I’m not finding enough time to write down the lengthier thoughts I’m having while in China but here are a few more vignettes to keep you in the loop. There are also pictures on the Yale Divinity School Facebook page – you can probably find the link via the YDS web site if you’re not already on Facebook.
We spent several days in Inner Mongolia, a province (actually autonomous region) of China that is large, resource-rich, and (for China) sparsely-populated. Think Wyoming. (Or Idaho. Inner Mongolia is apparently known for potatoes.) We visited with churches – Catholic and Protestant – checked out the impressive museum of Mongolian culture, and spent lots of time stuck in traffic in Hoh Hot, the capital. (As a provincial backwater, it is home to a mere 1.5 to 2 million people.)
One highlight was a visit to the Inner Mongolia Bible College – 125 students in a two-year program. With the church growing so quickly, there is a shortage of trained lay people and clergy to help structure the church’s growth, teach new Christians, and generally prevent the rise of syncretistic faith. The entire student body met with our group and we had a nice back-and-forth for several hours, though there was much that was missed on either side, I think.
One student asked if any of us were Episcopalian and if so what we thought of gay people. Here – in a post-denominational, proudly nationalist church – was someone who wanted to know about the Anglican Communion. It was nothing short of stunning. I was designated to answer and did so. Afterwards, I talked with him some more. He self-identified as a peasant from a small village in Inner Mongolia. But he and his friends at school read about the Anglican Communion online and follow what is going on. I asked him what students at the school thought about gay people and he said many people had many different opinions. “The same is true at my school!” I said.
On one day, we visited a satellite site of the Bible school in town for the more mature (“second-career,” we would call them) students. They were playing ping-pong and I joined in. There’s a reason they win all those medals at the Olympics.
Our transport to and from Inner Mongolia was overnight train on “hard-sleepers” – three-high bunks, six to a berth. Good group bonding experience. You learn who snores the worst.
At the museums we’ve visited, I’ve found myself really interested in the “meta-narrative,” i.e. what the presentation has to say about what the Chinese think about themselves. This was particularly true at the brand-new Chinese National Museum (that’s not quite the right name but I can’t think of what it is at the moment) on Tiananmen Square – kind of life the Smithsonian on the Washington Mall. I want to think about this some more but suffice to say that how Chinese see themselves is now how Americans see Chinese.
Now we are on our way to Nanjing and then Shanghai. Time flies.