Boots on the Ground in China




John and teammates working at XIS

Part One

Saturday, March 22. We left Thursday at noon from our daughter’s ranch for SF airport with our team. Friday was swallowed up by the moving mark of time zones. The plane ride was cramped and as suffocating as a sauna. I sat a prisoner in a small cell of a seat, yearning for cool air. After watching me flail, squirm, and hearing me moan, John helped me unbuckle, and I staggered behind him to the back of the plane. “Don’t freak out Mary. You can do this”. John the coach had spoken, and I rejoiced in the mercy of being led to a sweet open space.  People were waiting for the bathroom or standing around smiling, chatting and drinking whatever was available. We had conversation with a hip, long-haired English teacher named Daniel O’Toole. We exchanged emails, and talked about my days as a flower child, and my love of teaching English.

The dark night of travel ended at midnight in Xi’an when Gabe and son Aiden met us with a van. We unloaded all the suitcases at the hotel, showered and stretched out on clean white sheets. “Bed oh bed, o delicious bed…heaven on earth to the weary head”. Then I remembered why we came…to bless this young man, his wife April and their two children, (we joined with their boots on the ground), the sweetness of ancient smiles, the radius of hope young people stretch across the circle of China, the pile of desperate people scurrying, hurrying to make their lives count for the future. Jesus is among them, and multitudes don’t see him yet. He longs to lift up their eyes and show them the treasures of the kingdom of heaven.


Sunday, March 23. “Is the Lord among us or not?”

God Himself can only answer a question of this magnitude. He opens our plank-eyed souls, and reveals his presence: His hands working, his feet walking, His heart beating, his mouth speaking through every day people and moments. We met our brethren at the ATM service, and were refreshed by the Spirit of worship. I bent my head beneath the hands of blessing and prayer, dumb to my need.

IMG_5189Our team in Xi’An

Monday, March 24. Met another John and Mary who serve. He sings love songs to the Lord as he walks the Eurasia University halls. She teaches English with an understanding smile, and shared her class with me. Together we stirred the pot of language soup. A student actually stood up and voiced her disagreement with my remarks on the Chinese language. This was so unlike the cultural reverence they normally have for teachers. It was a thrilling moment and I encouraged her to always be that courageous. I listened to her words and learned.

Tuesday, March 25. Substitution ministry: a stand-in for a sick teacher at XIS. Shepherding young students as they watched a film about lost civilizations that were submerged due to cataclysmic events: the flood a result of collisions with comets? Or an Ice Age melting and drowning all?


**Xi’an. From our hotel window we watched a pale golden sun arise each morning, then disappear into a dense shroud of smog that chokes the lungs, and robs the daylight of its joy all around us.

 Chinese Ghost Sonata

A pale ghost of a sun can still

Fire membranes of memory,

Undo them from the spell

Of haunted shadow cells;

Unbind the mind cat-curled

In luxurious repose;

Unleash it open-mouthed

Upon the tender entrails

Of this fragile newborn light;

Draw the breath of wonder in

Until the eye fills up and spills;

Bury the dark underbelly

Of dreams squandering the night

Away. Sink the pearl of day deep

Beneath the skin, so it won’t be lost

Forever. Do not count the cost.

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