NANCHONG, China (Mennonite Mission Network/Mennonite Partners in China) — Two professors, one from Japan and one from the United States, arrived in China, in mid-May as guest lecturers for different Mennonite Partners in China-affiliated schools and for a two-day conference discussing comparative literature and literature translation.
The May 12 earthquake struck a few hours after their first presentation.
The tragedy, which killed more than 68,000 people and left millions homeless, also offered opportunities for aid, as well as experiences and education about fears and faith.
After the quake, classes were cancelled, and the Sichuan Education Bureau declared that no large-scale student meetings were allowed until further notice. The schools that had previously invited the professors to come withdrew the invitations for the very understandable reason that, in addition to the prohibition on open lectures, the schools could not guarantee their guests’ safety.
Dream saves from quake
CHONGQING, China — The reports and images coming out of China’s earthquake have been tragic but a few points of light have pierced the sorrow and gloom.
One of these was Kent’s mother’s dream.
Kent is a sophomore student of Julie Bender, who teaches in Chonqing with Mennonite Partners in China through Mennonite Church Canada Witness and Mennonite Mission Network. His home is near Dujiangyan, a city 210 miles to the west, close to the earthquake’s epicenter. When Kent heard that Dujiangyan had been devastated, he was worried about his family. Unable to contact them, his anxiety mounted as the hours and days passed.
Finally, on Thursday, three days after the earthquake, Kent received a phone call.
“It was early in the morning and I was still sleeping when my mobile phone rang,” he said. “It was my mother.
She said, ‘My son, listen, I have something to tell you. On Monday afternoon I was sleeping, and I had a dream. In my dream you were calling me. I heard you say get up, get up. The dream woke me up. That was about 20 minutes after two. So I got up and went outside.’”
The earthquake struck about two minutes later, at 2:28 p.m., and Kent’s small cement-block house was destroyed. Most of the other houses in his hamlet, including that of his uncle, were also destroyed. But Kent’s family and neighbors were safe.
Kent’s parents and his aunt and uncle are presently living in a make-shift shelter built out of the rubble of their homes. They report that they have enough food and water for a month.
—By Phil Bender, Mennonite Partners in China through Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Church Canada Witness.
After several days in Chengdu, professor and poet Yorifumi Yaguchi and former Goshen College English professor Wilbur Birky, traveled to Nanchong. They managed to talk to some students at informal English Corners and Japanese Corners, advertised by word of mouth, and served as substitute teachers for several classes. The conference that had been scheduled to take full advantage of their presence continued after a one-week postponement with 26 participants. A banner created for the conference later provided shelter for some sleeping on the streets.
The day Yaguchi and his wife, Mitsuko, arrived in Nanchong, they were walking with MPC hosts when a woman fell in step. She began peppering the group with questions: “Who are your guests? Where are they from? Where are your guests from?” Claire Hanson, 10, whose parents work for MPC in Nanchong, couldn`t contain herself: "We're not their guests, they're our guests." When the woman asked Claire where our guests were from, Claire was faced with a problem.
It was not a language difficulty. She knew how to say, “They’re from Japan.” This problem was much bigger.
“I was scared to answer,” Hanson later wrote in her journal, “because Chinese people hate Japanese people.”
Japan’s long occupation of China, which ceased with the end of World War II, caused much pain among the Chinese people, many of whom cannot imagine forgiving their former oppressor.
The 10-year-old replied, “They are … they are friends from Japan.”
Because she could think of nothing else to say, she told the truth. Her answer prompted a rapid, excited response from the woman.
“Tell them that we are very grateful for their help in the areas hit by the earthquake. Tell them that we thank the Japanese people. Tell them that we thank Japan,” the woman said.
On that very day, 60 earthquake response team members had arrived in Sichuan from Japan, along with specially-trained dogs to search the rubble.
As the woman turned to leave, Mitsuko Taguchi ran after her, taking a rose from the bouquet a teacher had given her, and presenting it to the woman.
While there have been many such positive experiences as churches and aid workers look to help provide for those who have lost family members and homes, Pastor Wang of the Nanchong Christian Church offered a post-quake sermon on losses and fear.
“I heard that some people have emptied their bank accounts and are sleeping with their life savings,” Wang said. “And what good does that do them on the riverbank? We spend all our lives working for that 100,000 or 200,000 yuan, and then we can easily realize it is useless.”
Wang said the earthquake offers Chinese Christians the rare opportunity to examine what they truly depend on, what offers comfort and strength.
“Why do you think God tells us so often in the Bible to ‘fear not for I am with you’? We have been given a chance in the middle of this horrible destruction to see clearly that if we depend on anything or anyone else, we do need to fear,” he said. “Only if we rely on God can we ‘fear not.’”
Pastor Wang said freedom from fear offers the freedom to serve, allowing people to look at the fears and needs of others instead of our own.
A group from the church, which struggles to meet its own needs, has gone twice to bring water, food, and daily necessities and to distribute these supplies together with local Christians in an area surrounding Jiangyou that has been hard hit by the earthquake. Already plans are underway to collect another truckload of supplies to go back to some of the same villages. Talk has already begun of plans to help with rebuilding projects.
Mennonite Partners in China and its supporting partners, Mennonite Mission Network, Eastern Mennonite Missions
, Mennonite Central Committee
and Mennonite Church Canada Witness
, will work with donations to help local churches aid earthquake victims. Financial contributions for this response, designated for "China emergency assistance" may be made to MPC or any of its supporting agencies, either online or through the mail. To donate to directly to MPC or through Mennonite Mission Network, contact:
• Mennonite Partners in China (www.mennonitepartnerschina.org
), 1251 Virginia Ave., Harrisonburg VA 22802.
• Mennonite Mission Network (www.mennonitemission.net
), 1601 W. Beardsley Ave., PO Box 370, Elkhart IN 46515 .
(For more information, see Mennonite agencies to provide $100,000 in response to Chinese earthquake.)
Todd Hanson, with his wife, Jeanette, and their daughters, Claire and Kate, works in Nanchong, China, with Mennonite Partners in China, supported by Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Church Canada Witness.