Teaching English in China isn’t just a learning experience for those being taught…
I expected the bizarre scrutiny of the locals, to some degree anyway. Foreigners were strange people they occasionally saw on TV. If such a being was somehow in the vicinity, their pale skin and curious dress sense caused them to stand out – that and the crowd of people staring at them. However, I don’t think I was quite prepared for the strangely amusing shock that my being black would be for the Chinese.
In China, basketball enjoys a popularity equivalent to that of football in Britain, so a bald-headed black man in North-West China could only mean one of two things: a holidaying NBA star or one who was lost. Almost everywhere I went I was asked, mostly through mime, if I played basketball. People frequently pointed at me and called out the name of a famous player. So I found the phrase “Wo bu shi Michael Jordan” (“I am not Michael Jordan”) extremely useful.
It suddenly clicked that this unexpected “fame” would be a great way to get conversations (albeit limited ones) going, and to share the gospel. Top idea, or so I thought! One of the things I grew to realise more and more during my seven weeks in China was that God’s ideas are so much better than mine. One afternoon, as we walked through the city centre trying to blend in like neon signs in a place where neon signs just don’t blend in, one Chinese lady called to her friend in Mandarin, “I bet they believe in Jesus Christ”. Her friend said, “Why don’t you ask them?” So she did. When a mandarin-speaking OMFer replied “Yes, we do”, the lady joyously responded, “So do I!” Praise God that we can walk in a non-Christian city in a non-Christian country, and still find his children there!
After a week of teaching in the local middle school, we felt that the students were opening up to us a little but there was still a long way to go in terms of really getting to know each other. Due to the students having a long weekend of exams, we had a free morning from teaching. I arranged an informal game of basketball with some of them, but the game triggered off a recurring back injury and I was laid up for a while, missing a few days of teaching. This didn’t impress me at all and I found myself asking God, “Why have I come all the way to China just to lie immobile in my room?”
I was feeling pretty down about the whole thing. Suddenly I received a surprise visit from two of my students. As they were from the lowest level in the school, our conversation wasn’t too detailed and I wasn’t able to share the gospel with them. But something else struck me. I’d been feeling discouraged about my lack of interaction with my pupils, but simply by the fact they came to visit, the Lord showed me that just by our being there he had already started working in their lives. He knows what he’s doing far better than we do!
With the diverse skills and personalities of everyone the Lord brought together for the trip, there’s not enough room to describe all the ways he blessed us as a team and as individuals. It’s enough to say that none of us returned the same as when we left. (At least seven of us are seriously considering mission overseas.) It’s perhaps easier for some than for others to say how the Spirit of God has touched and changed them. It’s not always suddenly apparent though. Some things you’ll know immediately while others will come later. I’m still being hit by things now – and it’s great! All that’s needed is for us to be available for God and he’ll use us. You can be sure of that.
Kenton Samuels, Serve Asia Worker.
Originally published in OMF Billions Magazine.