No, Thank You -30-

china(Continuation)

While taking the public transportation as a foreigner in Bucharest made you the target of the pocket thieves, that didn’t seem to apply to Beijing. I felt safe there, even though I stayed alert to what was going on around me, with all my documents and cash placed in a pouch hanging under my clothes. It looked like the many years of practicing fencing helped me be on guard and pretty vigilant.

We checked in the hotel and went to leave our bags in our rooms before taking a walk in the city. Not everybody from our team came back from the field and our meeting was at dinner. About an hour under the hot sun by the tall buildings, and walking without a specific target, we lost our interest in discovering the city on foot. Had some lunch and walked back to the hotel.

When I saw it. I was mesmerized. It was a small purse shop in the subway.

Some may wonder what was so amazing about that? I’ll tell you what: those purses had personality. Their design was so unique and beautiful that made me slow down and let my friends go without me. “Are you sure you don’t want to come back with us?” the translator asked me. I was sure. The hotel was straight ahead at about ten minutes away. They didn’t insist. I walked down to the subway again and got inside that store. It was full of dust, with bags and purses piled on top of each other, to maximize every inch. I didn’t care. There were at least ten purses I overwhelmingly liked from the first sight.

You may think that I’m a purse spender. I’m not. Every time when I needed, it was hard for me to find the “perfect” purse. But there they were lined up, faultless.

Made of black and purple leather with long handles, this one was parted in two compartments, with a tiny clasp on the exterior that was Mickey Mouse’s head. I bought it. Yes, I came to China from California and got a Disneyland purse.

Looking around the table I could see us, the few men and women who left the LAX airport not long ago, but something significant was changed. We missed one of us.

After being spread into the heart of China and encountering such a need for the Word of God, after being witnesses of poverty and pain in so many ways, we gained a new heart, a humble heart.

(To be continued)

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No, Thank You -29-

china(Continuation)

When I heard the announcement that Beijing was the next stop, I thought, “Smog.” I was ready for it. I have read that Beijing was covered in pollution, but that day and the days that followed were sunny and full of light.

My first impression when we got off the train was that we were in the Bucharest of the 1980s; that was my first thought. Maybe because the travelers swarming in the immense rail station, rigid kind of people, looked too worried and stressed out to show a smile. We pulled our luggage alongside the river of people and managed to get to subway. I couldn’t wait to take a first glimpse of the city. Our translator bought us the tickets and we boarded a train packed with proletarians, the working machine of a country that was building their communist era. When one would fall, it didn’t matter. The Party and the masses were large enough to replace the sick and the dead without sorrow.

The doors opened and we rushed out to keep up with our guide. The city was marvelous. Breathtaking. But something was odd about the buildings. The skyscrapers made of steel and glass imitated Manhattan. I didn’t know that most of the largest cities in China boasted with replica of iconic buildings in Europe and US.

(According to DailyMail.com – “the head of one of the companies behind the development, …said: ‘…When we decide to learn from others, we should not make any improvements or changes.’ ” Article by Daniel Miller, January 8, 2013, “Chinese fakeaway: How the world’s most famous buildings – and even whole cities – are being cloned in the Far East.”

That was so sad.

-To be continued-

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No, Thank You -28-

china(Continuation)

Beijing was a few hours away. When we got on the train, men and women in office attire were already working on their devices. From where we sat I could see that we were the only ones chatting with each other. The general silence was interrupted by an announcement in Chinese about the next stop. When the train stopped, about half of the people got off the wagon. Moments later the cart was refilled with other commuters in office apparel. Rigid faces from stress and maybe from lack of sleep, the mass turned on their laptops to do some work during the ride.

The Chinese are very intelligent people. There was the older population who didn’t get education and worked in factories, on the fields or on the construction sites. Humble and servile, their main worry was to get food on the table and stay away from the government’s eye. And there was the younger generation who had the chance to study. Tenacious and perseverant, they were the creative minds of the nation. In order to get a job and keep it, they totally had to obey the directives of the Communist party. No effort was too big in order to keep a good job.

Commuting to work wasn’t common for people living in cities in communist Romania. There were exceptions. I had a dear friend and classmate when I was in the elementary school whose mother had to commute to work six days a week. My friend’s mother was a Russian language teacher who couldn’t find a job in our city. She had to walk to the rail station very early in the morning, get on an obsolete train with broken windows and no heating system during winters, ride it for an hour to the border with former Yugoslavia, teach at a school, and then boarding the train in the afternoon to come back home. Finally, after many years of this kind of life, she put herself in danger and crossed the border to Yugoslavia. Obtained a refugee status and moved to Sweden, and came back to Romania after the revolution in 1989.

-To be continued-

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No, Thank You -27-

china(Continuation)

We were leaving the next day to Beijing. The connection we made with people from villages and cities and especially with this pastor, were so strong that the thought of our departure was hard to bear. It was way beyond our normal ability to love. From the human point of view, they were strangers I barely could tell one face from another. But the bond of friendship between us was profound.

Next morning we packed our bags and carried them out to the van, where the lady pastor was waiting to accompany us to the train station. If you knew me, I took many trips in my life and made friends everywhere, but nobody in the world felt so close to my heart like that woman of God. I wept all the way to the rail station. She wept sitting next to me and holding my hand. It was the same feeling you have when you say goodbye to your loved one forever.

When I took my oldest children to the airport in Romania, one month apart from each other, to fly to the United States where they moved, the separation was so devastating for me that I wandered the streets crying out loud after them.

Now I was going through the same pain. We were sisters in Christ and were not allowed to see each other again on this earth. I had no picture of her, only a few memories to treasure for a lifetime.

We got off the car and pulled our bags to the building to get our tickets. My dear lady friend and the driver came with us. The man handed us a bag full of fruit to have for our journey. The halls were packed with people rushing to the trains and we had to move quickly to catch ours. There was no time to say much. We fell into each other’s arms and wished that moment would not come to an end. But a few minutes later, we were boarding a crowded high-speed train to the capital of China.

-To be continued-

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No, Thank You -26-

china(Continuation)

There was a restaurant in the city where most of the dishes they served were BBQ meats. It was an exquisite and expensive place where people who had money went to eat. Since our trip was all-inclusive and because I wasn’t familiar with the Chinese currency Yuan/Renminbi, I didn’t pay attention to how much was our food. The hotels where we stayed offered grandiose included breakfasts. This time our translator mentioned the dinner was pricey.

The lady pastor sat next to me and, with the help of our interpreter, we started to talk. She had one son, and her husband was working far away. She was in charge not only with her big church, but supervised quite a few churches in that area. At the end of that day, she didn’t look the strong woman of God she appeared when she walked to the pulpit.

Her sermon was powerful and moving. I saw people around me wiping their tears. She encouraged her church to have faith in Jesus and not let go. Now, at the end of the day, she was tired and drained. She was going home to her son. She felt lonely.

Her confession made our hearts tremble.

This woman of God had to battle many battles, to raise up a child by herself, to nurture a marriage with an absent husband, to care for her elderly parents and her husband’s parents as well, to pastor a big church while minding the requirements of her government, to feed the old folks in her church who had nothing to eat. When she said this last statement, she turned her head to hide her tears.

“If you could, ” she continued “please help us with food for them. We can’t keep up with the great need. All we can offer is a bowl of rice, and even that is not enough to feed so many who come every day.”

We were eating meat and visiting the country, and our brothers and sisters didn’t have food to eat.

I felt so guilty. And with all of that I didn’t know how to help, what to do. Sending money was impossible. We were not allowed to keep in touch with our friends. Everything had to go through the government.

I remembered when I got home to the United States I wanted to raise money for a soup kitchen in that city in China. My youngest son and I put aside all the money we had for that project. It was little, but I started to spread the word to our friends and family. Then I was told that the Chinese government didn’t allow foreigners to open food banks or soup kitchens in their country. That would have proved they were not able to care for their own people and it would have impaired their dignity.

But that was what the lady pastor asked us; to help them feed their elderly.

-To be continued-

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No, Thank You -25-

china(Continuation)

He rushed and blended in the crowd, and I couldn’t see him anymore. I knew he put himself at risk when he gave me that written piece of paper. Maybe the occasion to share his fear with us Westerners was one in a lifetime, and he didn’t want to miss it. It was possible that there were many communist agents massed in that church that evening. They had to watch, listen and take notes about everything. They were the concerned eyes and ears of the government. Most of the Christians didn’t know who they were. They posted as believers. That was why you never knew which person was trustworthy or a spy.

We were invited to distribute the Bibles to the pastors and church leaders from different areas who came for this special event. Depending on the numbers of the Christians represented there, the hostess lady pastor made a list about how many books would go where. There were still people in the pews that were waiting for a Bible, and the three of us went down every row and handed them a copy.

It was humbling to see elderly men, pastors and church leaders, who were waiting for their turn to receive the Book of Life. Men of hard work with calloused hands and deep tanned skin, they had prayed and dreamed of this moment for many years. I didn’t know how somebody could smuggle Bibles in China. I’ve learned about Hudson Taylor whose heart burned from love for the Chinese people to come to Christ. He showed love, teaching and compassion. He was a walking Bible. He didn’t have a publishing house to supply the need for the Word of God to such a great nation.

Now we could buy the books directly from the government. We didn’t know for how long this favor was available, but we felt blessed to be part of the moving of God in that Chinese area.

It was the same system concerning the Jews who lived in Romania under the communism. According to “Washington Post” and the “Romanian Jews in Israel – Wikipedia” the Israel government bought the Jews from Ceausescu paying $2,000 per person, and $25,000 for doctors and scientists. Israel also secured loans for Romania and paid off the interest itself,” and helped the Romanian Army and financed projects for different branches of the economy. It says that half of the 60 million dollars Israel paid for the Jews during Ceausescu went directly to Ceausescu’s family accounts. That was how it worked in my birth country with all the corruption and repression.

When we handed out the last Bible, we knew the tangible part of our mission was accomplished. This lady came and kissed me on both cheeks and then she kissed my hands. The translator said she was grateful for our sacrifice to bring them the Bibles. I felt ashamed that she believed that when I opposed it so hard. We wept in each other’s arms.

The interpreter gathered us to leave, and let us know that the pastor was coming with us to dinner. She held to my lady friend’s and my arm and walked together to our van.

It was interesting that there were no communist agents waiting for us.

-To be continued-

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NO, THANK YOU -24-

china(Continuation)

Not far from where I was, the two communist agents were snacking from a bag. I waved at them. They nodded their heads and laughed. Before we left the island, they passed a present to each of us. I looked in the plastic bag and found a T-shirt with the island’s picture on it, the big size that was too small for me. I thanked them. They did their best.

We crossed the lake in a crowded boat and got in the van. Our next stop was the church we’ve seen for the first time, the one with the bookstore. While we were enjoying our trip on the island, the driver had filled the back of the vehicle with the last boxes of Bibles. We ate a very late lunch on the road, fruit and sandwiches, and had only fifteen minutes to change our clothes at the hotel.

When we reached the big building, there were groups of people on the sidewalk, waiting to take a close glimpse of us, Americans. A few men came to the van and carried the boxes in the church. We followed them, with the lady pastor showing us the way. The sanctuary was full. I took a deep breath to keep from weeping. These precious followers of Christ in China were our brothers and sisters we loved. Each of them had a life story we were not supposed to know. Behind their smiles, there was pain they had to hide from us.

I looked around while walking from the back to the front rows, and saw a crowd of women, hundreds, maybe more than a thousand. The section designated for men was narrow because they were not many. How hard had to be for these families to live their lives separated, women in the city and men at work far away?

We sat down and the lady pastor and another two women walked to the pulpit. The service started with a prayer and then continued with the choir. I was amazed to see 80-100 singers on the platform and praising God with so much passion. Our interpreter was sitting in the bench behind us and translated as much as he could.

When the service was finished, after the last song with the whole congregation, the audience was invited to step outside, while the pastors and the leaders of the churches represented there were called in the front rows. During this move, we stood up and give hugs to as many people as we could.

Then this young man came to me. He said something in Chinese. I could see he was pretty anxious about something. He opened his arms to give me a hug and spoke in my ear in English. He said, “Thank you for coming to help us.” Then he slipped a piece of paper in my hand and pressed my fingers to cover it. He smiled and turned to leave. “Do you mind if we take a picture together?” I asked. He looked around and stood still next to me for our picture. Then he was gone.

I went and sat down in the pew and, pretending to get my water from my bag, I opened the paper inside my purse and read it. There were a few words scribbled and two of them were, “Help us!”

I knew that kind of desperation when pastors from America visited our church in Romania during Ceausescu’s ruling. We looked at them for hope, at least for the night when they talked to us after the service. They prayed for us and told our stories before the senators of the US, year after year. That way the USA started putting pressure on the communist Romanian administration to ease our yoke. It worked.

How could we influence our country to help the Chinese people in their distress? The surface of the Chinese society looked great, but deep despair pulsed underneath.

-To be continued-