This morning, Xiao Zhang and Xiao Li let me ‘sleep in’ after they went to work. This meant I got to wait until the luxurious hour of 7 a.m. before getting up to go to Mass.
I arrived just as the congregation was starting their pre-Mass prayers. It’s nice being in the northeast here, because even their personal prayers are in Mandarin (as opposed to Xiamen, where they use Minnanhua). The church here is rather small and it wasn’t packed, but there were probably 40 or more of us. The priest was very young, and the general makeup of the congregation seemed younger than at my church in Xiamen.
Today is the Feast of Pentecost, the end of Easter and the anniversary of the beginning of the Church. The first reading was about the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, causing them to speak in tongues so that everyone listening heard them in their own native language. All I could think was, wouldn’t that be neat!
After Mass, there were a number of people interested in talking to me. It may be the circles I run in here, but it seems to me that there’s a well-established network of house church communities here in Hunchun, and not many tourists, so I think they don’t get many foreigners joining them. One woman had been particularly helpful during Mass, helping me find the hymns and such, so I sought her out. My memory isn’t super clear, but I think it was her who was here that Sunday afternoon when I first walked by and noticed the steeple. There was another woman, tiny and unbelievably old, who came up to me and, grabbing my hands between hers, bowed repeatedly and thanked me. Someone else introduced her as a North Korean. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who was happier to see me; personally I was torn between the largest smile my face could hold and tears. A third woman took it upon herself to make sure I got where I was going next. I had time to kill so she took me watch-shopping and we grabbed breakfast. She was young – 48? – and retired after working in the mines.
At 10, I met Timothy, Naomi, and the kids at a friends house for their Sunday morning meeting. (Timothy and Naomi live with their five children on the farm where I’ve stayed in the past. I don’t want to say too much about them but I have to say that Naomi is probably the most kind and pleasant person I’ve ever met, and I’ve never seen her not smiling; Timothy is creative and capable and is utterly determined to follow God’s plan for his life, even when that plan includes crazy things like running a farm in China.)
Jim and his family, the residents of said house, were new to me but I enjoyed meeting them. We sang some songs, prayed, and listened to some thoughts on Scripture, then enjoyed lunch together. There was homemade bread, butter, and cheese; potato salad; beef casserole; chicken; and salad. Lunchtime conversation centered around everyone’s funny experiences in China, latest experiments with making food, and feces. Yes! It’s good to be back in a community where 粪 (manure) is acceptable table talk. (A word of explanation: My project on the farm was a biogas digester, basically a covered vat that houses manure while it decomposes and releases methane that can be used for heating and cooking. Thus, my days centered around poo – where it was, what it was like, and what to do with it – and, between that and the realities of 16 people sharing two bathrooms on a Chinese diet, it had to be discussed. Often over dinner.)
In the afternoon, we headed back to the farm. The entire taxi ride was familiar to me – ring road, the gas station, the courthouse, Taiyang village, castle house, the little pink building, and finally the house! The house is just as I remember it as well, except – get this – they have internet all over now! When I was a kid . . .
I put my stuff up in my room and then got right to work baking a cake. Today happens to be one of the girl’s 11th birthday, so I was really glad I brought so many ingredients up! We enjoyed a very patchwork dinner, with Chinese and Korean dishes and American bread, followed by two cakes and homemade ice cream.
We sang happy birthday in all three languages, and then in a combination: “Happy 生日 hamida, happy 生日 hamida . . .” I was here one year for Thanksgiving, and remember very vividly Timothy describing the origins of the holiday to Xiao Zhang. It was two cultures coming together to share their food – which is pretty much every day here in Hunchun.
I ate my cake on the stairs with Xiao Zhang and Xiao Li, talking. They found out that I no longer have a boyfriend, and seemed more than a little bit pleased about it. I’m pretty sure that Xiao Zhang is already making a list of eligible Chinese husbands for me; he nearly told me as much!
I found out that they were in Heilongjiang, the province north of here, when I called about a possible visit in February. Once they heard of my plans, they hurried back to Hunchun – and then I didn’t make it. I feel so horrible about this! I really had no idea; their son sounded indifferent – indecisive at best – when I told him of my plans to visit after my parents left, so I didn’t worry too much about it until now. This is merely the latest in a string of incidents that illustrate how wonderful my friends are to me, and how I really offer nothing back to them. How am I even this blessed?!