Tears flowed as the guitar was strummed. This was goodbye.
The young woman up the front had a voice as deep and mellow as Bette Midler’s. The air was humid. Sweat trickled down backs. Tears trickled down faces. Hand-held fans brightened the otherwise dull classroom. Outside, deep green leaves provided a welcome reprieve from the hot summer sun.
This was the last rendition of the theme song for the week. It would remain the theme song for ongoing training sessions throughout the academic year.
“Just remember in the winter,
Far beneath the bitter snow,
Lies the seed, that with the sun's love,
In the spring becomes the rose”.*
The visitors piled into the van amidst more goodbyes and promises to write. Mr Bai pushed a letter into my hand. “Read this after you leave, okay?”
Once the group had disappeared from sight, I opened his letter and read it aloud.
“Dear friends, thank you for coming to our country. Thank you for showing us what true love is. I believe in God. I will celebrate Christmas this year for the first time.”
Exciting. Yet how much did Mr Bai understand from just a week of English classes with a team of overseas short-term workers?
The red, yellow and orange leaves formed a glorious display outside the window. The theme for this one-day training course was ‘Thanksgiving’.
The lesson wasn’t entirely successful. The pumpkin pie, cooked in the portable oven as a classroom demonstration, literally flopped. Yet the message was clear. There is a God who provides generously.
It was our custom to start the morning and afternoon sessions with a song or two. Without fail, the group requested The Rose.
“It’s not the same,” the teachers complained good-naturedly. “Please tell our foreign friends that we miss them and think of them often.”
I can’t sing like Bette Midler. I can’t cook pumpkin pie either.
It was the week before Christmas.
“Let’s sing The Rose”. The class-members were enthusiastic.
The room was freezing cold … literally. Outside the window, bare branches were covered with stark white snow. Inside, we all wore heavy coats, scarves and gloves. Yet love was evident in the smiling faces of the class participants and myself.
In all aspects of the lessons, the Christmas story was integrated. Mr Bai was particularly attentive. The others were following well too.
Until their white-faced colleague rushed into the room.
“Xiao Wang has been murdered!”
Chaos reigned. The local head teacher dismissed the group. Forcing the morning’s session to a torturous end was pointless. That afternoon, a small and very somber group returned for class. They related the story.
Their colleague had been brutally murdered in a bungled robbery of a motorbike. It was tragic. Indeed, ‘tragic’ was too weak an adjective. But nobody was thinking of English adjectives anymore.
What about the eternal destiny of the murdered man? I dreaded anybody asking for a Christian viewpoint … and was relieved when nobody did.
The peach trees outside the classroom were covered in delicate pink blossoms. It was a time to celebrate new life. Being Good Friday, the Easter message was clearly given over the course of the day.
“And so we can live forever with God if only we trust in Jesus.”
“That’s just like The Rose,” Mr Bai exclaimed. “The seed was dead, but later became the rose. Jesus was dead but came back to life too.”
“That’s right! And that truth is planted in our lives. When we trust in Jesus, He gives us life. It blossoms like that rose. Forever.”
There is still no church in that area. The seed has been planted in a few lives. Right now, that seed appears dormant, or at best, has germinated to become a weak pale little seedling. But it’s early days yet.
The seasons keep rolling around. It is the spiritual spring for which I’m impatient. I’ve played a part in sowing the seed. I play a small part in watering it, protecting the seedlings from disease and pests. But it is ultimately God who causes the seed to grow.
May the seed germinate in the lives of Mr Bai and his community. May it mature into strong healthy plants. May the people of that town experience the Son’s love. May the spring come soon.
May the seed become the rose.
(* The Rose, composed by Amanda McBroom, performed by Bette Midler, USA, 1978.)
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