Mission to China 2006

Huangshan Oral English Workshop
for Chinese Pastors and Seminary Instructors

First Week Report   (Click on any photo to enlarge)

Ronald Midkiff, Team Leader

The teaching team had just arrived at the Huangshan Airport where we were greeted by Pastor Ma (pastor of the local church and director of the retreat center) and her son. We were loaded into a small bus to go to our hotel. It was already dark, but we could see the city lights getting brighter the closer we got to the city. Huangshan is a tourist area, so the city officials have encouraged the use of neon lights to outline buildings, bridges, and river embankments. I remembered this from last year, but there were many more neon lights this year. The big surprise for me was to see that the Huangshan Church and retreat center had been outlined in red with a red neon sign over the front entrance to the church! Well, Pastor Ma was not going to let the city and businesses outdo the Christian church. The other lights are generally in blues and pink, but the church lights are bright red. I’ll send a picture soon (see week 2 report below).

We have so much to learn from the Chinese. For example, the other day I had gone down town to get some folders for our music. Suddenly, I heard music chimes playing “Edelweiss.” I wondered where the music was coming from when I saw a bright, white, new truck spraying water on the street to clean them. The music was coming from the street-cleaning truck!

Our teaching team is smaller this year. The day before we departed the States, I received an email from one of our teachers saying that she was dropping out because her father had just been diagnosed with cancer. That meant that we only have three teachers teaching the morning classes. For the last two years we have had five teachers teaching classes in the morning. We have combined some of the classes from the last two year into three classes this year. It appears we will have between 30 and 35 pastors this summer, so our classes are not too large. We still have several more pastors to arrive over the weekend or early next week.

Debbie Pallatto-Fontine and her husband, Richard, who were with us last summer have returned to teach in the program. Last year Richard did not teach, but served as “gopher” for the team. This year Richard is in charge of the movies and English Corner (a time of free conversation about Western culture). Debbie is teaching three morning classes and helping with the movies and the Writing Workshop (a place for students to go for help with their writing).

May Chen is from San Francisco and she is teaching three morning classes. May was born in China but moved to the US when she was six years old. She speaks some Chinese, but her English is native-like.

In addition to the three morning classes, this year I am directing the chorus. Evidently, all pastors are trained to sing during their seminary days. It has been nearly 40 years since I directed a high school chorus, and my conducting skills are rusty, but none of the other teachers would take on directing the chorus—so as team leader, I had to do it. We have only had three rehearsals and the chorus sounds very good. They are so quick to respond to suggestions. We have been working on “My Shepherd, You Supply My Need.” They love it and have memorized the first verse (not an easy task in a foreign language). Another song they have learned is “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God” with descant. It’s beautiful. I hope we can make a recording of the songs we learn this summer so you can hear the pastors singing. We will be doing most of our singing without the piano since I plan to use Caleb, the one who plays, to direct for me sometimes.

Pastor Bao, who was with the Chinese Bible Exhibition in the U.S. this spring, came with us from Shanghai to Huangshan. He will stay with us about two weeks and then Pastor Kan, the CCC theologian, will join us after his trip to Cypress. All is going very well. It is so rewarding to see the progress the pastors have made in their speaking of English. We will be stressing written English more this summer-- more than we have in the past. One of the pastors who was with us the first two summers but is not with us this summer sent me an email yesterday saying that he was going to Germany to preach a sermon in English. He sent me a copy of the sermon to check out the grammar. He should be here this summer!

Just as I was arriving in China, my younger grandson, Drew, was departing China where he had been studying Chinese for several weeks in Naning. Back home he stopped by to see Nancy on his way from South Carolina to Texas where he will be entering a doctoral program in physical therapy at Baylor University.

More next week—with pictures, I hope.


Second Week Report (July 9-15)

Debbie, May, and I have finished our second full week of teaching. We teach three full hours in the morning, and we have varied responsibilities in the afternoon—movies followed by discussions, English Corner (informal discussions about the differences between Chinese and Western Cultures), Writing Workshop for students who seek extra help with writing, and chorus practice. This week has flown by. I think it has flown by because we are so busy. We could not do what we are doing without the help of some of our student assistants. Last Friday night we took three of our assistants out to dinner. I thought you would like to see their happy faces. There is Joseph on the left who works as an editor in the CCC office, but he looks after us here and makes sure our needs are met. Then in the middle is Charlie. Charlie teaches computer technology at the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, and he assists with all our technology needs. Caleb is on the far right. His is my choral assistant. He plays the piano and helps me direct the chorus. He is a seminary instructor, and he preached at our church here last Sunday. I told him, “Caleb, you preached a great sermon. I didn’t understand a word, but I could tell by your gestures that you were convincing.” What a joy it is to work with these dedicated pastors, seminary teachers, and CCC employees!

I want to highlight my “Christian Materials” class in this newsletter.
This week my “Christian Materials” class was responsible for morning devotion on Wednesday. Their theme was “Create in Me a Clean Heart.” After Caleb played quiet “gathering music,” we sang “O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee.” Ming Ming read the Scripture from Psalm 51. We led the pastors in a Psalter from the Chalice Hymnal which has a responsive reading interspersed with the first line of the song “Create in Me a Clean Heart, O God.” Pastor Ma led in a benediction which ended with everyone praying The Lord’s Prayer. The thing to remember is that all of this was done in English! I am amazed at how they are able to express themselves in English so much better than in past years.

Also this week the Christian Materials class has been studying a Craddock story. Do you remember the story Fred told about committing his life to God as a young boy at summer camp? As a young boy Fred says he imagined that being a Christian would mean great sacrifice on the mission field or being taken before a firing squad that wanted him to deny Christ. But he said forty-five years later, “I gave my life, but nobody warned me that I could not write one big check. I’ve had to write forty-five years of little checks: 87 cents, 21 cents, a dollar three cents. Just nibbled away at this giving of life.” This story moved my students, and they all wrote stories of someone they new who had written “little checks” of Christian kindness for many years. They read their stories in class. So touching. Some cried as they read. Others smiled at remembering the sacrifices of a father, poor spinster, or faithful church member. We all had a new appreciation for the quiet saints who have written “little checks” and changed people’s lives.

Continue to pray for our work here in Huangshan—for the teachers and for the pastors.

I’ll add a picture I promised last week showing the church outlined with read neon.

Then there is a picture I took of busy Shanghai when we were there for orientation.

Oh, yes, I have an update on the street-washing truck I told you about last week. I was walking back to the hotel the other day from the retreat center and heard the music of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” I turned and looked behind me and there was that new, white, shiny, street-washing truck—washing the streets to that great song!

A funny thing happened the other evening when I went to a UBC Coffee Restaurant. I sometimes go there for ice cream and, too, they have some Western food on the menu. When I walked in, all of the servers greeted me with “Good Morning” which I thought very strange since it was evening. I was ushered to the upstairs dining room. When I was seated, the waitress said, “I have seen you before.” I said, “Yes, this is the third summer I have been coming here.” We chatted briefly, and then I asked, “Why do all of the servers greet me with “Good Morning” when they should be saying “Good Evening”? (I teach English everywhere I go, I guess.) She said, “Oh, they were not saying “good morning” they were saying, ‘Huen Ying Guang Ling’ which means “Welcome.” She wrote it down for me. I thought I was giving an English lesson, but received a Chinese lesson! All this week, I have been greeting my students as they enter my classroom with “Huen Ying Guang Ling,” and they are delighted with my poor Chinese.

Blessings on you all,
Ronald (Lao Mi)

Third Week Huangshan 2006

Yesterday, we were saddened to learn that Edith Warner, who had served on our teaching team last summer, had passed away. Edith was a member of the United Church of Canada. The teachers and the pastors here at Huangshan loved her and respected her. I remember her lovely soprano voice when she was teaching us to sing a blessing at meal time. She worked hard last summer and seemed so happy and well, so her passing came as quite a shock.

An interesting story: After last summer, Edith wrote an article about her experience here in Huangshan and somehow the Presbyterian press picked up the story and published it in one of their newsletters. May Chen, who is on our teaching team this year, read of Edith’s experience and applied to teach with us this summer. May and Edith never met, but Edith’s influence is still felt here through the teaching of May Chen from San Francisco. Earlier in her life, Edith had taught for several years in China and she loved China. I am glad I had the opportunity to teach with her here in Huangshan. She was a blessing to me and to the Chinese pastors who were in her classes last summer.

We also had happy times this week. Last year before I left Cherry Log Christian Church, one of the retired pastors came up to me privately after church and handed me a hundred dollars. He said, “Ron, I want you to have this to use in China. I know something will come up and you can use this. I preached as a supply pastor last week and they gave me this, but I want you to use it in China.” At the time I could not think of any way to use the money, but after I got here last year a situation arose where I thought I could use the hundred dollars. The first summer I taught here in Huangshan, we taught the same students all morning long. However, the second year we felt that it would be better if the pastors were exposed to three different teachers rather than just one. (Really, I didn’t want some of the pastors only exposed to “Yankee talk” and felt that the pastors needed to be exposed to “Southern,” too.) When the pastors started having to change classes, there was an uproar of complaints from the pastors—which boiled down to “we’ve never done this before” and “we have to carry all of our books from one class to the next.” So then I knew how I could use the hundred dollars. I wanted to buy book bags for the pastors to carry their books from one class to the next. As it turned out, the book bags were ordered with the name, location, and year of our workshop printed on the side, but they did not arrive in time for them to be given out last year. This week, Pastor Boa brought the book bags from CCC headquarters in Shanghai. The pastors received them with great appreciation and excitement. They had a choice of colors: red, tan, olive, and black.

Can you believe we are at the half-way point in our workshop!? I cannot. The time has passed so quickly. Last week I included a picture of my Christian Materials class. This week I want to include a picture of my Pronunciation Practice class. This is a very special class to me. I taught them “Christian Materials” last summer and was impressed by their commitment to living the Good News. Their Christian vision includes the social gospel. They really see that “doing it unto the least of these my brothers and sisters, you have done it unto me.”

I am amazed at all of the people who read this newsletter. I had a letter from a Chinese pastor who went to a “conference on reconciliation” in Germany. He had been in the workshop the first two years, and he checked out our CLCC website to find my weekly report. He wrote to say how delighted he was to see the pictures of his classmates and wanted me to tell them he missed them. The students here in the workshop have learned to check out my weekly report, too.

Continue to pray for our pastors and seminary instructors. They are working hard, but they miss their families. Pray for the teaching team that we will continue having good health.

Ronald Midkiff

P.S. Update on the street-washing truck. This afternoon I heard music playing outside and ran to the window to see the street-washing truck passing the hotel. Today, the music it was playing was “There’s No Tomorrow, There’s Just Tonight”!

The following pictures will show you something of the Huangshan environment.

There’s one picture of “old town.” There is another of a view from my hotel window, looking past the back of the hotel sign to see the church and the retreat center and the river across the street. Another picture shows a sunset from a hotel window across the hall from my room.

Fourth Week Report

Oh, how I wish I could speak and understand the Chinese language! This morning one of our students preached at Huangshan Church. Mary had preached last summer at Huangshan Church, and I remember how she held the congregation’s attention. Well, she preached again today and even though I could not understand what she said, I knew she was preaching with much conviction and feeling. Watching Mary preach reminded me of a Craddock story my class read last week. You may remember it. Fred tells about visiting in the hospital and meeting a woman who was pounding her fists on the hospital chapel door saying, “Let me in! Let me in!” Fred got someone to open the door and he went into the chapel with her and offered to pray with her. Fred started praying, but soon the woman interrupted him with her own praying—screaming out to God not to take her husband because he was “not ready” and she had kids and no education to get a job. Fred said that she prayed as if she had God “by the lapels” and shouting her prayer to Him. That is what I heard in Mary’s prayer this morning as she stood to preach. Such feeling. Such emotion. Such compassion. I really wish I could understand the Chinese language!

But, I must say, I’m beginning to understand a few Chinese phrases. I told you earlier about learning “Huan Ying Guang Ling,” which means “welcome.” I think I have that “down pat” now. This has encouraged students to try to teach me more phrases. I usually forget what they have taught me within an hour or so, but today I was walking from the church to the retreat center for lunch and met one of the older believers from the church I had seen but did not know. As we met she said, “Sher fan la” (my pronunciation spelling) I had an epiphany! I knew what she had said to me!. She had said, “It’s time to eat!” Of course, I would remember that phrase :-).

Birthday Party
In late July, Pastor Ma and Debbie, one of our teachers, have birthdays so we had a big birthday party this week honoring them. We had two large birthday cakes with their names on them. We presented them with flowers and cards signed by all of the students. We had an MC who led singing “Happy Birthday” and directed the process of presenting the flowers, rolling out the birthday cakes, lighting the candles, making wishes, and blowing out the candles. I led a dedicatory pray and blessing and then we ate cake. This was all before we ate dinner—just a little reverse from what I was used to.

Lake Trip
Saturday all the pastors and teachers went on a boat ride on a large, man-made lake. We left at 6:30 a.m. so there was no “sleeping in” this weekend. It reminded me of some of the TVA lakes except this was as large as one of the Great Lakes. We rode four hours each way, making two or three island stops along the way to climb a hill or see an interesting site, like “Lock Island” where people leave locks with wishes on them in the hopes that the wishes will come true. Wishes like “I will love you forever” and “I hope to pass the examination so I can get into college.” We saw some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, I think. I said this to one of the pastors from Inner Mongolia and he said, “No, the grasslands of Inner Mongolia are prettier.” I’ve seen those grasslands and they are beautiful, too.

Funny story about our trip: Because I knew we would be in the sun and that it would be hot, I decided to wear a Panama straw hat which I had brought with me from home. It can be folded and rolled up for easy packing. So when I appeared that morning with the hat, the pastors were surprised, saying things like, “That’s cool.” When we got to where we would board the boat, there were many vendors around selling everything—fruit, umbrellas, walking sticks, brochures, hats, water and other cold drinks. I started down the steps to the boat landing and someone said, “Look behind you.” When I turned I saw several of the pastors with straw cowboy hats on. They had bought them from the vendor so they would be like “Lao Mi.” (That’s what they call me.)

The teachers had been out to dinner in town on Friday night and as we were walking back to the bus stop, we met an old woman on the side of the street making and selling baby shoes. I’m way beyond needing baby shoes for children or grandchildren, but I had just heard that my nephew and his wife were going to have a baby. This gave me a good excuse to buy a pair of those handmade baby shoes.

One final story: The other day I dropped in an upstairs coffee shop to cool off—not with coffee, but ice cream. I noticed on the menu that they had “hot dog” listed. I was very surprised because we have never found an American hamburger in Huangshan. So, I decided to order a “hot dog.” The young server waiting on me came back and was trying to tell me something about my hot dog order. I couldn’t understand anything he said except the word “corn.” I said, “Oh, that’s okay, I like corn dogs, too.” In a few minutes he returned to my table with a basket of pop corn. So much for my first Chinese hot dog!

Another installment about the street-washing truck. I heard it this morning and it was playing “Jingle Bells.” I was finally able to get a picture since it was filling up at a hydrant in front of the church.


Fifth Week Report

“Give Thanks” Devotionals
This was the last week for the pastors to be in charge of our morning devotions, and all of the devotions have been on the theme of “Give Thanks” for this Hangshan Oral English Program. My class had the devotional on Wednesday and modified the theme to “Give Thanks by Remembering.” They chose as a scripture from Philippians 1:3, “I thank my God every time I remember you.” While photographs taken over the last three summers were being shown on a screen, several students thanked God for different aspects of this program over the last three years. Let me give you a few sentences from what the pastors said:

Ben: “Because I am the minister of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, I don’t have many chances to have communion with the ministers who come from other denominations. This program gives me a chance to study, live, and eat with other ministers. So I have gotten many ideas from them which have opened my eyes. I will follow their good models.”

Sara: “We will never forget that we couldn’t speak fluent English our first summer in Huangshan. We will never forget that all the teachers gave us encouragement with sentences in class, like ‘good job,’ ‘perfect,’ ‘you are talented!’ Thank you, teachers, for always encouraging us and loving us in Jesus.”

Grace: Thank God for the many people who have prayed for us. Maybe we don’t know their names, but God knows. Some are here in China, some are overseas. Some churches from overseas gave money and teaching materials for us. So we give thanks to God.”

Esther: “I wish the best for my classmates. They came with a lot of sacrifices from their churches and their families. May they be rewarded with greater effectiveness to serve God and people.”

Then Truth (that’s her English name) prayed the following: “Our heavenly Father, We thank you for giving us such a wonderful opportunity to study English in Huangshan. We also thank the teachers who came from America. They left their country and their families and gave up their vacation time in order to teach us English in the hot weather…”

At the end of the devotion, they presented all of the teachers with a card signed by members of my class. The card reads, “In the Lord your labor is not in vain. May everything beautiful and best be condensed into this card. We sincerely wish you happiness, cheerfulness and success.”

Recording the Singing of the Chorus
We have been working on a plan to record the music (in English) we had been working on for the past five weeks. After exploring many options, we concluded that we would record in the choir loft of the sanctuary of Huangshan Church because we would have access to microphones and a system to which we could attach a computer. Once the recording is on the computer, then DVDs can be made of our singing. At least, this is what I understand—because much of the discussion has been in Chinese. We tried out the system on Thursday afternoon when the choir went over to the sanctuary and sang through one song in order to place the microphones, make sure the system would work and that we had a good balance of voices.

So this morning (Saturday) at 9:00 a.m. we gathered in Huangshan Church to make the recording. We had a prayer, thanking God for music and for voices to sing God’s praise. I need to remind you that we are in the “dog days” of August here and the church is not air conditioned. There are many electric fans in the church, but we had to turn them off while we were recording because we didn’t want the hum of fans recorded along with our singing. Too, a video was being made while we recorded so the bright lights had to be on. I asked the pastors what the temperature was there in the choir loft, and they said, “Over 95 degrees.” Of course, during all of this I’m having to wave my arms like crazy (remember, I am directing the chorus) and I’m getting hotter by the minute. We would stop periodically and turn on the fans for a short time and then continue. We finished recording about 10:00 a.m. and we all went (dripping) down in the congregation seats to listen to the recording.

To our disappointment, for some reason, on the recording the men’s voices drowned out the women’s voices. We had to move the microphones around and record the songs again. I have never been so hot, and I didn’t think I could last directing the songs again. Someone brought me a glass of iced Chinese tea (the first I’d ever had); I took a sip and we recorded again, finishing about 11:00 a.m. Again, we went down into the congregation seats to listen. The balance was much better. And then, someone came in with ice cream for everyone! I think it was the most appreciated ice cream I ever ate. Now, two of our students who are computer savvy will edit the recording—audio and video—into a DVD (at least that is the plan).

Singing in Church on Sunday
Tomorrow, our choir will sing in Huangshan Church and Debbie will preach, with one of our pastors translating her sermon into Chinese for the congregation.

Dinner for our Students
On Thursday night, we teachers took our first period classes out to dinner. I asked my students to find the restaurant that they liked where we could have a private room. What a great time we had! I have never had so many toasts to my “good health and long life.” I’m sure I’ll be around for many years to come. We had some singing and dancing and story-telling—much fun. Then they gave me a gift which they said I could open on the spot (Chinese do not usually open gifts when they receive them—they wait until they are at home and open the gift in private). They were so thoughtful to give a beautiful gift that will pack easily in my suitcase. The gift was several tie-dye wall hangings and a tie-dye handbag for Nancy.

Plans for the last week
I may not get to write about our last week until I get home. This is our last week and we will have our closing ceremony on Thursday morning. Reverend Tsao, president of the CCC, will be here to speak, along with regional and other CCC dignitaries. The choir will sing two songs: “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God” and “May the Road Rise to Meet You.”

Earlier in this last week we plan to have a talent show. There has been much practicing going on in preparation for the show. I have gotten together all of the pastors who bought cowboy hats last weekend, and we are going to go on stage walking “bow-legged” and lift our hats and say “Howdy” (with a Chinese accent). Then we will sing “Home on the Range” with our arms over each others’ shoulders, swaying back and forth as we sing. Then we lift our hats again and give the cowboy cry, “Yee Haa!” (with a Chinese accent, of course!)

I will fly to Shanghai on Friday and stay there until Monday. I will worship in one of our pastor’s church on Sunday in Shanghai. Monday, I will fly to Japan and spend the night. I will fly back to Atlanta on Tuesday, arriving about 1:00 p.m.


Read about last years Mission HERE.

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