I have to wonder if our pioneering Methodist Canadian missionaries had the same feelings as I sometimes do when, in 1913, they made their way down the narrow alleyways leading to their newly-built, pristine worship center and sanctuary.
I especially wonder this as Easter arrives tomorrow. Here we are to be full of the joy and excitement of Christ’s resurrection, taking on a happy gait on our way to church. This is for most of you in America, witnessing pretty green lawns and spring flowers popping up around the church landscape.
Not exactly so for Christians heading off to Easter celebrations here in Luzhou.
Old Luzhou Still has Its Hold on New Luzhou
From the missionary diaries I’ve recently been reading, the area chosen for the church was certainly something! Open sewage canals lining the walkways, the odors of unwashed human bodies inside and outside the church, stinky, mangy strays searching desperately for food along streets, the stench of pickled vegetables piled high in baskets for selling, meaty animal carcasses dangling from butchers’ hooks, and blood-splattered ground where recently killed, plucked and lifeless chickens awaiting buyers.
Today, the protestant church is the last historical building left standing in the old district of Luzhou. Beautifully tiled sidewalks, wider roadways, highrise apartment complexes and fancy store fronts have completely overtaken what used to be a Chinese culture that knew nothing of the outside, modern world and its vast technologies.
Despite our newly-emerging Western look, walking down that stretch of alley to church, as those Canadian missionaries once did, is still not something for the weak of stomach.
It seems that in China, outdoor markets tend to hold fast to their locations, even those established 100 years ago. And so it is that the Luzhou church is right smack dab in the middle of a century-old open-air market.
The same scenes that greeted the first missionaries those many years ago also greet all of us Christians trekking to worship every Sunday. First we have the quacking (and quaking) live ducks in their rusted cages, ready for the slaughter. Their fate is ostentatiously displayed on wooden boards where former friends lay side by side, throats slit and plucked feathers scattered below. Fattened pigeons and chickens are also present, ready to join the fowl clan on adjacent tables.
If you arrive early enough for the 9:30 service, you’ll be greeted by their death throws. This likewise goes for the squeals and grunts from the pork and beef sections closer to the church entrance. Here you’ll find rows of unrefridgerated, swaying, skeletal remains of cow and pig.
And do I dare mention the big, fluffy, sweet and docile bunnies thrown into the fray?
That is just too, too sad for this American, especially to dwell upon for Easter.
Outside, Queasy Views; Inside, Celebratory Mood
Despite the above report on the stomach-churning scenes outside of the church, I will say that inside the sanctuary tomorrow will be just as joyful as yours in America, perhaps even more so.
It is the custom in China for Easter Sunday to baptize new believers into the Christian faith (usually 40 or more at the Luzhou church) and to have our first communion together as a church family. Afterwards, as we leave, we are presented with sweet bread buns and hard-boiled eggs as our Easter surprise. I’m not sure if this custom is followed in other churches but in Luzhou, it is one of the highlights of our festivities and one I’m looking forward to. Those bread buns are fantastic!
A Holiday Spirit Throughout China: Tomb Sweeping Festival is Upon Us!
It doesn’t happen often but this Easter, not only will the Chinese Christians be in high spirits but all of China as well. This Easter weekend corresponds with a well-known Chinese holiday, Tomb Sweeping Festival (Qing Ming Jie).
April 6 is the time when families return home to tend the graves of their loved ones. They tidy up the gravesites, which are often far into the countryside, burn paper money for the dead to buy what they’d like in heaven and leave offerings of fruit, cigarettes, beer or cola for the deceased being honored.
This is a national holiday so all schools are closed on Monday, giving everyone a 3-day weekend, including our college. Many of my students have gone home so the campus is fairly quiet aside from a those who live too far away to be able to reunite with loved ones.
For myself, it’s time to catch up on items left unattended, including this website entry. After returning to China over a month ago, I’ve been trying to complete make-up classes in the evenings (the ones I missed due to my late arrival) as well as tackle my usual teaching schedule, not to mention pool swims and emailing.
Our roasting temperatures, skyrocketing into the 90s, have left students and staff a bit tired and sleepy during the daytime hours. This sort of weather usually starts toward the end of April, not the beginning, so it’s been somewhat of a surprise for many of us to be suffering through hot, sticky classrooms this early in the semester. It’s probably one of the reasons this 3-day weekend is so welcomed. Being at home or enjoying nature under shady trees sure beats the heat of a stuffy school building, although students hanging around are taking advantage of the great weather to wash clothes. That includes laying out their bedding to air out.
Yet even if some of us are doing housekeeping chores, we are still definitely enjoying our days off.
Until next report, here’s wishing you all Happy Easter, Happy Spring and Ping An (Peace) for your day.