Monday, October 27, 2008

China Trip - Day 7

Our trip took on a more concentrated touring emphasis on Monday. While in Zhangjaijei, we were still hosted by two Chinese pastors who graciously gave their time to show us around. While in Changsha, we met many church leaders and moved at a lightning pace. It was nice now to fellowship with only two brothers and build deeper relationships. I formed a special bond with Pastor Jeremy.

What can I say about Zhangjaijei? It was the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen. I’ll let the pictures do the honors.

The entrance to the park…



Various pictures of our first stop. Here we walked up a path for a couple of miles and came back down…













The old man…



When we came back down from our little hike, Pat was feeling dizzy from the altitude, so she headed back to the hotel to rest. The rest of us took a bus to a giant elevator that took us straight up a cliff face and into the stratosphere. After this, we did a lot of walking and gaping at the scenery.

The elevator is in the top left corner…



A closer look…



At the top…



Such beauty…



Felt like flying…



Such amazing formations…



Great sign…



Another one…



The world’s largest natural bridge…



Couples leave locks as a sign of their love…



Like another world…









We were so high up, I was worried about the bus ride down. Not to worry. We took a cable car straight down. And I mean straight down. It was quite a ride. Took ten minutes.

Near the end…



Zhangjaijei was the most extraordinary landscape I’ve ever seen. It was an amazing experience I shall never forget.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

3 Goals

I missed Abigail playing soccer while I was in China. Last week, she scored 2 goals in one game. I was bummed that I missed it. She proceeded to score 3 goals today! Amazing how proud your child's accomplishments can make you feel. I'll try and get a video up of her scoring some time.

I'll also work on finishing up the China blogs.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Last Day

We are leaving China today. Pray for our safety as we fly. I will post pictures of our week when I get back to the States. It's taking way too long to upload photos on this server. We've had a great time here in China, but I'm ready to see my family now. After traveling to the other side of the world, I've discovered that the best place on earth is in my own back yard with my precious girls. I'm coming home!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

China Trip - Day 6

Our last day in Changsha began with us checking out of our hotel and heading over to the central church for Sunday service. What a wonderful ending to a fun week in Changsha! Obviously, I was interested in seeing what the music was like in Chinese churches. Just like in America, each church is unique. This particular service consisted solely of traditional hymns. The congregation sang only melody and was accompanied by a single piano. There was no worship leader. Rather, the pastor called out the hymn numbers and the people kept time with the piano. All the stanzas were sung on each hymn with an “amen” at each song’s conclusion. The service also included congregational Scripture reading. The choir actually sat in a reserved section at the front in the congregation until a point in the service in where they filled the stage area and sang three choir anthems. One was “Amazing Grace” and the other two were beautiful Chinese compositions. This choir was excellent. They were highly trained and sang as well as any church choir I’ve ever heard. I was inspired and impressed.

The ladies are greeted at the door…



Pat and Pastor Jeremy…



The choir sings…



The church in worship…



A woman praying after the service…



After the service, the church leaders invited me to visit with the choir for a few minutes. I answered some questions, sang a song, was asked to conduct the choir in a song, and made some good friends. I felt honored for the opportunity to share some time with these gifted musicians. Afterward, we ate lunch with some of the church leaders and then hoped on a van for the four-hour ride to Zhangjaijei. It was quite extraordinary just to drive through the Chinese countryside. It felt surreal somehow. I saw lots and lots of rice fields. As we moved closer to the mountains, it became more and more beautiful.

The choir prepares for our time together…



A rest stop on the way to Zhangjaijei…



Just another Sunday drive…



Lots of rice fields…



We finally arrived at our hotel and had a quick dinner at a restaurant across the street before retiring. It was a full day and sleep came quickly.

Pat’s gonna hate me for this one…

China Trip - Day 5

We are in Beijing where I finally have internet. I’ve been without for a few days, so I have some catching up to do. We’re still having a great time.

As you read in my previous entry, I was sick on Saturday. I alternated between sleeping and watching the Lord of the Rings all day. My fever broke before noon, but my appetite actually didn’t return until four days later. Up until tonight’s supper, I’ve been sticking to white rice and bananas. Saturday was a down day for all of us, so I didn’t really miss much by staying in my room.

So this is what my Saturday looked like…

Friday, October 17, 2008

China Trip - Day 4

Friday was our busiest day yet. We had some amazing experiences. First thing Friday morning, we headed over to see the construction site of the newest Christian church in Changsha. This was especially meaningful for us since our church donated $12K to the project last year. It was a long drive out to the site, and I saw more of Changsha than I had yet to see. We were met at the site by several key people involved in the church's construction. Included among them was a government official who is insuring the specs are according to code. I am still blown away by the hospitality we've been shown.

The construction site...



An artist's rendering of the finished project...



These ladies are important members of the local Christian council...



We're just happy to be here...



The whole gang...



We then headed over to a local hotel owned by a key figure in the church's construction. We had an amazing experience while there. We witnessed a presentation about the project and then were treated to the best meal we've had here so far. The couple that owns the hotel were first class hosts. After the lunch, we were treated to massages at the hotel. I could feel the jet lag melting away.

The hotel conference room...



The presentation...



This used to be a carrot...



A butterfly crafted from of a Chinese flower...



Me and my good friend, Daffy Duck. This time I decided to refrain...



The lunch party...



Our hosts...



The ladies liked their massage...



We then headed back to town in order to have lunch with the folks from the Changsha south church. I had a lot of fun visiting with some guys my age who serve as pastors at the church. Among them was the music director who was a riot. A sweet girl named Lucy made all our ribbing possible by translating for us. We then walked through the Changsha shopping district on our way to the church. This church was amazing. It was actually founded by Hudson Taylor. Talk about a rich history! A large number of the church membership came out to welcome us to China. Pat spoke with the women, Cathy and Marie spent time with the youth group, and I met with the choir for an hour. And what a choir! I was truly impressed. Sharing time with these musicians was a moment I'll never forget.

Me and the music director...



Cathy and Lucy (our translator)...



Changsha night life...



I almost hurt myself sitting on this little stool...



Me and the Dark Knight...



The narrow way that leads to life (or the church in this case)...



The church entrance. That's the pastor standing just inside...



To think that Hudson Taylor founded this church. WOW...



The pastor introduces us...



The choir prepares to sing for me. They actually sang a Chinese composition which was beautiful...



Me and the choir...



God is good. I made it through the evening before I started feeling sick as a dog. I couldn't have gotten sick on a better day as we were planning on taking it easy today. I missed out on a trip to the Seven Hills. But my fever has broken, and I should be good to go tomorrow. I'm planning on watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy to pass the time. Later!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

China Trip - Day 3

I didn't blog last night so I'm up this morning to fill you in on our third exciting day in China.

We started out the day by heading over to a local Christian church where we stuffed all the house shoes into bags for the nursing home seniors. What was really cool is that some of the local church members helped us. It was a real joint effort.

The outside of the church...



The inside of the church...



Here we are with all the completed bags...



We then headed over to the nursing home which is sponsored by one of the local churches. The residents were very happy to see visitors, as any nursing home resident would be. I think the fact that we had come such a long way meant a lot to them. We hugged a lot of people and passed out the gifts. As I met the residents, our interpreter would help me find out each person's name which I would try and say. It made for a lot of smiles! Man, I just love the Chinese language. What was also funny is that our interpreter would introduce me as "Mark-UH!" with an emphasis on the second syllable as if you were karate chopping while saying it. It's how they pronounce my name in Chinese. So a new nickname is born.

The residents seemed very happy and well cared for. As we entered the building, they had congregated in order to welcome us. They gave us a huge standing ovation. There were moments that moved me to tears. And to think that we have the same opportunity back home. How many lonely seniors are shut up in nursing homes waiting for us to visit?

One more funny story from this visit. The nursing home is right next to a school. As we were walking up the stairs to the fourth floor, the students who were outside for recess noticed me and started waving. Tall, skinny white guys are a novelty in Changsha. Anyway, so I waved and said, "Nihow!" They all waved back at me and said "Hello!" It was something I'll always remember. I love that America and China are such good friends.

The nursing home...



One of our friends introduces us...



Our good friend, Paul, was enjoying the day...



Me and some of the residents...



The students at recess...



Thought this was a cool picture of Marie. She is a natural photographer...



Pat and one of the residents...



This experience was particularly meaningful for Cathy...



Upon leaving the nursing home, it was time for lunch. We ate at yet another wonderful Chinese restaurant. The hospitality here is second to none. We ate some familiar dishes like fried rice along with some new entrees I had never experienced...

Found Nemo...



Pig's feet was quite good once I plucked up the courage to try it...



A chicken head...



Me eating a chicken head. CLUCK...



They have this juice here that I simply must find in the states...



We are all stuffed at this point...



Give me some of that rice!!!



We then went to a local book market where we met the director of a school for deaf children. We wanted to purchase educational materials for these remarkable children. In China, they do not teach the children sign language. Instead, they teach them to read lips and speak. It's quite extraordinary.

The children were sweet, sweet, sweet. They loved it when Marie and I took their picture with our digital cameras and then showed them their photograph. They range in age from 2-7 years old at this particular school.

Shopping, shopping, I love shopping...



Taking the books to the school...



The school values one on one teaching...



Marie showing the boys and girls their picture...



Such beautiful children...



Me and the kiddos...



For dinner, we went to a traditional Chinese tea room. I had the Jasmine tea which was great. I also had more rice. It has become a constant joke with my companions. In the words of Keifer Sutherland from "The Lost Boys" - "You don't like rice? Tell me something, Michael, how could a billion Chinese people be wrong?" We played Mahjong which was an absolute blast. For the record we did NOT gamble. We just played for fun. I'm buying a set and bringing it home. Get ready, Celorias.

A Mahjong table...



Pat's winning hand...



My winning hand...



An intense game, this Mahjong...



And finally, Pat thinks she's Jesus...



Time to start a new day!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

China Trip - Day 2

It's 9:00 PM on Wednesday night, and I'm just settling in from a long day. Let me reiterate that the traffic here is nuts. Unlike anything you have ever experienced. And the people! This city is huge. I was told Changsha has a population of over 7 million people. I think I saw all 7 million of them today!

I started off my day with breakfast at the hotel, and met Rev. Jane Yao, the Chairperson of the Hunan Committee of TSPM and President of Hunan Bible Institute. Rev. Yao is a wonderful lady and was quite the hostess today. After breakfast, we headed out to buy some house shoes for 210 Chinese men and women in a nursing home. We'll actually distribute them tomorrow morning.

A side street in Changsha...



The market where we went shopping...



This is us with the vendors we bought the house shoes from...



A precious little boy we met at the market...



Here they are loading the house shoes...



Some of that famed Changsha traffic...



Lunch with our Chinese friends...



After lunch we headed to the Hunan Bible Institute...



Me playing guitar at one of their lecture times...



The wonderful students of the Hunan Bible Institute...



Pat lecturing through an interpreter...



The session lasted 2 hours. Afterward, we challenged the students to a friendly game of hoops. I was like Shaquille O'Neal with my height advantage. It was a blast. Alas, I didn't take any pictures of this memorable event. I'm sure someone in our group did. I'll try to upload those tomorrow.

It took a while to get back to our hotel. We got back, ate, and now it's time to crash!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I'm in China!

Yup, you read that right - China. As in home of the 2008 Olympics. All I can say is, "Wow!" What an amazing experience so far. Thus far in my life I've only been to two places outside the U.S. - Cancun and the Cayman Islands. And I did cross the Mexican border once for a few hours. But this definitely takes the cake!

I'm traveling with some friends from work. One of my companions on the trip went to school with a Chinese national. Paul is going to take us to see various sights I'm staying at the Da Cheng Hotel in Changsha for a few days. Then we plan on going to see Zhangjiajie National Park and Beijing. It's going to be a blast.

We left early Monday morning from DFW and flew to San Francisco. I have been to California but never San Francisco. I didn't see much besides the airport. I did see the Golden Gate Bridge from the air which was cool.

A fleeting glance of San Franciso's beauty...



We flew United Airlines to Beijing. Man, was it a long flight. We played cards to pass the time. We actually flew northwest along the coast of Canada and Alaska and across to Asia. I didn't get any pictures of this, but for a long while, all we could see from the air was a blanket of ice.

Some mountains near Siberia...



Almost there...



Amazing mountain range east of Beijing...



We finally arrived in Beijing where we had to catch a connecting flight to Changsha. The Beijing Airport was quite stunning. The architecture was very cutting edge. It was the most impressive building I've ever been in. Also, the people that assisted us were extremely friendly and helpful.

Notice the ceiling at the airport...



Just like home...



I slept the whole way to Changsha. Boy, the jet lag is rough. We flew with Air China. There weren't as many internationals as in Beijing, so I felt more immersed in China's culture than ever. Once again, the people were very friendly. When we arrived at the Changsha airport, I went to the restroom and was surprised by their unique toilets. They are floor level rather than actual seats. Quite a shocker. Not to worry. The hotel sports Western style toilets.

Got a kick out of this sign...



Paul met is at the airport to take us to our hotel. The traffic here is NUTS. There seem to be no traffic rules. People sometimes drive outside their lane. There are many people on scooters too which adds to the chaos. They honk a lot but not out of anger. Rather, it's to make sure another drivers see them. Same thing with lines. People just cut and no one seems to care.

We finally arrived at our hotel which is very nice. Had a great night's sleep. You've never seen anything like this place. It's amazing. Here's the view from my window...



I'll be eating soon and starting my first full day in China. I'm excited to be here!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Baby Preacher

Out of the mouths of babes?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Louie Giglio on Laminin

Our new Director of Worship Arts, Hunter Hall, sent me a link to this video. I remember hearing this sermon by Louie Giglio in person and being blown away. It's one of the best sermons I've ever heard. Check it out.