Morning shone joyfully with a white layer of snow covering the Chinese campus. From the third floor my parents peered out of their frosty dorm window and looked for a moment at the wonderful transformation. The black cole soot on the buildings, the sooty sidewalks, and their sooty window ledge all were temporarily erased; the snow was like a silver cape of grace from heaven. “Heaven. That is why we are here,” my mother said. Closing her Bible, she began to hurriedly prepare breakfast on her tiny gas stove. Their whole house was that small room: a narrow springy bed, a table, a few chairs, a bathtub, and thankfully a window. Oh, yes, and radiator fired by a coal boiler which heated the building only when the attendant showed up. The concrete building was well chilled most the winter and so were my parents. After breakfast they hurried down the stairs and to class.
My mother and father went to China as English teaching Tentmakers in 1992. Their going was a huge leap of faith. They were fifty years old and very busy owners of a successful contracting business. At a convention someone described that “China is ripe.” My mom felt the call. Odd, how could they pick up and move for a temporary Tentmaker mission call from their predictable middle-income world? What would happen to their business? There was no logical reason to pick up and move to China for ten months. But Christian mission by nature isn’t a logical enterprise.
The management of my dad’s business was a big concern. After much prayer, God gave them an idea: they would invite a dear friend to run their retaining wall business. This friend, Midion, had worked for my dad many years earlier while going to Union College. It seemed possible, but so impossible as well because Midion lived in Pohnpei, Micronesia on the other side of the world! They called him and his wife, and the idea seemed good to them. The problem was he lived on the other side of the world as well! So it was that Midion, the Public Health Director for the Federated States of Micronesia, came 6680 miles east to run a construction business, while my father, a contractor, and mother, a house wife moved 6940 miles west to teach English at a Chinese university!
Between invitation and fulfillment, Midion nearly drowned in the open ocean — swimming for a whole night in a storm while pulling his capsized boat. On the same exact day that Midion was fighting for his life, my dad accidentally started a fire on his business acreage that was so huge, the smoke could be seen from fifty miles away. The detail of both stories are frightening. It seemed that the devil had certain interest in preventing this unique missionary collaboration.
Perhaps someone reading this is stuck in a career, in mid-life and ought to be thinking about shattering their mundane. “Why don’t you go to China, next year?”
But hell’s plot couldn’t prevent my parents from landing on Chinese soil in September of 1992. What a shock to go from midwest mundane to masses of people: people walking about, biking about, wandering from street to lane, to market. Colorful markets full of watermelons, green beans, pig snouts, and chicken feet, sweet potatoes, spiny fruit, and mollusks all for sale, all for eating. Yes, they were on the opposite side of the planet!
Upon arriving at their post of service, my parents were given the distinguished title of, “the foreign experts.” They taught English to different groups of students for eight hours a day. It was lots of talking and lots of hilarity as they led students in discussion and role-play skits.
Though living conditions were rough, they were welcomed liked diplomats by the university president, (who surprised them at Christmas by asking them to sing Silent Night at a university banquet.)
This snowy day in a more serious moment one student stood up in class and asked my mother a very earnest question. “Mrs. I have a question for you **NOTE TO EDITOR: You can leave the poor grammar in the dialogue**. When you go to market and walk about in our city, who is the tall man who goes everywhere with you? I see him. He looks like tall American, not Chinese.” Others in the class said, “Yes, we have seen him too. Who is that?”
My parents were in a city of several million black haired Chinese and my mother with her red hair, and my dad with his blond hair really stood out. My mom suggested that they must have seen my dad. But the students insisted that it wasn’t him, it was a third person.
While trudging up the stairs of their apartment it suddenly dawned on my mother, “The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.” Angels walking the markets of China!
My dear mother died this autumn. She had fought cancer for six years. We spent a wonderful summer together, and then just two weeks before I began my new position as AFM Tentmaker coordinator mom couldn’t hold on any longer and fell asleep until Christ comes. A precious and remarkable woman of faith.
What is the impact of an ESL Tentmaker like my mother? Does Tentmaking really have mission value? As a testimony of the power of the relationships Mom and Dad formed 22 years ago, two Chinese girls came to my mother’s funeral! Another former student visited my Dad a month later. Letters of love, sorrow and faith keep pouring in from those who sat in their class. Here is a brief section from a former student writing a letter to my dad who affectionately calls my mom, “Mom”:
“I read First Thessalonians chapter 4. This is the good news that we can see Mom again on that day. We need to work hard with His will and treasure our time to fulfill His work. I will try to help others as you and Mom has done for us, try to preach His Words to friends.
Fred said many times that you and Mom changed his life greatly. You and Mom opened a new world and a new life for us. You know I am always so happy that Jesus treat me so kindful.”
Love given liberally never dies. My mom gave love out in China, and elsewhere around the globe.
What more can we hope in life but influence?