Filling the Void

28 02 2016

It wasn’t all that long ago that China was seen as one of the weakest, poorest and most backward countries in Asia.  My how the times have changed!

Ever since Deng Xiao Ping’s visit to southern China in 1992, where he indicated a willingness to revolutionize China’s economic planning, the country has been furiously playing catch up to the economic prosperity of the western industrialized countries.

The fact that China has lifted so many out of poverty and become so powerful so quickly is remarkable.  But in the process, China may be in the process of becoming one of the most materialistic countries in the world!  If you don’t believe me, consider the following.

A few years ago an online survey was done to study what the important things in life are to people in countries around the world.  When asked to respond to the following question, “I measure my success by the things I own,” seventy-one percent of the respondents from China agreed.  Interestingly, 68% of Chinese respondents also agreed with the following statement, “I feel under a lot of pressure to be successful and make money.”  Most people in China are no longer concerned about where their next meal is coming from (although that problem still exists for many, especially in rural areas), but rather they’re more concentrated on making money.

For many young people in China, the Chinese New Year holiday period (also known as Spring Festival) is a time for them to travel back to their hometown to visit with parents and family friends. Earlier this year, on the Chinese version of Twitter (Weibo), the question was posed:  “What questions are you most dreading for Spring Festival?”  It didn’t come as much of a surprise that two of the questions had to do with finances: “How much money are you making?” and “Do you have a house and a car?”

Chinese shopping habits

Shopping for luxury goods – Image Credit: China Daily

And that drive to buy continues, as evidenced by an e-commerce survey in 2015 which showed that “Chinese consumers – especially younger generations – are less price obsessed … this opens new opportunities for full price e-commerce for premium and luxury brands.”  As one analyst noted, “Chinese consumers have a significant propensity to spend, they are technology savvy and want the best quality.

Not far from where we live is one of the busiest shopping malls in Hong Kong – Shatin Town Plaza.  Over the past several years we have noticed an increase in the number of high-end stores in this mega-mall. Stores such as Coach, Lacoste, Armani, Burberry (the list is extensive), all geared to attract visitors from China to come in and shop.  From clothing, to electronics, to women’s make-up, to jewelry, they can’t get enough.  And if you thought the crowds at your local mall were bad around the holidays, you would not believe how busy this place is on an average weekend.

Some in China are taking this ‘grab for things’ to a whole new level.  Last fall, on China’s largest retail holiday – also known as Singles Day (November 11th) – Alibaba, the Chinese online shopping platform, recorded $8 billion USD in sales in the first 8 minutes of the day!  I’m presuming it was mostly single men and women who indulged in a self-centered shopping spree that day, with Alibaba raking in a record $14.3 billion USD.  And they had a lot to choose from, with Alibaba reporting that they were able to attract more than 40,000 merchants and 30,000 brands (such as Macy’s, Apple, and Estee Lauder) from 25 countries.  With Daniel Craig, Kevin Spacey and various Chinese celebrities as part of the marketing push for this day, who couldn’t resist the buying spree!

One of the most popular TV dating shows in China is called “If You Are the One” (非诚勿扰).  The creator of this widely-popular program has said that its success is due to the fact that “the show is a window into Chinese society at large, and that through it, you can tell what China is thinking about and chasing after.”  If that’s the case, then China has some serious problems. One of their earliest contestants gained notoriety when she turned down an offer for a date with a contestant on his bicycle by telling him, “I’d rather cry in a BMW car than laugh on the backseat of a bicycle”.  If you think she’s the only who thinks like that, check out these stories.

Single's Day Shopping 2015

Rushing to fill Single’s Day shopping orders – Image Credit: Reuters

So how did China get here?  How did China go from being one of the more backward and poor countries in the world, to a country whose people are doing their best to “buy up” everything as quickly as possible?

Someone, I don’t know who, made the following astute observation that just might explain it all: “Mao set out to destroy Confucianism and succeeded; Deng set out to destroy Maoism; and succeeded. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to replace it with anything.”

Along those same lines, is this quote from Blaise Pascal: “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?  This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”

With nothing to fill this void, increasingly over the past 30 years, the people of China have tried to fill it with “material things.”  I would not want the people of China to return to the days of starvation and economic backwardness of much of the 1900’s, but I’m not sure that the path they’re going down will bring them what they’re really looking for.

King Solomon wisely noted in Ecclesiastes 3 that, “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven,” which I believe even includes buying things.  But Solomon goes on to note that “God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).  God has given each of us an awareness that there is something more to this life than what we can see and experience in the here and now – something more than just the latest gadget, or the most expensive item on our wish list. We’ve been created with a spiritual thirst that nobody and nothing can satisfy … except God.

A Beijing professor may have summed it up best when he said: “The worship of Mammon (in China) … has become many people’s life purpose … I think it is very natural that many other people will not be satisfied … will seek some meaning for their lives so that when Christianity falls into their lives, they will seize it very tightly.”

Pray with us that Christ-followers in China will be instrumental in leading their family members, friends and neighbors to personally experience the truth of 1 Timothy 6:17 – “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”

Until next time,

Joel & Debbie Chute

PRAY WITH US
ICS middle school camp will take place from March 22-24. Please PRAY for our speaker, who will give messages based on Christ’s death and resurrection, as well as what God’s purpose for our new life in Him. PRAY for the times of interaction that students have with teachers and fellow students. Nightly devotional times provide times to share openly. PRAY that teachers would have wisdom and insight (and energy!), and that the Holy Spirit would be guiding during all of these times – that walls will be removed and God’s Spirit would break through to students’ hearts.

With the extended Chinese New Year holidays coming to a close, students in Guangxi have returned to renew their studies at training centers across the province. These training classes are great opportunities for these men and women to go deeper in their understanding of Scripture, and also learn skills that will help them give leadership to evangelism and discipleship ministries in their local churches.  PRAY for God’s anointing on each of the teachers who lead these classes, as they not only share information with their students, but also help them apply what they have learned in their lives and ministries.

 





What a View!

7 10 2015

I have had the privilege over the past 16 years of traveling around the province of Guangxi, and one of my favorite places to visit there is in the northeastern corner of the province – the city of Guilin.  At the end of September I was able to travel there with a family friend (and grandson of a pioneer missionary to Guangxi), and show him the amazing scenery there, including a trip down the Li River from Guilin to YangShuo.

With that in mind, we thought it would be nice to share some of our pictures from that area as well as a few other parts of Guangxi with you here.

Tour boats sailing down the Li River (Guilin to YangShuo)

Tour boats sailing down the Li River (Guilin to YangShuo)

Terraced rice fields and mountains in central Guangxi

Terraced rice fields and mountains in central Guangxi

Cattle grazing along the Li River between Guilin & YangShuo

Cattle grazing along the Li River between Guilin & YangShuo

Bamboo raft floating down the Li River

Bamboo raft floating down the Li River

Mountains surrounding the town of LiGao—central Guangxi

Mountains surrounding the town of LiGao—central Guangxi

Mountains on the Li River outside of YangShuo

Mountains on the Li River outside of YangShuo

If these photos whet your interest in the scenery of the area, check out this amazing video.  If you’re interested in making your own plans to visit Guilin, contact us – we’d be glad to show you the beauty of the area, and what God is doing in this part of Guangxi.

Often when traveling across Guangxi and seeing these magnificent mountains and amazing scenery, my mind goes back to the words of King David in Psalm 121:

I lift up my eyes to the mountains — where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip — he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you — the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm — he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

Pray with us that the people of Guangxi would come to experience the personal love and care of the God who created these amazing mountains.

Until next time,
Joel & Debbie Chute

PRAY WITH US
PRAISE God for providing leaders for all 15 discipleship groups within the middle school at ICS.  These groups will involve 100+ students (approximately one third of the middle school). Some of these are continuing from last year – new groups will start to meet the first week of October. PRAY that relationships of trust will be developed, the Holy Spirit would guide conversations and that faith would be encouraged and strengthened.

With the end of a week-long holiday in China for their Mid-Autumn festival and National Day celebrations, students attending training classes at numerous locations in south central China returned to the classroom on October 5th. These training classes are focused on training and equipping local believers to give leadership as lay leaders and pastors for the church in southern central China.  PRAY that these men and women would not only develop a deeper understanding of the Scriptures through these times of instruction, but would also move to a deeper level of commitment in their walk with God.

Many of heard of the deadly explosions in LiuCheng, Guangxi at the end of September that killed seven people and injured at least another fifty individuals. PRAY that believers in LiuCheng and surrounding areas would be messengers of God’s peace and compassion to those who have impacted by these terrifying events.





I Need a Nap – Now!

1 09 2015

Back in the day when he was crossing the oceans by ship, Benjamin Franklin is credited with writing the following: “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”  If he were alive today in an age where long distance air travel is common, I think he just might add one more thing to his list of certainties in life – jet lag!

If you have ever done any long distance air travel, you will know what I’m talking about. You’ve left your home and have sat on a plane for several hours, crossing several time zones, and by the time you’ve collected your luggage at your destination, your body begins telling you that some things are out of whack.Jet-Lag-Asleep

Over a seven week period this summer, we had four such flights – two within the continental United States, and two between Hong Kong and Portland, Oregon. As is often our experience, it takes some time to recover from flying across the Pacific Ocean, crossing 8 time zones, and enduring the 11-12 hour flight from Hong Kong to San Francisco. By the time we arrived at our final destination, Salem, Oregon – the local time was 12 noon, but our inner clock was telling us it was 3 am (the time in Hong Kong)!  All we wanted to do was sleep, but we knew we had to stay awake as long as we could, to try and get our bodies to adjust to our new time zone.  Each night it was a battle to stay awake as long as we could, and then hope we would sleep through the night, and not wake up at 3 or 4 am wide awake and ready to start the day!

It always takes us several days to fully adjust to being in a new time zone, but it’s different for each person, and for each trip.  NASA has estimated that you’ll need one day for every one-hour time zone crossed to get back to your normal rhythm and energy levels – which may explain why it can take us up to a full week before we feel we’re back to ‘normal’.

Different people have different ways of dealing with their jet lag – some take a pill to sleep during the entire flight, others try and adjust their sleep schedule ahead of time to match the time zone at their destination – there are all sorts of different methods that people try.

Recently I asked our world-traveling friends on Facebook for their ideas on how to get over jet lag. Included in the responses was this somewhat humorous reply – “don’t travel!”  There has been many a time when I considered taking that option!

But as I considered this, I quickly realized that if I didn’t travel … look at all that I would miss out on!  This summer, a good friend of ours shared her story of a short-term missions trip to Russia – with barely enough time to deal with her jet lag there before it was time to return home.  And yet, in the midst of having to deal with different time zones, sleeping schedules, and people speaking a foreign language, she was able to be a part of and see God at work in the lives of the people she was visiting.  Like her, we would not have wanted to miss all that we have seen God doing in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China over the past 26 years, just because of the ‘inconvenience’ of jetlag.Int'l Air Travel

We can tell you from personal experience, that no matter how many times you deal with jet lag, it never gets easier.  But if we just stayed put – if we never ventured out our door and past the borders of our city, province, state or country – we would have missed a great opportunity to see God at work in our lives, and in the lives of those he brought us into contact with. Even with all the jet lag we’ve been through, it has been worth it.

So the next time you have that opportunity to travel overseas – whether it’s as part of a short-term missions team, for leisure, or to visit friends, don’t let the certainty of jet lag stop you – you just might be surprised at what God has in store for you!

Until next time,

Joel & Debbie Chute

PRAY WITH US

We know that it has been a ‘while’ since we last posted on our blog – thanks for your patience and your prayers for us during this time!

PRAY for positive relationships to be developed between students and teachers and parents at International Christian school this school year.  Classes began the middle of August, and students will have the opportunity in the next few weeks to join a discipleship group, led by faculty or staff.  PRAY that students who need this type of encouragement would be willing to step out to be part of a group.  Also PRAY that God would lead specific teachers or staff to become leaders of these discipleship groups.

Several different training classes are schedule to start up again the middle of September at numerous locations in south central China. These training classes are focused on training and equipping local believers to give leadership as lay leaders and pastors in this needy part of China. PRAY that those teaching these classes will be empowered by the Holy Spirit to clearly present their materials in ways that will strengthen and encourage these students.





How I Spent My Summer Vacation

19 08 2013

I’m not sure who wrote it, but someone once said “Every summer has a story”. It may seem early to some of you for us to be writing “how I spent my summer vacation” before the end of August.  But for many of the ex-pat community here in Hong Kong – including ourselves – our summer vacation is already over.

School ended mid-June, and we took advantage of the 6½ week break to travel back to North America again this summer.  It was an opportunity for us to visit family, friends and to speak at a couple of churches in the Pacific NW.

Having fun on Lower Table Rock - Medford, OR

Having fun on Lower Table Rock – Medford, OR

The highlight for us was seeing all of our grown children – spending a few days with each of them, even if that meant some extra travel for us. Spending a day & a half with our son Nathan and his wife Jasmine exploring the sights in southern Oregon – attending a baseball game in Detroit with Ryan, Janelle and Debbie’s dad – it was great being able to have the chance to catch up with each other face to face.

While it seemed that we were more busy than we would have liked with all of our traveling, there were definitely some aspects that helped us relax, including the wide-open spaces, fresh air, green grass and slower pace of life.  Life in Hong Kong is so different in so many ways than what most people in North America experience – and the break from the more hectic pace, the densely populated small area and humid climate was worth it.

But for those who stayed in Hong Kong over this summer – what was there for them to do?  When the majority of people live in apartment buildings, there’s no backyard for the kids to go hang out in. With most parents already placing a strong focus on education, many students spent part of their summer attending a summer school program. The ICS summer program welcomed 1,200 students from ages 3-15 who attended during the month of July, with a variety of courses offered – all using an English language base.

It’s not only international schools that offer these summer programs.  Earlier this year we received a flyer in our mailbox that asked the question: “Is your child being left behind in math?” They were offering a summer program focused completely on math, and in this flyer, this learning center provided a series of questions parents could use to assess their children’s aptitude in math.  The questions were designed for children ranging from 3-4 years old, right up to those in their teens!

In ways I was a little amazed that parents here would be concerned about the math skills of a 3 year old – but then again, with such a strong focus on education here in Asia, parents want to give their children as much of a head start as possible! I have included two sample math questions for you (grade 7 & 8 level math) so you can decide if you should consider attending a math learning center this summer!

#1:  Given that x + y = 6 and xy=5, find the value of x2 + y2
#2: Solve the system of equations 2x + 4y + 3 = 3x – 2y – 12 = 3x + 4y

After reading through those math problems aren’t you glad you decided to spend your summer working around the yard or relaxing at the beach with your family this summer?  While our summer vacation is over for another year, we are thankful for time together with family and the good memories we have.

So however you spent your summer vacation this year – even if you’re still enjoying it right now – cherish the memories of time together with family – “The tans will fade, but the memories will last forever.”

Until next time,
Joel & Debbie

PS: Here’s the answer to the math problems:   #1 (26)           #2 (x =  3; y = –2 )

PRAY WITH US:
Teachers at ICS reported back to school on August 1st, and classes began on the 7th.  PRAISE God for a positive start to the new school year, and that the students were ready to engage in learning after a shorter summer holiday.

Nathan & Jasmine moved from California to Indiana this summer, where Jasmine will be studying for a PhD at Purdue University.  PRAY for God’s leading as Nathan has yet to find a full-time job, and that they would find a church to call home.

Janelle has successfully completed her studies at Azusa Pacific University and has decided to remain in the Los Angeles area for the next year.  While she currently has a part-time job, she is still looking for full-time work related to her area of studies – exercise science.  She also needs to find a place to live by the end of August – PRAY for God’s provision for these needs in her life.





When All is Not Well

26 04 2013

Recent events here in Hong Kong and China have brought back a certain level of unease, tension and fear for many people.

Next month will mark the 5th anniversary of China’s Wenchuan (汶川) Earthquake (May 12, 2008) where nearly 70,000 residents were killed, 375,000 injured, another 19,000 reported as missing, and nearly 5 million people left homeless.  Included in this number were thousands of school children, who died when the school buildings they were in that day collapsed on them.  And now just as many of these families were trying to move on with their lives, disaster has struck this province in central China once again.

2008 Wenchuan earthquake

Last week (April 20th) another devastating earthquake wreaked havoc on the people of Sichuan, hitting the rural county of Lushan (芦山), south of the provincial capital city of ChengDu. While this earthquake and the resulting aftershocks have brought back memories of the terror and destruction of the Wenchuan earthquake, it appears that it will not be as deadly – latest reports are 193 killed, and more than 12,200 injured.

But now, as Chinese soldiers have arrived and begun assisting people in this latest earthquake area, the questions have started again in China.  This time, the questions are not about corruption leading to collapsed buildings, but rather, whether local officials can be trusted to properly handle the influx of relief funds. Here in Hong Kong, local legislators have delayed sending a $100 million HKD ($13 million USD) donation for relief efforts in Lushan, over fears that funds might be misused. One Hong Kong lawmaker was quoted as saying “The mainland does not lack money but lacks a system. It would be wrong to hand over money if some of it is pocketed by corrupt officials.”

The other event drawing increasing attention from both Hong Kong and Chinese government officials is the recent spread of the H7N9 virus – another avian influenza (bird flu) virus. It seems that Hong Kong and China have been dealing with a long term ‘bird flu’ problem for several years, but now that the WHO has stated this new bird strain is ‘one of the most lethal’ flu viruses, it has gotten people’s attention.Riding the Hong Kong subway during SARS

In light of what happened back in 2003 (do you remember SARS?) health officials in Hong Kong are keeping a close eye on any new outbreaks of this bird flu virus in China.  With China’s ‘Golden Week’ national holiday coming up next week (May 1), government officials are concerned about the influx of up to 350,000 mainland Chinese tourists who will visit Hong Kong, and the possibility that one of them will inadvertently bring this bird flu virus to Hong Kong.  Hotels and tour agencies here are on increased alert to pay attention to the health of these tourists, so they can notify the health department should anyone become ill with bird flu-like symptoms.

As reports come from China each day of new cases of the H7N9 virus, health officials are doing all they can to try and prevent an outbreak here in Hong Kong.  I have seen an increased number of people on the subways and trains wearing a surgical mask – either out of fear that someone might pass the H7N9 virus onto them, or that they might give their cold or flu bug to someone else.

So how do we respond in light of our fears and worries – whether it be about earthquakes, deadly viruses, or something else?  As I was wondering how to conclude this blog, I came upon the following devotional thought that seemed so very appropriate.

George Muller said, “The beginning of anxiety is the end of faith, and the beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety.” It has to be one or the other. You can’t yield to both, because the two are incompatible.

In Mark 5:36 Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” Jesus spoke these words to Jairus as if they involve a choice. They do.

Faith and fear are often categorized as emotions, but they each come down to what you choose to think about.

Worry-driven thoughts chip away at your confidence in God’s ability to provide. Faith-driven thoughts have the power to knock fear off its feet.

You may not have to worry about the after-shocks from an earthquake rattling your home today, but it’s possible that you and your family may be facing another kind of disaster – financial or otherwise.  The spread of the H7N9 virus may be far away from where you live today, but it doesn’t mean that you or one of your loved ones isn’t facing another health problem.  So how should we respond?

Remember again and again what God has done before. Choose faith-driven thoughts. Sing again and again a favorite hymn. Recite again and again a promise from Scripture. These will open the door to a faith-filled perspective, driving fear out of the way.

Faith or fear. It’s a choice. One eventually overtakes the other, so let’s choose our thoughts carefully.

Until next time,

Joel & Debbie

PRAY WITH US:

Construction on the new Guangxi Provincial Training Center building was completed last fall, but to date, church leaders have been unable to move into this new facility. PRAY that both church leaders and training center students would have patience as they wait for final inspections to be completed.

The health of Debbie’s dad has continued to fluctuate over the past couple of weeks and we have noticed some signs of memory loss and confusion. However, he continues to remain at his home, and we are thankful for Debbie’s brother (Stephen) and his wife (Linda) who have been the primary care givers on most days.  PRAY that God would give them strength and wisdom for this responsibility each day.  PRAY that Debbie’s dad would have a sense of security and peace as he faces changes in the time ahead.





The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

16 12 2012

How do those of us living in Hong Kong know that Christmas is approaching?  Well, since it hasn’t snowed here in over 37 years, and since the temperatures have been unseasonably warm recently (70-75° F; 20-24° C) we have had to rely on a couple of other indicators to remind us that it is Christmastime.

One of the first signs in Hong Kong that reminds Christmas-in-HK-2012-016us that Christmas is getting near is the appearance of Christmas displays around town.  It seems as though each of the countless shopping malls spread across Hong Kong go out of their way each year to put together the most unique Christmas display for shoppers to come and look at.  Over the years we have seen every imaginable color of Christmas tree, along with numerous characters in these displays that go beyond what we traditionally associate with Christmas.  In fact, this year at one of the malls closest to us, they have an orange Christmas tree with a Garfield theme!

But in addition to those Christmas displays and signs in shop windows advertising Christmas specials, there’s one more indicator that lets us know that Christmas is near: Christmas music.  In stores, malls, and just about any place where music is played, the songs and carols of Christmas (in English) can be heard across Hong Kong. It is true that many businesses use the Christmas season as just another marketing ploy, but when else can you hear music about Jesus played in shopping centers day after day?

Today as I walked through a mall, I stopped to see if I could hear any Christmas songs being played.  At first I couldn’t hear anything with all the noise from the hustle and bustle of people Christmas-in-HK-2012-004all around.  But then just when I thought that the carols had been drowned out by the sound of shoppers, I stepped into one of the many stores in this mall, and was greeted by the sound of beautiful voices singing “When a Child is Born”, followed by “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”.  Hearing those songs reminded me again of the real reason for Christmas – a time to celebrate the birth of our Savior.

So while those of us here in Hong Kong won’t be going out caroling in the snow this year, it still is the most wonderful time of the year – a time to share true joy, peace and hope with those around us.  Take time to slow down from the busyness of shopping and preparing for Christmas to listen to and maybe even sing some Christmas carols this year – celebrate Jesus and all that His coming to earth means to the world and to us personally!

Until next time,

Joel & Debbie





A Day in Pictures

20 11 2012

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words.  We have tried to offer some insights into China today, but in some ways it is difficult to adequately describe in words what you might see in China on a typical day there. So with that in mind, we have put together a brief slideshow of pictures that Joel took on his last trip to Guangxi.  We hope that as you view these scenes, that you will gain a different perspective on daily life in China.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Until next time,

Joel & Debbie

PRAY WITH US

Debbie will be attending a conference in Thailand this week for Christian educators.
PRAY that God would ordain conversations with individuals there and make it a fruitful time for her and the Bible program at ICS.

Continue to PRAY for Debbie’s dad, whose eye is still in need of healing after suffering a detached retina several months ago.

The newly built Guangxi Provincial training center is waiting for final inspections to conclude before students and staff can begin using this new facility.  PRAY that provincial church leaders would have wisdom as they work with the construction company and local officials to have this training center opened by the end of November.