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Keeping Hope Alive

February 1, 2006

Doug & Liz Searles - China

Shortly after Christmas, a group of 30 village schoolteachers came into Chengdu for a ten-day training seminar. I (Liz) was modeling a "TPR" (total physical response) learning activity with a knife and an apple. I asked: "How else do we use a knife?" The immediate response was: "To sharpen a pencil!"...

Their answer took me back to my grandma's hands, when she would stand and sharpen her red stub of a pencil with a paring knife.  Grandma was born in '96--that's 1896--and thought pencil sharpeners were kind of a wasteful innovation. She was frugal, and she knew what it was to be poor.

And now it's 2006.  This year, when you read about the "economic miracle" of China, remember that 80% of China's schoolchildren live in rural areas, and that knives are for sharpening pencils. Miraculous as China's growth may seem, mostly the rich are getting richer.  The poor?  Well, they couldn't get much poorer.

Some of our students are teachers in schools where a 6" board is the desk for a row of students sitting on the floor.  No one can wiggle much or everyone's writing will waggle. Lunch is rice with hot pepper sauce for flavoring.  It's cold and snowy in the mountains, they walk a long way, there's no heat, and their shoes are thin.

Although there's supposed to be 9 years of compulsory education, school fees are high--out of all possibility for most rural people.  In cooperation with state and local governments, Common Global Ministries has helped build new "Schools of Hope," and given tuition scholarships, and grants for school supplies, to promising students.

In western Sichuan, our province, a typical rural family makes less than $300 per year.  Middle School tuition, books and supplies would take most of that, or more.  Everywhere in the world there are two economies, but the chasm between them is wide and the contrasts stark in China. We hope that the CGMB scholarships and the teachers we were sent to train can help make an economic difference in their areas.

One of the minority teachers, let's call her Julia, wrote that when she was a child, she hoped she would be like Cinderella.  Her parents didn't want to waste money to educate her (girls will just get married and move away), and once her brother was born she was permanently assigned to care for the animals, harvest, and work in the kitchen. Then her father died.

Things seemed hopeless. One day when Julia was about 12, she thought her "prince" had come. An older man from a distant village offered to pay for her education and upkeep. Julia's mother was ecstatic, and essentially sold her to this man for about $20. 

Unfortunately, the "prince" drugged her, repeatedly raped her, and finally left her for dead. Through grit, the kindness of strangers, and good luck, Julia survived and got a middle school education.  She is a primary school teacher today, and wants to devote her life to helping girls from similar situations.   

With a population so large and areas so remote, China's needs can seem overwhelming. Anything we can do to help can seem like a drop in the bucket.  Yet new schools and qualified teachers are perhaps the only hope for the future of rural schoolchildren--especially the minority schoolchildren of western Sichuan. 

Thanks to Common Global Ministries--your mission board--Qiang, Yi and Tibetan minority children are getting a chance for an education.  CGMB is like a fairy godmother to them!  Maybe some will pass the state exams and go on to middle school, or even high school.  Maybe a handful will be able to get training and return to their home villages to teach.  This is the hope that keeps us going, day-to-day, as we try to be faithful to our call to share God's love in concrete ways.

Hope. Faith. Love.  These three are alive in western Sichuan in part because Common Global Ministries has found practical ways to help.

Thank God that this is so!
Liz, Doug & Mickey SEARLES in
Chengdu, Sichuan, China
Doug and Elizabeth Searles work with the Sichuan TV and Radio University in Chengdu, China.  They both serve as English teachers.

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