China. If you asked me a couple of months ago whether or not I’d ever consider going to China, my answer would’ve been: “Hellllll to the freakin’ no”.
But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Let’s talk about my title.
If you’re familiar with Brenda Salter McNeil’s book A Credible Witness or her teachings, you know that she speaks a lot on Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. If you aren’t, here’s a little excerpt from her book that will give you the general gist of what Samaria “is”.
“It’s the place that we find creative ways to bypass. Samaria is the place where we are not in power. It’s the place where we don’t like the people; we don’t speak their language or understand their customs. We feel out of place. It may be that we’ve had a bad experience and are somewhat frightened of the people there. Whatever the reason, we really don’t want to be with them..
It’s the place where people who differ gather, and if we intentionally sit down by the “wells” there, we just might have a life-changing encounter.”
So before I made the decision to come to China, I had no intentions of ever going there. China was my ultimate Samaria. The decision-process to go to China was a week and a half long struggle with why China had become my own personal Samaria.
I was born and raised on Long Island in an all-white community. My parents never taught me the language or very much of the culture/customs. In the Chinese-American community, this was looked down upon. I grew up feeling really ashamed of myself. Long story short, all those years of rejection by the Chinese community and even my own family at times made me so bitter, angry, and hurt. I ended up rejecting anything Chinese or too ethnic (anything un-American) and threw myself into my American Identity. All the while, I had no idea that I had been harboring such bitterness and anger until the China trip came into the picture. So in a nutshell (leaving out sooo many details for the sake of time), all these feelings and realizations came out during that week and a half long struggle this past spring semester. I was overwhelmed by the things God was bringing up from my past. Looking back, I really believe God closed off all my other options and set me facing in the direction of my Samaria. China.
Still unsure, hurt, angry, broken, and emotional, I applied for InterVarsity’s Global Project to China. I thought of the things I learned from Brenda about Samaria and reconciliation and knew this was what needed to happen in my life.
The beginning of the China trip was harder than I could have ever imagined. I knew the trip was going to be difficult, but by mid-orientation, I was ready to go home. I seriously thought through buying a plane ticket back to America and how I was going to tell the rest of the team. But as I prayed more, I remembered how I knew God had set me on this path. I reluctantly stayed.
I’d say, the thing I learned from this trip is that God is good. No, I’m being totally serious. Why do all my significant faith experiences never involve any mystery revealing type revelation? It’s always something so basic. Anyway. Halfway through the trip (still on a steady emotional/spiritual decline since the start of the trip), I started wrestling with myself about why I came on the trip. What was I even expecting? I felt like I was going nowhere and gaining nothing. I was frustrated because I was in my Samaria and sucking at life. My sin felt heavier day after day and my feelings of shame and guilt from being a horrible, arrogant, racist American was getting unbearable. I unloaded all of this to Esther Wong (so wise!) one night. And this is what she said:
“I find your theology… a little weird.”
“God is good” (Long Esther pause)
Me: “…. ………… …. (cue awkward sweating)”
“God is good. I don’t think you believe that right now. He doesn’t want you to carry this brokenness and anger for the rest of your life! To pass that on to your children even! God is good. And He wants to heal you and redeem you as a free gift out of His love for you.” (So paraphrased but definitely is the gist of it)
Me: (in my head) “ohhhhhhhh…..”
You see, my mental posture going into this trip was “OK, I’m a terrible person who’s racist against my own ethnic people. So I need to go to China, love Chinese people, and I will be reconciled!”. The problem? Trying to make reconciliation happen by my own efforts and will-power = failure of epic proportions. The truth? Only God can make the reconciliation happen. He is so good and He loves me so perfectly that He wants to give me this gift of healing and redemption as a free gift. What?! Gospel 101! D’oh!
So that was a pivotal moment during the trip. Things definitely got better after that night as I re-entered into free fellowship with God, leaning on Jesus for the parts of me that still hurt and are still so broken.
I don’t know where I am in this whole ethnic journey I’m on. I’m definitely not finished with this whole reconciliation thing. But I was stuck in the mud before my chat with Esther… so I’m at least a step or two closer.
If anyone has read this far, thank you. But this post isn’t just about me. Where are the Samarias in your life? Following Jesus, I believe, absolutely takes us through Samaria. Because that’s exactly where Jesus went. The map to the kingdom absolutely goes through Samaria.
My encounter at the “well” in my “Samaria” is the start of my ethnic journey. If this whole Chinese-American thing isn’t some cosmic accident, than it’s purposeful. What is that purpose? I don’t know. But I do know that my Heavenly Father is good and He loves me perfectly. “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” -Psalm 139. I am content with where I am on this journey and confident that God is able to complete the good work He’s begun in my life.
So China… not so much of a Samaria anymore. I went from “I never want to go there”, to “ok fine I’ll go just this once”, to finally “I think I could see myself coming back here. I kinda really like it here”.
So God is good. And Esther is wise and awesome.