Friday, October 22, 2010

God Will Provide (But Bring Your Own Tissues)

I’ve been in China two weeks and it’s getting to me. Or maybe it’s just Beijing, which I’ve left only once in this time. Whatever the case, the novelty of being in China is beginning to wear off and the struggle to adapt to the culture is starting to wear me down. I’m tired of the spitting and staring, I’m tired of the effort it takes to make myself understood, I’m tired of people fighting each other (and me) like animals to get on public buses, I’m tired of squatting, and I’m tired of the gritty black dust that coats everything, including my nasal passages, which have been producing something the color and consistency of a mud slide all day.

This particular evening, I realize that I am not just homesick. I am physically ill as well. I’m in no shape to have dinner with anyone, but this is exactly what’s happening. I have quarantined myself as far as possible from other diners at one of the local dives catering to backpackers, but my isolation seems attractive to an Australian man in his late twenties who asks politely if he might join me.

I have always been under the impression that all Australians are Crocodile Dundee-sized loads of fun, so I say yes without hesitation. This one, though, has an odd idea of a good time. He tells me he is about to leave the relative comfort of Beijing for a stint working as a missionary in Mongolia. He says he’ll be arriving on the steppe at about the time of year when food is starting to run short and temperatures are beginning their plunge toward a constant -40. Adding to his list of challenges, he speaks not a word of Mongolian.

I wonder how he’s going to survive when I feel like this city of skyscrapers and running water is killing me. When I ask, though, all he says is, “God will provide.”

As if to underscore the fact that this kind of statement of faith invites no discussion, he changes the subject. “Do you have a philosophy?” he asks. I don’t. I have a cold. I’m blank. “Avoid cities,” I finally say, hoping this response makes me sound like I operate on a higher plane than I really do.

He tells me that his philosophy is that, “God made us, and we should do everything we can to serve Him.” I instantly feel like the most vapid creature in China. He continues, explaining that he is compelled to bring God to the people because, “God is very, very, very good, and people are very, very, very bad.” It’s just that simple. He says he doesn’t believe that people are capable of being good on their own, and that in fact, “Left to their own devices, they become worse.”

Kind of like a cold, I guess.

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