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Christmas reflections from China


December 08, 2003
- Todd and Jeanette Hanson

“Little Yan” and Claire Hanson.
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Wang and Kate Hanson.
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. . . in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. . . . So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. (Ephesians 2)

Nanchong, China.— China is a country of impressive walls. Besides the obvious example, every school, hospital, and courtyard has walls.

A Chinese visitor to the University of Alberta was disappointed that such a large university had no imposing walls or impressive gates. Building a wall was the first item on the list of construction guidelines received by the pastor of the Nanchong church regarding their new property. City planning officials were puzzled when the pastor said, “But we don’t want walls. We want the church property to be completely open to the street.” Imposing walls give the impression of power and authority.

Perhaps this is why the above portion of Scripture has had such an impact upon us—especially at Christmas, as we celebrate Christ’s coming to preach peace and to break down the dividing walls of hostility. While we seldom erect physical walls, there are walls of other kinds—walls that are not easily broken down with a sledgehammer: walls of language and culture, of distance and closeness, of misunderstanding, of assumptions and expectations, of fear, suspicion, and mistrust, of history and privilege, of security and insecurity, of superiority and inferiority, of thoughtlessness, ignorance, and apathy. How are these walls broken down? It is, indeed, a mystery (see Ephesians 3:1-6).

It is a mystery that Brother Wang, a mentally challenged Chinese man who makes his living picking through garbage looking for recyclables, can greet a Canadian college teacher on the street, shake her hand, and ask about her children. It is a mystery that they describe each other as brother and sister. It is a mystery that he can befriend a one-and-a-half year old Canadian toddler and share a smile with her.

It is a mystery that “Little Yan”, a girl raised in a communist, atheistic school system can play with a Western girl raised by mission workers and well-versed in Bible stories, and that they can relate to each other by saying, “We have many things in common besides the flowers hanging from our ears.” It is a mystery that they interact with acceptance and love, and not suspicion and hatred.

Some walls are not broken down so easily. Many are reinforced and buttressed by years of distrust, hurt, and anger. At times, I like the walls I have erected. They define who I am, and show how impressive and powerful I am. But I also believe that Christ came, and I believe that “he has broken down the dividing wall, the hostility between us.”

We can all think of many examples of this mystery that surrounds us, and be encouraged by them to live this message of peace.

“So he came and proclaimed peace! Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace, goodwill among people.” (Ephesians 2:17; Luke 2:14)