For many years I had a scroll hanging on my wall with the Chinese characters for faith, hope, and love. If the Biblical admonition to be salt and light includes our home decorations, well, this little piece of parchment was salty indeed.
I was often asked if I did the writing, (I was flattered), if I could read the Chinese (I was humbled), and why and where those three characters were put together (I was challenged). As the other Chinese scrolls hanging on my walls were Chengyu (four character idioms) this one was different.
Over the years I have heard scores of definitions and illustrations of those three words. Some I have written down—because I like to write! Others are in my memory, and sadly countless are forgotten. Some led to deep conversations and others started a friendship. Some simply got students and visitors to ask questions. Some led to a look in the Bible where the three virtues are listed together. I’d like to share three that reveal this diversity.
Love has never failed as a conversation starter. No shortage of talk here. Boyfriend and girlfriend, mother and baby, friend to friend. One’s favorite ice cream. Undergrads giggled, grad students philosophized, and a friend spoke of her wedding. Many movies and books were recounted and lots of grandmothers remembered. But one story stood out to me. A class of freshmen had been assigned the task of describing a childhood accident. At its most basic level, it was a chance to review and use some body vocabulary and verbs about mishaps. At best it was an opportunity to share a personal narrative.
One boy wrote of joining a kite competition. His father had told him it was a waste of time and money but he worked for days anyway to create his kite in time to take part. He shared how his father was a gruff farmer who had never complimented him or shown affection. “He never punished me like some fathers. But I rarely saw him—as he worked long hours. Did I just mean more work for him?”
The day of the competition was not only windy as hoped but stormy with thunder and lightning. The much anticipated day ended with a tree branch falling on him and his kite caught and destroyed in electrical wires. He wasn’t seriously hurt and another competition was scheduled. But he returned home sure he would not be a part of it.
The next morning more than breakfast awaited him. There on the kitchen table was a kite. “Your father wanted you to have it,” his mother said. “That was love,” my student wrote. “Now I knew he loved me.”
Students in my classes for teachers rarely needed me to give them topics for discussion. Some groups seemed to arrive each day bantering back and forth. It usually stayed friendly but opinions were strong. Even as someone began to say “we Chinese” another one would be itching to “clear up” their meaning, i.e. disagree.
One week in class it was the lottery. Some felt it was a waste of money; others adamantly claimed to have no knowledge of the activity. One lady shook her head vigorously saying “gambling” over and over. Several knew a friend of a friend who had bought a ticket and won. One of the younger teachers pulled a hand full of tickets from his pocket. We all laughed. “No,” he said before anyone asked. “I’ve never won a thing.”
Then a quiet father of a little girl whose picture we’d all seen spoke up. “Yes, but it gave you hope, didn’t it? It gives people hope. Isn’t that what everyone needs?”
Faith was a harder topic. Trust? Belief? In what? I asked a former student and colleague, now close friend and sister to share her thoughts.
When I was little, I was taught that science was the only thing you needed to believe. Fast forward to college and I found myself wondering for what purpose I was living and what I had been living for. I had no answers. Then I met a few Christians. At that time, I didn’t understand what they meant when they talked about their faith and the Bible. However, I did see something warm and bright in their eyes. They all had the same kind of light and it amazed me. Then I knew that that light, which shines on one’s heart, was what I’d been hungry for.
I found the light. I found faith. It makes it known to me that I am worthy of being loved because I am loved by the Creator. It makes it known to me that I am able to love others because my soul is filled with love. It makes it known to me that there is hope awaiting me because I have knocked.
My son wrote me a note when he was nine. It says: “Mom, you and I have been together for nine years and I feel so blessed.” I couldn’t stop my tears when I saw it. So simple, yet so powerful. In the same way, my Lord, I am so blessed for you are with me.
A simple scroll on my wall. I doubt the giver had any idea the conversations it would start. I’m curious. What hangs up in your home, sits on your desk, or lines your bookcase?
Barbara Kindschi has had the privilege and challenge of teaching English in six cities in China and now Myanmar and Laos. Undergrads, professors, hotel employees, monks, and beauty pageant contestants have sat in her classroom. All have been both her students and teachers. View Full Bio
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