For ten days CCS student Tif McNaughton and principal Maylanne Maybee traveled in China as part of a United Church delegation, meeting with leaders and members of the Protestant Church there, conferring with students and theologians, and also being tourists – of the mausoleum of Sun Yatsen in Nanjing, founding father of the Republic of China, of the Tianenmen Square and the Forbidden City in Beijing, centres of both imperial and communist power, and of the Great Wall, built and rebuilt for centuries to fortify China against foreign invasion.
At the end of their time, Tif and Maylanne did a check-in while feasting at a round table laden with dishes of seafood, vegetables, and Peking duck. Maylanne writes…
As Tif’s primary instructor at CCS, I was impressed but not entirely surprised by the poise and skill she displayed at different moments in the trip. While at the Conference at Nanging Union Theological Seminary, she moderated the session on Prophetic Witness in Society, giving not only biographical information about each speaker but also their favourite passage of scripture. When visiting the Canadian Embassy, she asked a probing question of the ambassador about the impact of Chinese investors on the life of people in her BC community (to which she got a predictably diplomatic reply). And at the end of that day, she facilitated a check-in session for the delegation, again with competency and grace, keeping the comments flowing and ending the evening before we were all exhausted.
It will take time to reflect on the many experiences and discoveries of this trip. I asked Tif what message she would like to convey to CCS students. She said, “I will return knowing that this is a holy mystery. The only things we can quantify and work on understanding are the hard realities of the other. Both our churches are struggling with the impact of empire and colonization, yet what I take away is the great kindness that exists between our cultures.”
I asked what she had learned at CCS that she was able to bring to this experience. “As a CCS student I learned a mode of operation that allowed me to connect quickly with the presence of God and the forces of the world, how to live with the interaction of the two.”
And what were the highlights? “Meeting and talking with Amber, a student at Nanjing Union Theological Seminary whose interest in feminism challenges her to live out a radical theology in a culture that values balance and harmony.
“And seeing structures of ancient history – the Forbidden City and the Great Wall — alongside modern buildings and selfie sticks. The message was ‘this too shall pass’: one day tourists will crawl through our churches and temples, and walls will be redundant.”
In the presentation on Prophetic Witness in Society, she learned about Katharine Hockin, a deaconess and Canadian missionary in China who also served on the staff of the Deaconess Missionary and Training School (a predecessor of the Centre for Christian Studies), and who was herself the daughter of a missionary.
Katharine’s mother Lily had learned of the humiliation and injustice of the “Unequal Treaties”, a series of treaties signed by the Qing Empire in China and foreign powers during the 19th and early 20th centuries, in which China was forced to pay astronomical amounts in reparation following military defeats, and make huge concessions to foreign powers. Lily said to her daughter Katharine:
“I went to China with a Bible under my arm and my love of the Chinese people. I didn’t know about the Unequal Treaties. You do, so you have to be different.”
Tif and I came with this delegation to China with a mix of ignorance and assumptions about China and the Church in China. We have learned more of their story, and we too, will have to be different.