Our day started with a 5:00 a.m. wake-up call to prepare for our flight to Xiían. Even this one-hour flight provided a meal (all of the domestic flights in China serve food Ė even the short ones).
When we arrived in Xiían our hosts took us to another YMCA hotel, and had lunch with us. One of hosts, Mr. Hai, the representative from the Religious Affairs Bureau, brought along two l Chinese girls; Sue who is 12 years old and Kelly (his daughter) who is 15. It was a really good experience to interact and converse with them and so nice of Mr. Hai to bring them along for us.
After lunch we visited Xiíanís city wall which surrounds the entire city, once protecting it from attack. Today more than one million people live within the walls. The wall is as wide as a city street, and a few of the youth rode bicycles while others of us admired the Chinese artwork within the gate.
Our next stop was Tumen Church in Xiían. The church building itself was quite new, but as we walked around the exterior of the building, we could see what had brought this devoted congregation to that new building. The two previous buildings were still on the grounds; the first one, a little shack; the second a slightly larger but still tiny brick structure, both sitting on the grounds behind the current church. We met the young, promising pastor, who not only offered a tour but, in a beautiful baritone voice, sang a hymn for us while Holly accompanied him on the piano.
We continued on to the Shanxi Bible School of which our gracious hostess Holly Wang is the Vice Principal. Holly and two of the teachers at the school met with us over tea and fresh fruit to discuss the school, its student body, curriculum, etc. Shanxi provides a one year program for lay people ages 18-40, and a three-year program for potential pastors, ages 18-30. We were also given the opportunity to share a bit of ourselves and some information about the International Pilgrimage program. The afternoon was completed with a tour of the school and a little surprise Ė Hollyís son, a polite and handsome, budding young saxophonist played a solo for us. As one of our pilgrims noted, the entire meeting was like a warm family gathering.
We had one more site to visit on this long and hot afternoon, and that was The Great Mosque (Da Qingshen Si). There is a sizable Muslim population in Xiían dating back to the Silk Road, and there are several mosques in the city. Although the prayer hall is closed to tourists, the grounds are open for walking and meditating. We met with the imam who told us that the call to prayer still takes place every day, and he even sang it for us in English. At 6:00 we were fortunate enough to witness the faithful enter the prayer hall and begin their evening prayers.
Even without access to that hall, however, this was quite a place to meditate. Very quiet and peaceful, Da Qingshen Si is styled as a Chinese temple and contains several courtyards. After spending some time walking the grounds, we exited the temple area into a bazaar of tiny shops selling everything from prayer beads to puppets. The vendors are eager to make a sale, and tend to be a bit aggressive, but the experience was a good one, and itís been wonderful to be exposed to the variety of faiths and cultures as we have on this pilgrimage. Back in the bus we reflected on the fact that we have had the opportunity to visit a Taoist Temple, a Buddhist Temple, and a Mosque, as well as the Christian Church. Not one of us has regretted making this journey.
It was a long, hot day in Xiían, (temperatures over 100ļ) and by the time we were through with dinner, we were exhausted and sweaty, but we didnít forget to gather for vespers and, once again, thank God for all we have been given.
From the other side of the world,
Your loving band of pilgrims,
Dana Baker and Ö
Pam Koller, Peggy Matteson, Daniel McDuffie, Alicia Perras, Joe Tripp and Megan Weymouth