- Posted November 21, 2012 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Life in China
A Mormon in China
Furthermore, I'm a Mormon.
What's life like for a Mormon in China? Honestly, it's much like any other foreigner. My Chinese is extremely limited, and I communicate through vague bouts of charades, simply handing shopkeepers money, or calling friends who speak Chinese. Monday through Friday, I wake up at 7, hope there's hot water to shower in (when there isn't, I choose to forego the shower...which happens more often than not, much to the dismay of my mother), make a bowl of oatmeal, and walk to school. My students proudly wear their uniforms consisting of sweatpants and jackets and cram into a classroom where they spend the entire day studying and listening to teachers drone on about history, math, languages, and sciences. In the middle school, the ninth graders look like seventh graders, while the eighth graders look like sixth graders, etc. They are well-behaved, reply to inquiries in rehearsed unison, and much like their parents and grandparents, are thrilled and frankly a bit amazed to see a foreigner walking the grounds.
I teach over three thousand students over the period of two weeks, so my lesson plans must be brief and succinct or they will lose interest and fail to retain any of the English. This week, I chose to teach a lesson on Thanksgiving. After re-visiting my elementary school days by teaching them how to draw turkeys by tracing your hands and step-by-step teaching the enraptured students how to make mashed potatoes, I closed the class by creating a list of things they were grateful for. At first, the students listed what us Mormons call 'the Sunday School answers'--family, friends, and food. But as I continued to prompt them for more and more words, they delved into their English vocabulary, shouting out words like 'mountains' and 'air,' and 'QQ,' which is the Asian version of MSN and Facebook.
As they continued, though, the simple game became more complex. Prompted by their outbursts of vocabulary, I wrote down 'country,' 'Obama,' and 'language,' and then a young seventh-grader pointed to the ceiling and confidently said, "God!"
Yes, I am a Mormon. And I'm sorry to disappoint many of you, but no, I don't have horns. No, I wasn't married at sixteen to a man with five other wives, nor do I intend to marry any man who has another wife (or anything similar to one for that matter). I believe that God is our Heavenly Father, that Jesus Christ is our elder brother and that He lived, died, and was resurrected so that we may do the same. Without forcing a doctrinal discourse though, it suffices to say that I am thankful every day for that God who has given us life and everything we have.
In all other parts of the world, people live and breathe and die by religion. Wars are fought over religious claims, friendships and families are broken over differing opinions, and the lack of a religion has in a sense become a religion itself. In China, however, while the people are free to practice many religions, it is almost treated as a campfire in the woods; as long as it's contained and won't spread, you won't run into trouble.
Many of you have experienced the classic Mormon missionary--dressed in white shirts and ties knocking on doors with free books and a good message answering to the name of 'Elder,' so you know the drill. In China, though, it is forbidden to proselyte--active or passive. So as a member of a religion that emphatically endorses missionary work and active church participation, how do I maintain my relationship with God through my church?
Though there are maybe 10 members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the name of our church), I attend branch meetings as often as possible, whether it is in Nanjing, Beijing, Shanghai, or over Skype in the branch that meets over the internet. Often, I will travel to places in China and meet members of my church, fellowshipped by the fact that we not only speak the same language (a priceless commodity in China) but that we have the same religious culture. The beautiful thing about our church is that wherever you go, throughout the entire world, the church is the same. Though meetinghouses, languages, and location may change, our living prophet speaks the same counsel and direction to everyone.
The way I stay active, though, isn't necessarily through meeting attendance. It's by opening my heart, day-by-day, to the quiet guidance as God's hand appears and directs the minute details of my life. It's through simple prayers offered silently in a train station when tickets or passports are lost, and through the comfort of a sweet scripture when unhappy tears stain my cheeks.
I, for one, love this gospel. Though you may not agree with the teachings of our church, or even be adamantly opposed, it brings me peace and joy. It breaks my heart to be surrounded by such good and humble people, without being able to share with them the aspect of my life that is most important to me. But I see, more than anything, the good in their eyes and hearts as they take care of two young Mormon girls who don't speak a bit of Chinese but try to teach their children a little bit of English every few weeks.
So what did a Mormon teacher do when a student raised their hand and said they were thankful for God? I smiled and slowly raised the chalk to the board and wrote down a three letter word that means more to me than any other word in any other language.
Every day I read the news and see who's done what, what's done who, and where's changed how. You can read all you want about China, but you'll never truly understand the people and the country until you've been here. You can't read on the internet the roots of family ties and the pride in a name. You can't watch on television the sound of a blind man playing a haunting tune in the park. China, for me, is more than an experience to be filed away in a dusty journal. It's interlaced with the essence who I am--a girl who knows God because she's come to know His people.