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A godchild’s gift


During Julie Bender’s recent convalescence from a fractured knee, Kent, a former English student who is studying to become a medical doctor, came to check up on her. Kent says he has claimed Mennonite Church Canada workers Julie and Phil Bender as “godparents” because of the good things they teach him and his desire to care for them. The Benders currently teach English at the Sichuan University of Arts and Science.

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April 27, 2012
- Philip Bender

Winnipeg, MAN. — One of our greatest joys in China has been acquiring several “godchildren,” especially Kent.

Kent, 24, in his sixth year of medical studies, was Julie’s oral English student at Chongqing Medical University in 2007.

An eager learner, Kent would sit in the front row and actively participate in class. He also organized the weekly campus English corner where our students had the opportunity to practice their growing English language skills. At Chinese New Year in 2008, Kent invited us to his family’s rural Sichuan home. Just three months later, that home was destroyed in a devastating earthquake. He invited us to his family’s new home, for New Year celebrations in 2010, 2011and again this past January.

As our relationship grew, Kent began signing his emails “godson.” Then he started calling us “godmother” and “godfather.” And he meant it.

In Chinese culture, godparents play a vital role. They model good character, mentor the child in growing up, and are believed to bring good luck According to Kent, godparents must be “rich in love, and maybe have good guanxi (‘connections’).”

He says that most Chinese children have at least one godparent. He himself is already a godfather to a young boy in his village. Usually the child’s parents choose the godparents, though in the old days a respected person from the village might make the selection. In our case, Kent chose us. When we asked him why, he said, “Because you teach me good things.” And then he added another reason: “I want to take care of you.”

And he has. During her recent six-week convalescence from a fractured knee, Kent twice made the three-hour trip from Chongqing to Dazhou to check up on Julie. Her injury was of special interest to him, because he is specializing in orthopaedics. He relished poring over the X-rays, giving Julie advice, even phoning her local doctor with questions.

We’ve had many serious discussions with Kent, including about some of the ethical dilemmas he faces. As a doctor, he knows he will be pressured to make various compromises in order to manage in the Chinese medical system. Doctors are often expected to prescribe expensive, sometimes unnecessary medications and tests for their patients, since hospitals rely on them for much of their income. But Kent wants to be a person of integrity and put his patients first.

Kent reminds us of the “god-fearers” in the New Testament, such as Cornelius (Acts 10) – persons formally outside of the faith community who were drawn to the Jewish synagogue and early church because of the moral values they observed among believers. 

We feel humbled and honoured to have been chosen by Kent for this special role in his life. We also feel a responsibility to live up to his trust.

He has been God’s gift to us.

Phil and Julie Bender are Mennonite Church Canada workers in China where they teach English and engage learners in matters of Christian faith.