Superlative questions were popular with my Chinese students. What is the most delicious Chinese dish? What is the most beautiful place you have seen in China? What is your favorite holiday in our country? These types of questions create two challenges. Your inquirers often disagree or can’t fathom your response, and your answer is constantly changing the longer you stay. The foreigner’s choices may reveal a whole new way of looking at things—eye opening but sometimes hard to comprehend.
“Cabbage and pork jiaozi (dumplings)?”
“Oh no, teacher, the seafood ones are so much better.”
But they are fun conversation starters and have broken the ice in many potentially awkward situations.
It happens when you fly back to your home country, too. Upon returning, similar questions are waiting. I have been asked for my favorite, most memorable, scariest, most profound, happiest, and the list goes on and on. Though it’s a challenge to narrow down such responses, I do see it as a way to share something of a place that others may never have the privilege of experiencing in the way I have. Just like in China, such requests can start a conversation. It might be generic—What was your favorite city or college? Or it could be deeper and more specific—What was the biggest cultural difference or what did you miss the most?
One such question came back to me last Sunday. I wasn’t directly asked anything but as I left my California church, I heard many comments that included something similar to, “Isn’t it great to be together again? I think meeting in person is the best.” I’m not writing to judge these speakers or try and ponder what exactly is “best.” But walking to my car my mind wandered to the many ways I have spent a Sabbath; from joining local gatherings to listening to a preacher far away (long before COVID made this the norm). “Wow, so many experiences. What was your favorite?” I have been asked. Again, I have trouble with the word “favorite” but I do know I can share a gathering that made a deep and lasting impression.
The brothers and sisters in my expat community met weekly throughout the city. All in homes. I had joined the team mid-year and so followed them to their group’s weekly meeting. The location changed frequently. Some members with larger apartments opened their places more frequently and some just once.
Neighborhoods were full of changes. The purple fruit stand next to the 8-story building might be gone next week. Or it might not be purple. Everyone had the general location but that first night at a new home was special. Some buildings and doorways had numbers. Some had names. Some were near established businesses. The taxis would get us as close as our limited knowledge could take us. Sometimes someone would wait in a prominent spot to direct.
One freezing northern night we headed to a new meeting place. As we confidently followed our directions, we soon realized something was wrong. No promised landmarks were seen. We called our friend. No answer. Then we heard laughter and chattering in English. More fellow wanderers. We pooled our conflicting information and called our friend again. No answer. Then we heard a voice from above, and there was our hostess yelling and pointing from her balcony, profusely apologizing for some mistake I no longer remember.
This would not be the last time there were misunderstandings and confusion. There would be more “first-time” destinations. More new wanderers. Some flexible and cheerful. Others impatient and extremely cold. But no one gave up. No one said, “Let’s go home. This isn’t worth it.”
In all our discussions on what to sing or study, when and where to meet and for how long, to have snacks or not, who was to teach—there was never a thought of not meeting. Was this a significant observation to the others? I don’t know. I do know that the gatherings of brothers and sisters have and will always face challenges. Some logistical and some fiery trials. I don’t know if this weekly wandering group gave me a best or a favorite story to recall. But I do know when I read, “Let us not give up meeting together,” it is their faces I see. They will always illustrate Hebrews 10:25 for me.
Image credit: Courtesy of the author.
Barbara Kindschi has been privileged and challenged to teach English in China, Myanmar, Laos, and most recently, Mongolia. Her classes have been filled with undergrads, professors, accountants, hotel employees, monks, government workers, and beauty pageant contestants. They continue to be both her students and teachers. Barbara is also part of a …View Full Bio
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