In these days of pandemic responses we are continually reminded by public health officials that our individual actions affect our neighbours and that we are responsible for protecting those around us. We are connected.
This reminds me of the web of connections I witnessed during my ministry with Mennonite Partners in China (MPC).
Over the years that our family lived in China we had many lessons on the importance of the “Guanxi Wang” (literally translated as “web of connections”). This is a network of relationships one builds in order to get things done and to maintain a strong and stable life. It extends into many areas: Good relationships with everyone from gate guards to university presidents help make life easier. When people feel connected to you, they are incredibly generous and helpful. There is a community spirit within these webs that looks out for others. I was fascinated to watch these webs of connections come together to help meet the needs of others.
I witnessed this web in the city of Dazhou, Sichuan, where various groups and agencies, including the church, met the needs of children with physical challenges in rural communities.
During this time, I worked with Pastor Duan, who is an expert in this kind of relationship building. She is the senior pastor of the church in Dazhou, near where we lived.
One evening, Pastor Duan invited several people from different agencies, including myself, to a banquet. The banquet setting is the meeting table for people from all walks of life in China. It also signals the beginning of relationship building. It is understood that the relationships around the table must be acknowledged and established first, before people can work together.
Seven people crowded around the round table laden with food. Mr. Liu was there as director of the Dazhou Speech Therapy Kindergarten. MPC supported students in his school that came from impoverished rural families. Mr. Tang was from the teachers college in Dazhou, where MPC provides foreign teachers. Pastor Duan served on a government committee regarding health-care services with Mr. Liu, Mr. Tang, and Ms. Shi (a government official with whom I had no connection) because of the church-run clinic her congregation began in downtown Dazhou. Mr. Wang and Mr. Zhang of the Religious Affairs Bureau worked with Pastor Duan and myself on finding financial support to build a meeting space for a small rural congregation. Each of us connected with someone around the table, in some way.
Soon a new connection began to form as Pastor Duan talked about the summer English classes MPC teachers planned to teach in the Dazhou church that summer. Everyone around the table wanted their children to participate. I was amazed at the web of connections around the table.
Then, motioning to me, Ms. Shi asked Pastor Duan: “But how did you bring this foreign teacher here?” Her tone implied that the church was too poor and backward to have connections to foreign teachers.
“Oh, that’s an easy one,” Pastor Duan replied with a smile. “We have the same Father!”
She explained the Body of Christ that draws people from diverse places together. In some strange way, connected as they are to many other “webs,” this web made perfect sense to these Chinese government officials.
At this time, Mennonite Church Canada International Witness continues to uphold and build new webs of connection around the world:
- The books on Anabaptist teaching that South Korea Witness worker Bock Ki Kim has translated from English to Korean are now strengthening the Korean Chinese Christians in mainland China, who are excited about exploring this fresh expression of their faith.
- Pastor Nhien Pham from Vancouver is training new church leaders in Vietnam, who send trainers to minister in Cambodia.
- Believers in Springridge, Alta., are praying for protection from the violence threatening their brothers and sisters in Burkina Faso.
- The commitment of Colombian Mennonites to work for peace and justice in difficult circumstances is inspiring believers in Abbotsford, B.C., to be more faithful in their walk of following Jesus in the way of peace.
These are examples of lives changed by crossing borders of culture, language and political boundaries. As we see viruses crossing borders and changing lives so easily, may we also see signs of the Spirit of God crossing those borders, spinning webs and making changes that are just as profound.
Jeanette Hanson is director of International Witness for Mennonite Church Canada. Donations to International Witness can be made online at mennonitechurch.ca/giving.