Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Some things seem a little heavier in person

If you research any country in the developing world, you'll see statistics for "Infant Mortality". That basically refers to how many children die. The lower the "infant mortality rate", the more likely a child is to live to adulthood. It's a sad number, but has always seemed a little remote to me...hypothetical, I guess.

Last night, as we sat with 11 of the people we'll be training from around Tanzania, we each shared a little bit our life story. Of the 11 Tanzanians, 5 told us that they had lost a child. Five out of 11...!

As I looked into their eyes, "infant mortality" didn't sound so remote anymore...

Two of the children died of malaria. After the evening was done, I went back to my hotel room. Took my malaria medication, and made sure my mosquito netting completely surrounded my bed....

Getting there...

...can be a big part of the adventure. We pulled away from the gate at O'Hare, and ended up sitting in the plane, on the tarmac, for about 2 hours. It was getting hotter...and hotter...and hotter...

Fortunately, I had a few things going for me- first, I had just received an unexpected free upgrade to business class (which feels a lot like renting a Yugo and finding out that they're giving you a Porsche instead). Secondly, I knew i had a 14 hour layover in London, so I wasn't in danger of missing my connection. Did you know that they have air circulation options in Business Class that aren't in economy? (Translation: it was about 90 in economy, and 75 in Business....)

I got to London (having enjoyed my fully reclining seat....did I mention that I was in Business class...?) I ate breakfast and lunch in Heathrow Airport. I think I have figured out why England has less of an obesity problem than the United States- no one would WANT to overeat on that "food".

Our flight from London to Dar es Salaam loaded on time. We pulled away from the gate, and stopped. The pilot informed us that an "oil indicator light was on". He thought it was a malfunction, but didn't know for sure. We pulled back up to the gate, and they replaced both the oil filter and the indicator light. Two hours late again...but I'd rather wait than assume, "I bet it's just a malfunctioning light" Assumptions like that are a little dangerous when you're going to be cruising at 36,000 ft, with the Sahara Desert as the only emergency landing option.

After arriving in Dar es Salaam, we stayed overnight in the Blue Pearl Hotel (very nice, really), and then drove to Morogoro- 3 hours on daredevil African driving, with our driver doing 160 kph most of the way. That's about 100 miles per hour. We arrived...alive....

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Ch*rch in Ch*na

It's Monday morning in Linyi, and we're getting ready to start our week of training with our second group. Please be pr*y*ng. (Note: If you're curious about my odd spelling, email me.)

Before I left on this trip, I got a lot of questions about the ch*rch in Ch*na. Questions such as:
  • How much persecution is there?
  • Is Chr*st*an*ty in Ch*na growing?
  • Are you worried about being arrested?
  • What kind of people will you be meeting with- registered or unregistered?

I'm FAR from being an expert of this topic- this is only my second trip. However, I've been learning a lot, and picking up some things from my teammates. I think I can safely make a few observations. Obviously, there are a million things that could be said here. If you want to hear more, let me know, and I'd be happy to talk after i get back to the US.

  1. Everything you've heard about Ch*na is true.
    If you've heard that there is increasing religious freedom, that's true. There are places (especially in the major cities) where ch*rches, both official and unofficial, are visible, dynamic forces in the community. If you've heard that there is a still persecution, that's true as well. There are still incidents where pastors and ch*rch leaders are jailed, held for a few days or weeks, and then arbitrarity released.
  2. Am I worried about being arrested?
    Short answer- No. The worst that could happen would be that they would simply send us home. Our US team would probably be on a plane to the States in less than 24 hours. Let's face it- we're not the courageous heroes in this situation.
  3. Is Chr*st*an*ty in Ch*na growing?
    It's difficult to put exact numbers on it, but everyone agrees that the Ch*rch in China continues to expand quickly- especially among the young people. It seems as if every university has dynamic, growing outreach happening among its' students.
  4. What are the major threats to the Ch*inese ch*rch?
    A few years ago, this was an easy question to answer- government persecution. However, I'm hearing two different answers to this question that are now vying for the position of "#1 threat": materialism and lack of leadership. As the economy expands, and the people enjoy the fruits of growth, many of the youth have become obsessed with material possessions. And the vast majority of the ch*rches are led by people with no real training- you'd be amazed to hear stories of the bizarre cults that have taken root in many parts of the country (even in the ch*rches).
  5. Who do we meet with?
    We meet with people who want to be trained and pass the training on to others. In most cases, we don't ask a lot of questions. We don't even know people's real names, for two reason: 1) We couldn't pronounce them anyway, and 2) If we're asked, "who are you meeting with?", our ignorance is a valuable commodity.

If you'd like to learn more, I suggest two books you might want to read: "J*s*s in Beijing" and "Kingdom Without Borders".

(Note: I've written this post very carefully. If you'd like me to send you a more extensive version, email me at markmorris64@yahoo.com. I have a secure email line, so I can send it to you without concern.)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Random Thoughts from Beijing

1) Chinese food is awesome. Chinese breakfast, on the other hand, is nasty...that ain't food....
2) A 8.9 earthquake in Japan seems a lot less distant when you're watching it on TV in China.
3) Went to Tiananmen Square today, but it's "closed". The Central Politburo of the Communist Party is meeting in Beijing right now, and security is VERY tight. There were (and I'm not exaggerating) at least 6-8 policemen and/or military personnel EVERY BLOCK. Tiananmen was fenced off, with an armed soldier stationed every 10 yards or so around the entire perimeter.
4) I wonder what they would do if someone jumped the fence and ran out into the square...but I didn't experiment to find out...
5) After 3 days of "authentic local cuisine", I had Kentucky Fried Chicken for supper tonight. can you believe that they fry chicken in Kentucky and then ship it ALL THE WAY TO BEIJING?!?!
6) Oreo Blizzard at DQ for dessert. Happy, happy, happy...
7) 22 million people live in Beijing. And they were all on my subway train today.
8) I had my first experience with being (literally) jammed into public transportation. A security officer was standing at each door, pushing people into the trains...the Chinese concept of "personal space" is very different than the US understanding...
9) I'm tall here. Happy, happy, happy...
10) "It's a real Coach purse. I would not lie to you."
11) In any language, video of a 23-foot tsunami is terrifying.
12) People respond really quickly when I email them from China. Apparently, distance increases the perceived value of the communication. I need to start emailing from the moon...
13) It's going to be 69 in Beijing on Saturday!
14) We have wrapped up our first training workshop. We'll start up in Linyi on Monday.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

“If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans”

As we plan our overseas trainings, we experience that over….and over…and over

A couple examples:

  1. The day before I left for China, I got an email from the coordinator of that ministry. He wrote to tell me that we were moving our training location. There wasn't really an explanation at that point- merely a vague reference to "security issues". That made me a little nervous.

    Apparently, the Chinese "Politburo", a major leadership group in the Chinese Communist Party, was meeting in the same part of Beijing as we were. Some of them were even staying in the same hotel as us. When you're working with underground church leaders, which function outside the law, sharing a hallway with the Communist Party is not a good thing.

    We had "planned" the training carefully, but our plans didn't work out very well…

  2. "When you clear customs and get your baggage, call Henry. You can catch a taxi to the Huaqing Hotel, and Henry will meet you there."

    Those are pretty normal plans for when I arrive in an overseas airport. Sometimes, I'll be picked up by a driver. In this case, I've been to Beijing before. The taxis are pretty easy. I had the name of the hotel written in Chinese characters on a piece of paper, and I could simply show it to the taxi driver. Sounds easy, right…?

    Problem #1- Regardless of the assurances I had received from Verizon Wireless, my phone didn't work when I tried to call Henry. I realized that I could call the US on my phone, but the call to a Chinese phone wouldn't go through. Same with the 2nd call…and the 3rd…and the 4th (are you sensing a pattern?). No way to let him know that I was there…

    I decided to go ahead and catch a taxi to the Huaqing Hotel.

    Problem #2- When I showed the hotel name to a taxi driver, he had no idea where it was. Same with the 2nd driver…and the 3rd…and the 4th… (are you sensing a pattern here?). I was relieved when the 5th driver knew where it was. I threw my bags in the back of his mini-van, climbed into the back seat, and asked, "How much?" (Naturally, I spoke in English with a badly contrived Asian accent, as if that would help him to understand…) He responded, "600". 600 Yuan!?!? That's about $90! I was desperate, but not THAT desperate. I got out of the van, retrieved my bags, and prayed that I would find another driver who knew where the Huaqing Hotel was. On the 3rd try (8th overall), I found a driver who seemed to know where it was. He said 100 yuan. $16. I can live with that.

    That was really encouraging, although Henry still had no way to know that I was there. About a mile outside the airport, the taxi driver made a call on his cell phone (presumably to ask for directions). He sounded confused. He sounded equally confused on the 2nd call…and the 3rd…and the 4th (are you sensing a pattern here?).

    Miraculously, I arrived at the Huaqing Hotel. No Henry. I tried to explain the situation to the ladies at the front desk. No luck. Tried to call Henry again. Didn't go through. Same with the 2nd…3rd…4th

    I sat down in the hotel lobby. I was in China, with no way to contact anyone. I could call the United States, but it was 2:00 AM in Chicago. No one in the office. I began to wonder how long I could sit there before I had to do…something… I was a non-Mandarin-speaking American, in China for activities of questionable legality, sitting in a hotel lobby filled with Community officials. I had no room, and no way to contact anyone. "Toto, I don't this we're in Kansas anymore"

    Miraculously, Henry walked in the lobby door less than an hour later. Not knowing whether I had even arrived at the airport, they had decided to check the hotel and see if I was there.

    That was about 24 hours ago. This last 24 hours that have gone seamlessly. No more problems. Our plans are working perfectly. But wait a couple hours…something will happen. I'd be freaked out by this kind of thing, but I keep reminding myself that my plans don't really matter.

    God's plans matter- and they work out just fine.


    1. That we would stay "under the radar", and that nothing would interfere with the training.
    2. That my mind would be clear, as I continue to adjust to the time change.
    3. Thank God for an effective first day of training, and good relationships with the people we're training.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


I'm in Beijing. You'd think that I'd be excited, but after a direct flight from Newark to Beijing, I'm mostly motivated to sleep (which doesn't sound very spiritual, does it?). I'm ready to get started training tomorrow. More blogging, too...

Saturday, March 5, 2011

"Ready" is a relative word...

I'm counting down the hours before I leave for China. Latest number is 28 hours until I leave for the airport. In the last week, I've had dozens of people ask me, "Are you ready for your trip?"

I have no idea how to answer that...

Am I packed? Yes (well, mostly...)

Do I have everything done that I planned to do before the trip? Nope. Not even close. But has ANYONE EVER really done that?

Are all the logistics in place? Yes. But things never go exactly as planned. I've got an entry visa, a plane tickets, housing plans, and the training schedule is ready. Now let's all pretend for a moment that everything will go the way we've drawn it up...

Is my family ready for me to be gone? And am I ready to be apart from them? This is a tougher question. I always feel like I'm missing so much when I'm not there. When I come home, Ben will look at least a couple inches taller- that's the nature of 13-year-old boys. Angela will have new bff- that's the nature of 10-year-old girls. Even though I'll be gone for less than two weeks, there are always a few moments that I'll miss. And I'll never get them back. But somehow, we all survive. And even thrive. Apparently God has all of us in his hands. So we're less than a hands-breadth apart...

Am I ready for the spiritual, emotional, cultural, and physical challenges? Not a chance... but God is ready. In every way, this task of "training leaders around the world" is too big for me. Too big for anyone. But God continually shows that He's big enough. And that's more valuable than any preparation I do.

Do I have enough prayer support? You tell me...

1) My preaching opportunities in DeMotte, IN before I leave (Sunday morning and evening, March 6).
2) Last minute packing, planning, etc. I leave for the airport at 3:45 am on Monday, March 7.
3) Our training team of Alan Ginn, Ron Verwys, and myself. That's we'd be faithful, focused, and unified.
4) That we'd stay "under the radar", and that the local authorities wouldn't really notice our activities.