Archive for October, 2007

A different kind of field trip

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Zach’s class is greeted by the villagers

Two weeks ago, Zach’s 3rd grade class joined last year’s 3rd graders for a trip to the country. A village pre-school was their destination. They left at 8 AM on a Saturday, and returned around 3 PM. Though they were only gone 7 hours and drove only 2 hours from home, the kids who left that morning returned home changed.

This little village is within the same province (Tianjin) as our major city by the same name, but the lives of her people are vastly different. Last year, the 3rd grade class at our school raised money to have windows added to the classroom walls. The school has no electricity, so without lights and windows, these preschoolers were learning in a cold, dark room. The students from our school wanted to visit again this year, and invited the current 3rd grade class to join their friendship with this little village.

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The children’s classroom (now with windows!)/ village view with corn drying in huge piles

Zach was nervous about going, especially since neither his dad or I could attend. He was frustrated that he wouldn’t be able to speak Chinese well, and wasn’t sure how he could help. Since both Daniel and I feel this way alot, we certainly sympathized with his concerns, but strongly encouraged him to see what G-d could do through him if he was willing to be available.

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The low building is the bathroom (adults are too tall to stand all the way) surrounded by drying jujubes (one of the local crops)/the inside of the school’s restroom

Thanks to another mom who is fabulous photographer, we were able to catch a glimpse of just how much G-d had in store for Zach that day.


Zach (in the orange pants and blue sweatshirt) greeting the children and their families – for those of you who knew him in the States … this is not the same painfully shy kid … he is brave and kind and willing to take risks when it matters. We are so proud!

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Zach playing a game in Chinese – here he is being asked to be the “hao pengyou” or good friend

The current 3rd graders (Zach’s class) will be visiting the school again in the spring. Their teacher will be working with them to develop a service and fund raising project for a need that they as a class identify. We are so very thankful for the many blessings we enjoy – and also for the times we are stretched and refined.

** for more great pictures and commentary about this special day, see our friend Kimberly’s blog entry:


A Tale of Three Cities: Traveling with Thomas & Brian

We were delighted to host my dear, long-time friend Brian (college roommate and best man) for a whirlwind trip to China. His visit crossed three cities that could not have been more different:


We got to share with Brian many of the experiences that we have come to love about living here: eating meat on a stick from a street vendor (in an alley no less), attending an event at the kid’s school (called International Day – more on that later), and attending an English corner at our coffee shop. As a bonus, Brian joined us for our friends’ wedding (see next post). Lots of people come to China and get to see the great wall; few get to experience the richness of a cultural event like this. Picture below is of Brian getting to know our meal more intimately (a kid-crowd pleaser) and the traditional picture of bride and groom with the foreigner, his kids and his friend from Missouri…



From Tianjin we flew several hours to Guangzhou to spend an evening with my good Chinese friend Thomas. We got to know Thomas quite well last year when he was a student at a local university. He moved south last spring with his first job. It was wonderful to connect with him and continue our relationship. Families who adopted from China might recognize the places below. On the left is Thomas and I in the White Swan Hotel (unfortunately we didn’t stay there!) and on the right is Thomas and Brian at Lucy’s Cafe just down the street. Sorry about the blur…



The next morning Brian and I took a train to nearby Hong Kong. To borrow and adjust a quote from Sleepless in Seattle,: ‘it was like no China I have every known’. Brian’s travel book described it as ‘dropping Manhattan onto one of the Hawaiian islands. We spent a day exploring this British-influenced (did you know they drive on the left side of the street), urban-meets-tropical paradigm. We were constantly amazed at how different it was from the rest of China (I have visited more than 10 other cities in China and have seen nothing like it. The most striking is the presence of non-government churches (see online photo album link below). Hong Kong is officially described as “one country, two systems” . The pictures below from upper left clockwise: the streets of downtown Hong Kong, Brian then me atop The Peak on Hong Kong island, and the city at night.

It was a privilege to see more of this amazing country and reconnect with my dear brother Brian. I put a number of pictures online – both places and people – click here to see it. Enjoy!

– Dan


Double Happiness


This past weekend, my sweet friend Wei Wei and her fiance Jia Bo were married. What a joy and honor to share this day with their family and friends! We wanted to share some of the highlights of the wedding – things that are similar to our country’s traditions and things that are quite different.

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To begin, the formal invitations are hand-delivered whenever possible, and usually not given more than two weeks in advance. Invitations are always red with gold lettering. The happy couple usually pastes a photo of themselves inside with the details of the ceremony hand lettered.

The night before the wedding, the bride and groom both stay with an unmarried member of their respective families. In the morning, each extended family gathers in the parent’s home for visiting, getting the bride (or groom) made-up and following several interesting traditions. Rachel, Melva and I were invited to Wei Wei’s home in the morning to share in this special time — it was such fun to be included!


Traditional wedding papercuts outside the family home/I was volunteered to tie the bride’s father’s tie

Two traditions of note: if any of the guests have been married within the past 100 days, the bride to be and the recently married bride exchange apples that they bite at the same time. The bride also must wait at her parent’s home until a female member of the groom’s family arrives with her bridal shoes (red of course).


Wei Wei waits with her mother for the red shoes to be delivered

At lunchtime, the guests leave the family home for a local restaurant to eat long-life noodles and four other specially chosen dishes. Women guests are given a red hair piece to wear the entire day. The bride and the guests then leave for the wedding location – in most cases, a large restaurant. Nice black or red sedan style cars are hired to transport the guests – each with pink balloons attached to the back windows. Similar to a funeral procession in the US, the cars stay in a long line through the crazy traffic until they reach the site.


Melva, Rachel and I wait with Wei Wei/Long Life Noodles are served for lunch

When the bride emerges, firecrackers in the shape of double hearts are set off, confetti and paper flowers are thrown in the air. The ceremony is most often conducted by a hired professional M.C., whose job it is to entertain the guests. The M.C. was quite boisterous – even with our limited language, we knew he was not conducting the solemn, religious ritual we are accustomed to witnessing!


The whole family gathers for a photo with the happy couple/the guests/placecard for our dinner table. Wei Wei thoughtfully reserved a non-smoking room and chose foreigner and allergy friendly food for us!
The official marriage actually takes place some days before the wedding in a government office, so the ceremony is primarily a chance for the bride and groom to thank their parents and entertain their guests. The bride arrives in a western style white wedding dress, but is expected to change into 4 – 5 additional dresses (party style, ball gown style, traditional Chinese style and modern) during the dinner that follows.

Wei Wei looked so beautiful each time, but was also exhausted! Our boys were pretty cute trying to keep up with all of the outfits … “look at the blue dress, it matches the butterfly in her hair!” “Oh, I like the cherry earrings and the red bow!” “When is the next dress coming, mom?”


Three of her five dresses: wedding dress, party outfit and ball gown.
Pictured with Wei Wei is our dear friend Eliza, the maid of honor

While the lavish dinner is served, the couple moves from table to table – receiving a toast each time. The couple does this for each outfit change, so you can imagine how much alcohol is consumed! Our friends chose Coke, so thankfully they were still able to walk at the end of the long night!

After the last guest has left, the couple retires to their new home which has been decorated with red double happiness paper cuttings. Couples are expected to have their own home, with brand new furnishings, floorings, windows, paint and fixtures before the wedding day, so many have to wait years and years to marry. Western style honeymoons are not usually possible, with inflexible work schedules the norm.

The exchange of rings is also a very new and Western idea, so most married couples do not wear rings. Guests bring wedding gifts in the form of cash in red envelopes. As the couple moves from table to table, they receive the signed red envelopes. This money will help the couple recover the cost of the wedding and their new home purchases. No gift receipts needed!
It was a wonderful day and we are honored to have been included. Congratulations Wei Wei and Jia Bo!


Red Letters: Living a Faith that Bleeds

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In the summer of 2006, we had the privilege of sitting down with author and Children’s Hope Chest director Tom Davis to share our call to China – and to hear more of his heart for the millions of orphans in our world. After reading Tom’s latest book, “Red Letters: Living a Faith that Bleeds”, I am struck again at his insight and passion. No hidden agenda here: this blog entry is a flat-out appeal to our readers to get this book.
This is the book description on In many Bbles, Chrst’s words are set apart with a red font. It should be obvious, but this distinction helps remind us that when Gd becomes Man and that Man speaks it’s probably something we cannot afford to miss.

So why doesn’t the church take these “red letters” to heart? Why aren’t we doing more to be Chrst’s hands and feet to the poor, the disenfranchised, the weary, the ill, the fatherless, the prisoners? It’s all there in red letters. Why has the Church shirked its responsibilities, leaving the work to be done by governments, rock stars, and celebrities?

The Gospel wasn’t only meant to be read it was meant to be lived. From the HIV crisis in Africa to a single abused and lonely child in Russia, the Church must seize the opportunity to serve with a radical, reckless abandon. Author Tom Davis offers both challenge and encouragement to get involved in an increasingly interconnected, desperate modern world.

“Red Letters” is unique in many ways. Tom uses a combination of personal stories, statistics and scripture to powerfully develop his theme, but even more importantly, Tom devotes the final chapters of the book to next steps – if you read “Red Letters”, you will be moved. At times, you will feel angry, despondent, frustrated and helpless. Thankfully, we are not left in that place. Idea after idea, organization after organization are detailed for the reader in the final chapters.

For the first time in my life, I feel that I “get” the Matthew 25: 31 – 46 passage. Somehow I had in my head that if I feed the hungry, clothe the poor, comfort the sick, that I am Chrst to that person. The truth is that Chrst IS that person. “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” This passage makes it pretty clear – THIS is the dividing line. What we did or did not do for the ‘least of these’ (the widow, the poor, the orphan, the stranger, the prisoner) reflects what is truly in our heart of hearts.

Daniel and I were incredibly challenged by this book. We all have so much to offer! We ask you, our friends, to keep us accountable to this new vision of how we can be used for His glory in this place.


On a related note, another friend recently returned from a trip to South Africa. She was able to spend time with a group of women who are trying desperately to break the cycle of poverty and prostitution that enslaves far too many African women. In order to leave this life, the women must find suitable work. Our friend is working with this group to develop a market for beautiful bracelets the women are creating. If you are interested in learning more about this project, please contact Molly Zakrajsek by email at The bracelets are $3 each. Molly estimates that for every 50 bracelets sold, one South African woman can provide herself with shelter and food for a month. Please open the link below to see pictures of the bracelets, and to read more information about the project.


Things we can learn from language

Our language lessons continue with our dear Liu Laoshi. This year, Daniel and I are studying together on Monday nights after the kids go to bed. Laoshi, Daniel and I are pretty wiped out by 9:30 (we start at 7:30), but we are learning a lot and truly enjoying our time together.

As a child, I remember hearing that Eskimos have something like 10 distinct words for snow … its such an important part of their lives that as the language developed, it reflected their culture’s need to express these distinctions.

Chinese is a language that reflects its culture as well. In our host country, people HIGHLY value “face” – that is, each person’s need to appear well before others. People are never, ever directly confronted or challenged — the directness we so value in the West is painful and embarrassing here. One local friend told me this week that he avoids large gatherings of friends or family because it is so exhausting to measure every word to be sure no one is directly or indirectly challenged in their actions or words.

Another place this shows up is in the way we say “you are welcome”. Being indebted to another can cause loss of face – it is better to stay always on par in the exchange of gifts, hospitality, etc. At weddings, people give gifts of money in the famous red envelopes. Much to our American dismay, these gifts are signed. This way, your newlywed friends know exactly how much they are indebted to you, and can plan to make it up to you (to the cent) in the course of the friendship.

And so, we’ve been learning the proper times and places to use the following words after being told Thank You:

bu ke qi – you’re welcome (basic form)
mei guangxi – no problem, it didn’t effect our relationship
mei wenti – no problem, it wasn’t difficult
mei shi – no issue
bu yong xie – thanks aren’t needed
bu yong ke qi – thanks aren’t needed

I feel certain there are more, but that is what we’ve learned so far. The important thing is that you never express that you were in fact put out or that the person’s debt to you is larger than they can easily discharge.

Just like with parenting, the more I experience of this culture, the less I really KNOW. The nuances of Chinese culture are incredibly complex, steeped with ancient tradition and not often compatible with a Western world view. We are so thankful for our patient and gracious hosts, who daily forgive us for being “bulls in the China shop.”


Qinhuangdao Retreat 2007


Every October holiday, our team takes a weekend retreat to one of the coastal cities in northern China. After more than a year of living in the fourth most polluted city in the world (according to Newsweek, Summer 2007), we were more than ready to breathe deeply of fresher air and to enjoy the natural beauty of Qinhuangdao, a small port city about four hours from our home. Our trip there was memorable … the team was split between 3 large buses – two of which had significant maintenance issues (the brakes on one bus caught fire – the other bus had a major tie blow-out) along the way. After about 7 hours on the road, we finally arrived at a new seaside Holiday Inn.


Hannah had many “why” questions about the bus

Each night the team gathered to share stories – during the days we were free to explore the beach, the city’s aquarium and other local finds. Our last day was especially precious, as two families took the seaside opportunity to share the sacrament of bap-ism.


Remember I said “fresher” air? Sadly, this is what is happening to local beaches as China becomes the factory to the world


Dolphin Show at the “Dolphinarium” in Qinhuangdao/Evening Fellowship/Sandcastles with the Principal/Beach Stud Noah


A bride posing in front of the sea/hotel pool full of LDi kids/Hannah plays peek-a-boo with daddy on the bus home


A very special time for this family


“What is Qinhuangdao?” Contest Results!

As difficult as it was to chose, we have a winner to our “What is Qinhuangdao?” Contest. The winner, chosen irregardless of accuracy, but purely on who gave birth to me is… my mother. Her answer: “I think it is a new way to cook squid!!!” First prize is an All-You-Can-Eat Street-Bought Meat-on-a-Stick Feast with Grandkids! She will be claiming her prize in December. Second place goes to Sharon H, who was quite close to the actual answer, but she obviously did not give birth to me. Honorable mention goes to Dave B, whose rather creative answer includes a spooky peak into life in the deep south.

Now the real answer. Qinhuangdao is a coastal Chinese city outside of Tianjin (where we live – see map below). Every year our entire team (including teachers at the school and our families) have a retreat during the Chinese holiday the first week of October. It was a wonderful time to relax and enjoy our community. The change of scenery from our mostly grey and drab city was quite welcome.



A semi-rare and certainly precious scene – all four children enjoying each other and the beautiful ocean/sea!