Category Archives: Travel

Chinese and Americans–One People Under God


Mao Zedong was born in Shaoshan village in 1893. This village was just one hour by car from the birthplace of Cumberland Presbyterian missions in China in 1898. Dr. Lawrence Fung and I led a group from the USA to visit Hunan, Shaoshan village, Changsha, and the infamous mountain atomic bomb bunker of Mao in the Water Dripping Cave near Shaoshan in 1998.

The Entrance to Water Dripping Cave

The Entrance to Water Dripping Cave

Our visit to Shaoshan village came in the early years of China opening their doors to foreign tourism so all the displays were simple. Everything looked so dusty. The presentation yelled, “We don’t care about tourism.” It was easy to see that capitalism had not embedded in the Chinese culture. But we saw it raising its head with the building of huge amusement parks that aimed to bring the Disney mentality to China.

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The Childhood Village of Mao Zedong

The village demonstrated how a young boy, born in poverty, could catch a fleeting spark of hope for change that led to the overthrow of the Chinese government. And, how good intentions for the populace would mutate into another form of government that limited the freedom, peace, and joy of the common people.

I was most impressed when we stopped to see the process of the rice harvest. When I saw the sheaths of rice, I became overwhelmed with the immense task of reaching the millions of people in China and other unreached parts of the world. And, the words from Matthew popped into my mind–“The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few” (Mt. 9:38).

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The Harvest is Plentiful

Additionally,  on that day trip, we were able, accompanied by Chinese government officials related to the Three-Self Patriotic Church of China, to visit a village church not far from the Water Dripping Cave. We had to walk about a half a mile from a country road through rice paddies to get to the small church perched on a small hill overlooking the fields we had just traversed.

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This was our only opportunities to relate with the poor working class, the farmers, of China. These were the people that had eked out a living for their full life and had no doubt heard about the evil materialism and colonialism of America through the propaganda machine of communist China. There we stood in the wee church singing praises to God and laughing with these warm smiling people that had seen very few foreigners. And, I thought, “Why must there be war?” None of us present, neither Chinese and American, would ever want that. And for a moment we all forgot our separate patriotic loyalties and we were one people under God.

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My First Trip to Mainland China–Is This Too Good to Be True?


Do you remember an individual’s experience that can be documented, but appears too incredible to be true? The following story of God’s protection of a faithful believer caused me to blink several times in amazement. I traveled to Mainland China for the first time in 1991. We visited the Sha Kai Three-Self Patriotic Church near Zongshan, just across the Pearl River Delta from Hong Kong. This little church was a Cumberland Presbyterian congregation prior to the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) when all religion was prohibited during the leadership of Mao Zedong. During that decade Sha Kai church was closed and converted to a factory. Following Mao’s death in 1976, the Chinese government relaxed their persecution of religion and began to return some church properties to the Three-Self Patriotic Church. Sha Kai was one of the properties recovered and reopened. Gradually, members of the original congregation returned to worship.

Three Self Patriotic Movement Church Pastor

Three Self Patriotic Movement Church Pastor

During our discussions with the pastor of Sha Kai, we secured permission to meet some of the older leaders of the church who had lived through the Japanese invasion of China and the Cultural Revolution. The pastor guided us on a fifteen-minute walk to the home of Elder Song, a writer and the principal leader of the congregation prior to 1966.

Foreigners, in this case, me, were obviously rare in this area of China. People stopped to gaze as we made our way around street vendors and lazy dogs sleeping on the sidewalk. As the streets narrowed and sidewalks disappeared, only bicycles zipped by close to us. Finally, we made a sharp turn onto a dirt path leading past a small bamboo thicket. The path ended on the stoop of a small one-story whitewashed adobe house. Red petunias hung in a planter just above a bronze bell used to signal the arrival of a guest.

A slender lady opened the door and the pastor explained the purpose of our visit. We were led to a small patio that faced out to more bamboo. The lady disappeared momentarily. The house was obviously the last one on the hillside, which dropped quickly toward the valley below.

Our hostess said her husband was aware of our arrival and that he would soon come to speak with us. A younger woman walked by his side as his slippers scraped along the tiled floor. His smile welcomed us without a word. He slowly eased into a wooden straight-back chair in front of us. Only, then, did he speak softly, “I am honored to have you visit my humble home.”

His wife did most of the talking for her husband, sharing that Elder Song was thankful to live to the age of 83. During an hour visit, we expressed our interest in how they survived the years when Christians were harshly persecuted. She related that ill-treatment began quickly when Mao announced his decision to close churches and deny everyone the freedom of religion. Government officials forced their way into both churches and homes to confiscate all Bibles, religious literature, crosses, or visual representations of Christ or the church.

The key leaders of each church received the most severe persecution to strike fear into others. Any efforts to violate the edicts of the government resulted in beatings and imprisonment. The severe actions intended to cleanse the society of any Western influence or loyalties that interfered with commitments to Communist dogma. The strongest leaders of churches were selected for reorientation camps. Elder Song was one scheduled for such a penalty. The camps included months of brainwashing and oppressive labor. However, just a few days prior to his departure, a stroke paralyzed him from the neck down. He was unable to leave his bed for more than a decade, requiring the full-time care of his wife. He remained faithful through all of those years, teaching and witnessing in the privacy of his home. Following the death of Mao and the government’s increased leniency to religion, Elder Song recovered the use of his body and his health was largely restored.

I often remember this story when my life or the life of those I love appears overwhelming. A believer needs never to rule out the possibility of a miracle even when it arrives dressed in a way we might not expect or desire. God confirms his promise to walk side-by-side with us even through the valley of the shadow of death. We sometimes witness the unthinkable when God is involved—I felt the impossible became tangible in the testimony of Elder Song.

My First View of Mainland China


I am one of the fortunate people who has visited China on numerous occasions. And, ever trip taught me more about the unfathomable differences and similarities between Americans and Chinese. The common people of all lands, even those enslaved by years of a false hostile ideology or those that believe that their country is the only one on earth, immediately with little reluctance, are overjoyed to meet people from another country when in a non-hostile environment.

I am thinking about my many trips to China. I have to drift back to 1980 when I caught my first glimpse of mainland China. That resulted from an unexpected gift from a friend. The date was early 1980. I was in Tennessee for a one-year furlough from missionary service in Colombia, South America. The phone rang and Dr. Marie Blackwell quickly asked me whether I was going to Hong Kong in May to attend the organization of Hong Kong Presbytery

Dr. Maree Blackwell

Dr. Maree Blackwell

My response was simple…”No, I will not be able to attend.” Her next question was as simple, “Why not?”

I answered without thinking, “That is very expensive.”

She said, “I think you should represent the work in Colombia. Would you go if I pay your way?”

I was in Hong Kong on May 4th, 1980 for the organization of the presbytery. Those were the years while Hong Kong was still a British Colony. But we did take time during the visit to travel north to the border between Hong Kong and Mainland China. I peered cautiously from Hong Kong into mainland China. This was just four years after the death of Mao Zedong.

From 1966 to 1976 during the Cultural Revolution, the expression of religious life in China was effectively banned, including even the TSPM. The growth of the Chinese house church movement during this period was a result of all Chinese Christian worship being driven underground for fear of persecution. To counter this growing trend of “unregistered meetings”, in 1979 the government officially restored the TSPM after thirteen years of non-existence, and in 1980 the Chinese Christian Council was formed.

Little did I know I would one day travel widely around China to visit sites of interest in the ministry of the Christian Church.

The Organization of Hong Kong Presbytery

The Organization of Hong Kong Presbytery

 

Join Me in Traveling to Greece in July 2018


The following link will give you a concise explanation of the tour I am planning for July 2019. It should be a wonderful chance to see Greece and particularly the Greek Isles. It will be a fifteen-day trip including a seven-day Aegean cruise. If interested, please contact me at watkr@mac.com.

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A Preacher Gets Listeners in an Unusual Place


I was in Lisbon, Portugal in April and saw a very interesting mosaic in a church. It pictured St. Antony preaching to a receptive multitude of fish. The following is the story behind the tile presentation.

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From “The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi,” 1476


Christ, the blessed one, was pleased to show forth the great sanctity of his most faithful servant St Anthony, and how men ought devoutly to listen to his preaching, be means of creatures without reason. On one occasion, amongst others, he made use of fish to reprove the folly of faithless heretics: even as we read in the Old Testament that in ancient times he reproved the ignorance of Balaam by the mouth of an ass.

St Anthony being at one time at Rimini, where there were a great number of heretics, and wishing to lead them by the light of faith into the way of truth, preached to them for several days and reasoned with them on the faith of Christ and on the Holy Scriptures. They not only resisted his words but were hardened and obstinate, refusing to listen to him.

At last St Anthony, inspired by God, went down to the sea-shore, where the river runs into the sea, and having placed himself on a bank between the river and the sea, he began to speak to the fishes as if the Lord had sent him to preach to them, and said: “Listen to the word of God, O ye fishes of the sea and of the river, seeing that the faithless heretics refuse to do so.”

No sooner had he spoken these words than suddenly so great a multitude of fishes, both small and great, approached the bank on which he stood, that never before had so many been seen in the sea or the river. All kept their heads out of the water, and seemed to be looking attentively on St Anthony’s face; all were ranged in perfect order and most peacefully, the smaller ones in front near the bank, after them came those a little bigger, and last of all, were the water was deeper, the largest.

When they had placed themselves in this order, St Anthony began to preach to them most solemnly, saying: “My brothers the fishes, you are bound, as much as is in your power, to return thanks to your Creator, who has given you so noble an element for your dwelling; for you have at your choice both sweet water and salt; you have many places of refuge from the tempest; you have likewise a pure and transparent element for your nourishment. God, your bountiful and kind Creator, when he made you, ordered you to increase and multiply, and gave you his blessing. In the universal deluge, all other creatures perished; you alone did God preserve from all harm. He has given you fins to enable you to go where you will. To you was it granted, according to the commandment of God, to keep the prophet Jonas, and after three days to throw him safe and sound on dry land.

At these words the fish began to open their mouths, and bow their heads, endeavouring as much as was in their power to express their reverence and show forth their praise.

St Anthony, seeing the reverence of the fish towards their Creator, rejoiced greatly in spirit, and said with a loud voice: “Blessed be the eternal God; for the fishes of the sea honour him more than men without faith, and animals without reason listen to his word with greater attention than sinful heretics.”

And whilst St Anthony was preaching, the number of fishes increased, and none of them left the place that he had chosen. And the people of the city hearing of the miracle made haste to go and witness it. With them also came the heretics of whom we have spoken above, who, seeing so wonderful and manifest a miracle, were touched in their hearts; and threw themselves at the feet of St Anthony to hear his words. The saint then began to expound to them the Catholic faith. He preached so eloquently, that all those heretics were converted, and returned to the true faith of Christ; the faithful also were filled with joy, and greatly comforted, being strengthened in the faith.

After this St Anthony sent away the fishes, with the blessing of God; and they all departed, rejoicing as they went, and the people returned to the city. But St Anthony remained at Rimini for several days, preaching and reaping much spiritual fruit in the souls of his hearers.

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Growing Up in the Midwest


The Memories of My Childhood Home

“One of the best ways to make yourself happy in the present is to recall happy times from the past. Photos are a great memory-prompt, and because we tend to take photos of happy occasions, they weight our memories to the good.” Gretchen Rubin

Memories become more important with each passing day of life–some sweet and romantic, some painful and dramatic. Every soul on earth thrills to recall the best of the past. Remembrances summarize who we are and how we got there. They remind us of the uniqueness of every life. Some are so real that what we experienced in the past reappear in full color and haunting sound when we close our eyes and push the replay button. Mysteriously our brain induces a frown when we remember odors like the musty shower stall in a damp basement. We can recall the tone and intensity of our mother’s words, “That is strike one, don’t ever do it again!” We feel the panic remembering our wet tongue sticking to a flagpole after a dare. Our memory allows us to fly through the air with the greatest of ease only to crash land when gravity overcomes our Superman cape. Every year the memories pile higher and higher.

Our brain begins to develop as early as four weeks after conception. This super-computer has a nearly unlimited hard drive recording and storing what we have seen, heard, and felt. Some argue we repress the most negative aspects of the past and retain the best. Actually, we have a mixture of the good and the bad. Have you wondered where memories are stored? Current research contends that new memories are encoded in the hippocampus of the brain and then eventually transferred to the frontal lobes for long-term storage.

We have no idea what our brain could absorb and retain if we had been exposed to more languages, books, travel, and memory requirements. The more experiences we pack into our life the “bigger” we become. More languages and a larger vocabulary allow us to express ourselves more clearly and extensively with a larger circle of friends. Books are our transport to where we have never been. Travel, near and far, enlarges our worldview and mutual respect for all people.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” Mark Twain

Most rural Iowans didn’t travel extensively in the 50s and 60s. A Sunday afternoon drive defined travel for many farmers. Families worked six days a week without more than a week’s vacation every year. Even families that had the financial resources to travel a few hundred miles to another state could not leave their farm unattended for more than a few days. The one family in our county that traveled outside the USA became overnight travel experts. Car and train travel far exceeded air travel for rural Iowans.

Blood Stained Glory


It isn’t possible to relate some experiences with the intensity or emotion they deserve.  How can you capture with words the sacrifice people make to secure religious and political freedom?

The incredible history and culture of China dwelled behind dense clouds of mystery for centuries.  The average non-Chinese only imagined the beauty and mystic of the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, or the Terra Cotta Soldiers.  Even Chinese citizens knew little about their country.  Then, Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997), a leader from the peasant class rose to power with Mao Zedong.  After Mao’s death, he led China through the first stages of a market reform that opened some doors to the West while continuing to severely restrict the religious and personal freedoms of his people.

But, the crack for foreigners was wide enough for me to visit a few churches in Mainland China in 1991.  My second stop after visiting a former Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Sha Kai was Guanzhou (formerly Canton) in hopes of finding the gravesite of Rev. Gam Sing Quah.  Rev. Quah, a young convert living in the USA came under a deep personal conviction to plant Cumberland Presbyterian churches in China, and set sail from San Francisco on October 8, 1908 as an employee of the Women’s Board of Missions of the CPC.  By 1923 he had organized eight churches.  He died in 1937 in Canton, leaving the ministry to his two sons—Samuel and McAdoo.

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While in Guangzhou we toured the impressive Sun Yat Sin Memorial.  Sun Yat Sin was a revolutionary and the founding father of the Republic of China.  As we sat down in the nearly vacant auditorium, I noticed my guide from Hong Kong become very quiet as we listened to the music played throughout the auditorium.  The tune was captivating even though I could not understand a single word.  When I glanced at my host, tears were gently flowing down her cheeks.  So, I sat and assumed this was a special moment.

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Finally, she said, “You know I am really surprised with this music.   ‘Blood Stained Glory’ is the name of the song. Students listened to it for inspiration in the Tiananmen Square in Beijing before the government massacre two years ago. It’s hard to believe the government would allow it played here at this time in our history.”  Later, I would learn the lyrics of “Blood Stained Glory” tell the story of the price paid for freedom, regardless of the country.

Perhaps I’ll bid farewell and never to return, can you comprehend? Do you understand?

Perhaps I will fall and never to rise again. Will you be forever waiting?

If it’s to be so, grieve not, the flag of our Republic has our Blood Stained Glory.

If it’s to be so, grieve not, the flag of our Republic has our Blood Stained Glory.

Perhaps my eyes will shut and never open again, will you understand my silent emotions?

Perhaps I will sleep forever, never able to wake up. Will you believe that I have been transformed into mountains?

If it’s to be so, grieve not, the soil of our Republic contains the love we have given.

If it’s to be so, grieve not, the soil of our Republic contains the love we have given.

The following link plays the music accompanied by shots of the Chinese struggle for freedom.

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I sat in silence long after my host left the memorial.  I felt strangely close to a people’s struggle. Mental images of a young man standing in front of an approaching tank passed through my mind.  Few people that saw that display of bravery will forget those moments of tension.   After the young man momentarily stopped the tank, he disappeared into the crowd and to this day no one knows his identity, although some believe he was arrested and killed.  The facts remain unclear.

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I could not imagine at the time how critical the Tiananmen experience would be in opening China to the world.  The largest nation in the world would soon become a global political and economic force.  Unfortunately, there are no reliable figures to demonstrate the growth of Christianity in China since 1989, but everyone agrees that numbers have grown significantly. The lives lost in Tiananmen Square were not in vain.  There are still many steps to be taken for full religious freedom to exist in China, but the wall has been knocked down and spiritual liberty is sneaking in day by day.

As I reflect politically, many people have shed blood in every nation on earth in an effort to secure freedom.  No one should underestimate such cost.

But thinking theologically, only the death and spilt blood of the Lord Jesus Christ has the potential to save every person on the globe from remaining estranged from God.  Oh, that everyone would be given the opportunity to receive the gift of eternal life.  And, so, the incredible need for missions.