The heart of China
Colin Nevinconcludes his China travelogue
It was the last day of my journeying before heading back to Beijing and I visited Kaifeng, the ancient capital during the Northern Song Dynasty, to investigate the history of an enigmatic Jewish Community who had settled there some 1,000 years ago.
However, to my great disappointment the Jewish exhibition was closed. I tried to explain to the curator that I had come a long way from Northern Ireland but to no avail and I returned to the hotel quite despondent.
Later I went into the city to get something to eat and buy bottled water for the stifling heat. I crossed a narrow bridge over the scenic lake and arrived at a huge Chinese-style building. Here I met a local rickshawman named Jason who spoke perfect English, a rarity in these parts.
After our initial conversation, he related that he was a Christian, as were his wife and his mother. He said he believed it was ‘fate’ that we had met. I agreed to let him show me round Old Kaifeng, and Jason explained in great detail the history of the area.
I shared my disappointment at the closure of the Jewish Museum. He recited the Lord’s Prayer for me in English as he pedalled. I thought to myself that only God could have engineered this unique meeting in an outlying province of China.
Jason told me that there were four well-attended Protestant congregations in Kaifeng where he could go to worship, pray and sing hymns. Last of all we visited the old Guildhall famed for its ornate wood carvings and brightly painted eaves in typical Chinese style.
Inside was a small museum with two huge stone bowls on display in the middle of the room. These, he explained, were two ritual washing bowls from the old Jewish synagogue. I couldn’t believe that I had actually come across artefacts from Kaifeng synagogue.
Drawings of the synagogue and its furnishings along with photographs of Old Jewish Kaifeng and some of its Chinese Jews were displayed on the wall. It was a perfect end to a perfect journey. I thanked Jason profusely.
One Bible left
He explained to some Buddhist monks who were looking for donations that he was a Christian and so was I. He was quite fervent in his beliefs. We made our way back to my hotel and I asked him if he had a Bible. He said his wife had one, but that he didn’t have one of his own.
I still had one Bible left in my bag and had wondered who to give it to. I offered it to Jason and he was overjoyed. He hugged me and called me his brother. He said he had never met a Christian from the West before and couldn’t believe I had brought a Chinese Bible all the way from Belfast!
He kept a little book with photographs and comments from satisfied customers. He asked if I would add a photo and write some comments.
I wrote that Jason was a God-send and described him as the ‘Angel of Kaifeng’. I gave him most of my remaining tracts and calendars, just keeping a few for the eight-hour train journey back to Xian which lay ahead.
The next morning at 5.30am I set off for Xian and was informed aboard the train that I was sitting in someone else’s seat. Apparently the seats on Chinese trains are allocated as in an aeroplane.
I had to move carriages and with the help of the guard found my seat next to two young soldiers from the Military Academy. They questioned me for most of the eight hours, such was their curiosity.
They asked about my beliefs and I gave them my remaining tracts in Chinese explaining the Christian message. They both took these reluctantly, asking if I had heard of Communism. I told them I had. As we left the train they turned and asked, ‘Have you forgotten anything?’
I glanced over at our table where the tracts still lay. ‘No, I have everything’, I replied. Quickly and deftly the two young men picked up the tracts and put them in their pockets. No more was said about it. They courteously pointed me in the right direction as we parted. I had now distributed all my tracts and Bibles and had made friends along the way.
It had been an exciting and eventful journey and I thank God for his protection and guidance over the course of three weeks in a foreign land and culture. The people of China had endeared themselves to me and China had truly captured a piece of my heart.
This Olympic year is a special one for China and an opportunity to project a positive image to the world. We as Christians should embrace China in its era of expanding freedom and prosperity, and as it shakes hands with the democratic countries of the world. For God loves China too.