During my summer itineration, I was asked many times what would happen to the campus of my former school, Guangxi Normal University for Nationalities. The college had been there since 1939 but was moving to a new site 1 ½ hours away located outside of Chongzuo city. Land had been purchased and a new campus was built over the period of 3 years. Our small, Longzhou institution was slowly being phased out, with everyone and everything finally being moved last June.
A Deserted Guangxi College Campus: What now?
There was great speculation as to what would happen to our old campus. The faculty apartments were fairly new, only 10 years old. The classroom buildings solid, equipped with blackboards, lecture room seating and powerpoint equipment. The dormitories also were in good condition. Plus the grounds themselves were so pretty. Flowering, fragrant trees always greeted us every springtime and poinsettia bushes bloomed in full all year round. The location near the town center was another plus. It was just a short walk and we all were in the town center, able to buy whatever we needed.
I assumed the campus would be sold to another educational institute looking for a place to call home. There is only one junior high and high school in Longzhou and this would have been the perfect facility for another one, a school fully able to house and feed students in from the countryside who were not able to go home every day. With excellent faculty housing as well, it would have been a wonderful start for a new or existing middle and senior school.
My memories of that college in Southern China have always been filled with our English Center chats and activities, student Christmas parties, the magnificent New Year’s bonfire and firework show, walks with Little Flower around the sports field and the elderly’s amazing garden creation, constructed with great care from the rubble of abandoned buildings. I still remember the joy of the holiday season in dazzling the neighborhood with my outdoor Christmas lights, which the small children were thrilled by.
And my dog’s resting place is likewise there, a little spot of ground to visit if I ever returned.
All happy thoughts and future hopes concerning the college I spent 3 years of my life at as an English teacher in China.
A Call from Joe Brings Unexpected News
And then the phone call came.
Yesterday evening, one of my teenage visitors called from Longzhou. “Joe” used to come to my home every Saturday afternoon along with his friends to hang out and practice his English. He has made it a habit to call me every 2 weeks to give me the news of the town and tell me about his life. I hadn’t heard from him in about 3 weeks so when he finally did call, I expected he’d have a lot to say.
He certainly did, but it wasn’t what I ever expected.
Our conversation had barely begun when he announced, “Connie! The school has been destroyed!”
“The school?” I asked, a bit puzzled. “What school? Your school?”
“Guangxi Normal University for Nationalities,” Joe replied. “The school! All gone now. There is nothing but destroyed buildings.”
I was speechless. Why would anyone tear down all those new apartment buildings and usable classroom facilities?
I couldn’t think of a word to say but just sat in stunned silence.
“Connie?” Joe finally said. “Are you there?”
According to Joe, it was a secret as to what would be done with the land. He had no idea who had bought it or what it would become.
After Joe and I ended our talk together, I was left to ponder, with a sinking heart, the tragic fate of my beloved college campus where Little Flower and I had had so many happy memories. I have already made plans to call Liang Ling, the Dean of the English Department, or Mr. Liu, my former foreign affairs director, to fill in the missing pieces. When I learn more, I will certainly report.
Not The Only One
Nor was that the only shock I had received for the week.
In church last Sunday, right before our closing prayer, Pastor Liao took the pulpit to give us a 20-minute power point update concerning . . . the new church building!
This seems to have been an ongoing project for over a year. While this was the first time I’d heard about it, all the church members were completely aware of the plans.
Committees had approved the architect’s designs. Money had been collected and donated, some from Hong Kong and overseas’ churches. Land had been allotted and approved of in the new districts of the city. Everything would be rebuilt, including a new sanctuary, a dormitory for guests and lay leaders in training, and a 3-story clinic as well.
The announcement Pastor Liao gave us had to do with difficulties in city government approval of the plans and also higher costs than estimated. The construction was to have begun already but due to the problems, that had been put on hold.
Not A Huge Surprise
For myself, this wasn’t a huge surprise that a new location would at some point have to be considered.
The church is located in the oldest part of the city. After 3 years of my absence, all the old buildings and alleyways in that area had been completely torn down. Now the Luzhou church’s 1910’s structure stands in the middle of a spiffy new shopping plaza with highrise apartment buildings on either side. The church steeple used to be seen from many blocks away but now it’s towered over by the modern world.
The land that the church occupies, which includes an apartment building next to it and the church-run clinic, is prime real estate property, smack-dab in the center of the business district. In China, all land belongs to the government but buildings belong to private owners. The church area has been allocated to the Luzhou Christian community but I’m sure great incentives were given for them to move by city officials.
And, as with all church congregations who have been worshiping in outdated, old buildings for years, there is great excitement in expanding: to have better facilities, to create your own structure with essential needs such as decent toilet facilities, classrooms, offices, meeting rooms, to allow greater space for members, and to purchase all new furnishings and equipment. It is quite a venture and one which I can honestly say is needed.
I am reminded of a song I used to sing in children’s church, “We are the church Together.”
The lyrics began: “The church is not a building / The church is not a steeple / The church is not a resting place / The church is the people!”
I know and understand that.
A building is not the important part of our faith. Still, I can’t help feeling sad that the existing church in Luzhou will soon disappear and be replaced by a new complex.
The church, founded and built by Canadian Methodist missionaries, is such a nostalgic piece of Christian and Chinese history. The sanctuary itself holds great meaning to all those who suffered during the Cultural Revolution for their beliefs. It’s a miracle that the building wasn’t raised at that time. Instead, it was converted into a movie theater for Communist propaganda films and later returned to the Luzhou Christians in the 1980s.
Worshiping in this 100-year-old structure, gazing at the brightly painted, original Chinese designs, has always brought a warmth to the heart that a common, bland worship center can not.
For Christians, Chinese or foreign visitors, the atmosphere of this holy place is powerful, meaningful and quite moving. The passionate voices of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ still echo there.
When the sanctuary goes, I can’t help but feel that special, personal connection with Christians of long ago will be difficult to recapture.
In the meantime, I will enjoy every minute I’m in our historic sanctuary. I’ve already attended a Thursday choir practice (2 ½ hours – whew!) and there is, of course, our upcoming Christmas Eve performance celebration and prayer service. I will be joining the choir for Handel’s Halleluia Chorus (in Chinese) and our two English carols (4 parts, and very challenging) under the leadership of our UK guest conductor. Should be quite an exciting, uplifting evening for all of us.
From an ever-changing China, here’s wishing you Ping An (peace) for your day.