She wanted me to meet her boyfriend. They are planning to marry. I had worked with ‘Erica’ several years ago and was now back visiting old friends.
“He’s a free spirit,” a friend mentioned. “He’s a little odd,” another warned. “He has unusual views on health,” a medical friend commented.
Suolun arrived over an hour late, bouncing in without an apology. His features were somehow different to the Chinese friends with whom I sat, his small upturned nose and ears which stuck out being particularly distinctive. He roared with laughter at his own jokes, dressed in the padded jacket of an uneducated farmer yet speaking with the accent and vocabulary of a highly educated man.
“You’re from Australia,” he shouted. “I LOVE Australia. I went there with a team to do medical work amongst local people who endure terrible circumstances in remote areas because of the maltreatment of the white people.” As a white Australian, I squirmed uncomfortably. “Yes,” he continued, “and the best wine I’ve ever drunk in my life was from a vineyard just a couple of hours from Sydney. I’ve also done medical consultations in Melbourne, not to mention having studied in northern Europe and travelled all over the world.”
While waiting for Suolun, the rest of us had taken photos of one another posing with the tea set, constituting an electric burner next to a wooden tray on which sat a miniscule pot, a tiny urn full of tea leaves and thimble sized tea cups, under which was a plastic tray to catch the spills. Now that Suolun had finally arrived, I asked him and his girlfriend, my former colleague, to pose for a photo.
“I’m sorry,” he responded in a quiet voice which starkly contrasted with the volume of his voice just a moment earlier. “We Ewenki people don’t allow photos of ourselves to be taken. You might say it is a religious custom.” My social blunder was a tad awkward, but with as much dignity as I could muster, I scraped up my lost face off the tea set and continued the conversation. My friends, members of the majority group in China, looked away in embarrassment.
“Ewenki, you say? Tell me about your people group.”
“We are from the north-east of China. There are only about 26 000 of us. Many of us are Buddhist, some practise animism and a few even follow an Eastern Orthodox form of Christianity, but, to be honest, that doesn’t resemble anything that Erica tells me about your religion. Like our form of Buddhism, it is heavily influenced by belief in the spirits around us.”
“I see. So, um, well, what about you? What do you believe?”
“Oh, I’m a spiritual leader. I went to seminary, you know. Did you? It’s just like your Bible College, only we study Buddhism. I’m not a monk, but am still a spiritual leader and carry a lot of responsibility within our community.”
I’d been told that Suolun was a Chinese medicine doctor, practising a form of medicine peculiar to the Ewenki people. Although only in his 30s, he’d already travelled the world in his profession. So what, I wondered, was he doing here far from home or even from Beijing, where he’d worked for a number of years? I took a deep breath and asked.
“Raising chickens,” he replied with a twinkle in his eye.
“Chickens. Free range. Organic. They lay the best eggs. I’m about to try my hand at goats, too.”
It turns out that he likes the solitude of sitting on a mountain outside the city with his animals. From there he practises his religion, as well as courts my friend and former colleague, ‘Erica’. They met when she sought medical help for a chronic health problem that didn’t respond well to western medicine.
Now she plans to marry this animistic Buddhist Ewenki fellow. She is not a Christian, but is openly a seeker of truth, and has been part of a Bible study group for several years.
There are as yet no believers amongst the Ewenki people. I fear for the soul of my friend. At the same time, their relationship presents us, her Christian friends, with a unique opportunity to touch this man, and through him, his community.
It’s a spiritual battle though. That’s where we humdrum ordinary people play a part. PRAYER is needed for the souls of Suolun and his people, as well as those he touches, including Erica.
Lord, have mercy.
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