parents gave him to God and later presented him with the Bible that they had saved during the Cultural Revolution and the big flood even though neither of them could read—one of them blind and the other illiterate. Today, Pastor Li is a very successful pastor of a large church in China.

During our music time this week, we had a special treat. Pastor Ma, pastor of the Huangshan Christian Church, played the Chinese harp for us to sing some Chinese hymns. She played “Amazing Grace,” too. In addition to being a leading pastor, she is an accomplished musician (see picture attached).

After having my students read some Craddock stories, I have begun having my level one class write some of their own stories. This is a very difficult—even for some native English speakers—but they have begun. Most of the class member are at the stage of remembering other stories they have heard and not gotten into creating their own—but they will. In this report I want to share two of the stories my students wrote this week. I asked them to write a story that illustrated a Bible truth without telling what the Bible truth was.

Jennifer’s Story:
“This is a true a true story. A foreign medical university professor came to teach in China. He told this story to his young medical students: One day a man went to the beach when the tide was out. The man took a walk on the beach. He saw a child far away up the beach. The child looked like she picked up something and threw it into the sea. The man approached the child. He saw that the child was picking up small fish and then throwing them into the sea. Again and again she said, ‘One, one again. One, one again…’ The man said to the child, ‘What are you doing, child?’ The child said, ‘I help them get back into the sea.’ The man said, ‘There are many small fish here. Can you save them all?’ The child said, ‘Although I can’t save all of them, I can save many of them.’ The child picked up another small fish and threw it into the sea.
After the foreign professor told the story, he said, ‘Yes, you will become doctors in the future. Although you can’t save all your patients, you should always do your best to save as many as you can.’”

Daniel’s Story:
“About ten years ago, when I was studying in Sichuan Seminary, a teacher told us a true story. There was on old blind woman. She was a Christian. She was very poor, but every month she always gave a special offering to the church. One day the pastor of the church asked her about her ‘special offering.’ She said, ‘When I first became blind, I felt very sad. I usually complained to God. Some months ago, I said to myself, if I really believe God I must believe that all thing work together for good to those who love God. I realized that because I am blind I do not need electric lights, so I decided to offer that savings on my electric bill as a special offering to God.”

We have much to do these last two weeks. Pray for our teaching team’s good health and for our students’ well being as we move through our final days here.

Blessings from China,
Ronald Midkiff

Read about last years Mission HERE.

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