A Lent Reflection

A Lent Reflection

As you receive this newsletter it will be the season of Lent, the time when Christians reflect on their faith in profound and serious ways. We remember the sins and sufferings of humanity. We try to include more time for prayer, and we attempt in some small ways to simplify our lives as we prepare for Holy Week and Easter. In this particular year, Americans are concerned about the financial crisis, job losses, and the message that it could take many years to recover. In addition to our own problems, all these troubles also are affecting China and the rest of the world.

Yet, in the midst of all this stark negative reality, too often we forget that there can be a positive side to hard times. When things are going badly, there are some who behave badly, but there are always others who rise to the occasion and do much good. In difficult times, caring and love are more important than ever. Goodness comes to the fore, hearts are warmed, and people are willing to share.

We have learned a lot since coming to China. We had expected at first that our time teaching at the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary would be a total of two years. When the two had passed, we were invited by Bishop K.H. Ting (the Bishop of China) to stay another year. We agreed. It has turned out that this third year is a particularly good one for us in China. It is difficult to explain because the reasons are elusive. Let’s put it this way. We feel closer to the people. We sense that, just maybe, we understand the Chinese a bit better, and they also seem closer to us as well. From the time we arrived in China, we have felt embraced by the beautiful people of China, but that has grown deeper in this third year at the seminary.  

All that we have said so far is about feelings. We’ll tell you now a bit about how that plays out in our world of life and work. I (Doreen) have taught Biblical Hebrew and Post Modern Biblical Interpretation this year. In the Hebrew class, we are joyfully translating the books of Jonah and Ruth. In the Post Modern course there is weekly, exciting group discussion! Michael is teaching the History of Western Music and, of course, conducting the choir. This Christmas we put on a fabulous concert, open to the public, which included the choir, soloists, and various guest artists from the Nanjing classical music community. It was held in a local church that had recently been renovated, and was a huge success. We were so proud of our students and their good work.

But, what we have learned that is the most important is a lesson in Christianity that all of us can take from Chinese Christians in general, and our students in particular. That is – to truly and sincerely trust in the Lord and to know that God will guide our path. The students and teachers at Nanjing Seminary are as sophisticated and academic as any I have taught and known. Yet, their faith is clear and unashamed. They trust in God. Many of them, upon graduation, will be going out to serve churches that can hardly pay them a working wage. Yet, they are called to ministry and they are at the seminary responding to that call. 

So, this is the message we wish to share with you for this time of Lent, 2009. Yes, our country and the world are in financial crisis, that crisis may go on for some time, and our lives may change in many ways as a result. But our students remind us that Jesus tells us not to worry. God will take care of us. There will be love in our lives. And there will be enough. China has been through some tough times. Just last year, a devastating earthquake resulted in the death of about 90,000 people in a nearby province. Many of our students suffer in smaller ways; with lack of funds, long days of hard work, living in places that have no heat in winter or no air conditioning in the hot summer. Still, they always find time for prayer, and for praise. And they find time to remind their American friends to follow Jesus, to stop worrying, and to trust that God has a plan for our lives. Their words are truly a gift for all of us.

Many blessings to you and a Happy Easter,

Doreen and Michael McFarlane 

Michael and Doreen McFarlane work with Nanjing Theological Seminary, Nanjing, China.  Michael serves as professor of Church Music.  Doreen serves as professor of Biblical Studies.