Saturday, April 23, 2016

Blessed By Those We Came to Bless

Joshua wrote a paper last fall that was selected for publication in a magazine for Notre Dame Freshmen. I think he did a fantastic job and I asked him if I could share part of it here (with some added photos)...

Our family decided to move in order for my dad to pursue a PhD program in cultural anthropology, specifically related to the study of China's Muslim ethnic groups. Motivated by God's promise to Abraham that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen. 12:3, NIV), my dad wanted our family to live among the Muslim community in the city so that we could be a blessing to them...


Then our family decided to move again, this time to a remote village several hours away. Even though the initial move to Lanzhou was full of challenges, it was still to a large Chinese city populated mostly by ethnic Chinese with a Muslim population of less than ten percent. On the other hand, the village that we were planning on moving to, in order for my dad to conduct field research, was comprised completely of Sufi Muslims, a charismatic branch of Islam known for its mystical forms of worship. Dreading the inevitable move, I could only imagine how much more pronounced the distinction would be between “us” and “them.” Having only lived in densely populated Chinese cities of several million people, I was not exactly looking forward to living in a rural farming community of a couple thousand people whom I viewed as being inherently different...


Entering our host family's expansive courtyard home, we were warmly welcomed and treated to a simple, home-cooked meal. This initial greeting paled, however, in comparison to the welcome we received from the village's religious leader, whom we later affectionately referred to as “Sufi Super Dude.” Despite the fact that these villagers had never seen any Americans before, I never remember seeing anyone look at us with suspicion, but only with big happy smiles...


Despite that fact there were certain cultural and religious taboos that we were told to avoid, for the most part, we were invited to live however we liked. For example, we were told that we could walk into the carpeted prayer hall with our shoes on if we wanted, something that no one else in the village would dare do. While the religious order strictly regulated the lifestyle of its own members, it took great pride in welcoming with enormous hospitality all of its guests. Never before, or since, have I experienced a similar degree of warmth and welcome, especially as an outsider from the community.


Almost needless to say, I was forced to reconsider my staunch refusal to alter my lifestyle in order to better relate to those around me. After having been greeted by the village in such a meaningful way, how could I not want to somehow give back to the community? Transitioning to life in the village still had its fair share of challenges, but my attitude towards living there was slowly changing. No longer did I view my relationship with the villagers as being completely defined by clear distinction between “us” and “them.” No longer did I view any and all forms of adaptation as a violation of my personal convictions. No longer did I treat with disdain the proposition that we wear the white prayer caps. We had come there in order to be a blessing to them, but it appeared that they were the ones heaping blessing upon blessing on us.


Seeking to give back in some way, my brother and I decided to join the young men of the village in serving food at various memorial festivals hosted by different families in commemoration of the passing of loved ones...


I had found my place in the community. I was still a white, American, Christian city dweller and they were still Chinese Muslim villagers, but in the act of serving together, we shared the common identity of being young men and members of the same community. Having lived there for only a few short months, our family had effectively been adopted as members of the community. 


Whenever we go back to visit on short trips, we are still greeted by the warm smiles of the villagers as they nod with deep appreciation and say, “You've returned? Good.” Even though I've now moved across the ocean to attend college here at Notre Dame, part of my heart still remains among the terraced fields and rolling hills of Gaoli village.


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Two weeks ago Jordan gave a speech in her Public Speaking class and invited our family, my mom and dad, and aunt and uncle to come. I was greatly honored by what she shared: My Mom, My Hero. Blessed by my sweet girl who is actually one of my heroes.

CJ was honored this week by being selected as a Truman scholar. As he is seeking to be a blessing in the Middle East, he has been blessed in many ways by those God has graciously put in his life.

Blessings beyond measure that cannot be counted. Our God is a God of abundance, and His deep ocean of blessing will never run dry.

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