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On the tangent

May 1, 2005

I sat in church last Sunday, barely home from Beijing and Shanghai. In his sermon, the minister was prodding us to consider “where are (you)(we) going?”…for me, China is woven thoroughly into that question.Then we sang Jane Parker Huber’s “Called As Partners…;”  the words wrapping around my thoughts as we sang “Help us bear each other’s burdens, breaking down each wall or fence./ Words of comfort, words of vision, words of challenge, said with care,/ Bring new power and strength for action, make us colleagues, free and fair.”  Hmmm. Where am I going.

Let’s go back, to where I have been. The last time I wore this outfit, I was standing in Tian’anmen Square. Then I was walking into the shaded arch where the Emperor had been carried into Forbidden City. My prayer-mind briefly heard the heavy march of bearer’s footsteps; I let myself listen, as I walked beside our guide. He turned to me: “What just happened?” A kungfu master, he knew something was happening to me. I told him. He smiled.

Something else happened, that morning in Tian’anmen Square. I had noticed a family, mother and child posing for father to take a picture. Pantomiming my intent, I offered to take the picture, if the father wanted to stand by his wife and little girl. They were thrilled; many giggles and much bowing. We parted. Forty-five minutes later, almost ready to enter the arch toward Forbidden City, I felt a tug on my jacket. I turned around. There was my little girl, grinning, handing me a paper Chinese flag. They had bought one, someway, and spent the time to find me. We hugged.

The people. That is my strongest memory. Everywhere we went, people came up to us, wanting to be photographed together, so…our guide explained…they could show their friends they “knew foreigners.”  Of course, we posed. And…more times than not, just as the shutter snapped, up went the fingers in the old seventies “peace sign.”  Not to be seen for long, but long enough to let us catch it in the picture. I have two of them, in my album, others in my heart. People waited, for me to light my incense outside the Jade Buddha Temple. Smiled, as side by side, we folded hands in prayer. There is a beautiful belief that smoke is the connection between our prayers, and God. We prayed. Yes, our delegation went to meet our medical counterparts, visit their facilities, and exchange ideas. I have notes, books given to me, charts I bought of all the acupuncture points on the body. These details are tucked away.

But again, the people. I danced with a nurse, accepted a painted paper cup from a patient at the mental hospital, and exchanged business cards with a young doctor who wants to write. Representing our Board of Global Ministries, I gave out fifty bookmarks, to nurses and doctors interested in what we are doing. I gave Dr. Gang Li, our contact and HIV/AIDS expert, three angel or cross pins. One morning at 6 a.m., I pinned a starburst cross on the sweatshirt of my new kungfu partner in the tiny park where I did my Qi Gong exercises.

Yes, political differences were shared…openly. Betty told us, on the bus, that twenty-seven died in 1989, in the riot at Tian’anmen Square. But, she cautioned, “don’t ask me, in the Square, if anyone died. I will say no one did.”  Mao was praised, often. Our ears and minds remained open. Under Mao, Shaohua Kuang told us, every village had at least some form of healthcare. Now, “after reform,” it has deteriorated to serving only ten percent of the villages. So only ten percent, of eighty percent of  China’s population, now has access to healthcare. And HIV/AIDS is growing at almost 37% per year. We pondered what they can do fast enough, when the former system was perhaps better.

So, …where am I going? I have no idea. My prayers are open. I keep in my heart a quote from “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down,” by Anne Fadiman that goes:

“I have always felt the action most worth watching is not at   the center of things, but where edges meet. I like shorelines, weather fronts, and international borders. There are interesting frictions and incongruities in these places, and often, if you stand at the point of tangency, you can see both sides better than if you were in the middle of either one.”

My photo album and notes will remind me of where I have been. I anxiously await the next step. As our UCC ad proclaims, “God is still speaking…”

Sara Sanderson served as a short-term volunteer from April 8-18, 2005 while she participated in a health care delegation to China to interact with Chinese health care professionals for the purpose of learning from them and bringing back ideas to the U.S.


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