It’s been about 2 weeks since I returned from East Asia. My wife, Kay, and I had a great 11-day trip reconnecting with friends we’d made during the 3-plus years we lived there last decade. We had some good times of prayer on this trip and got to share from our hearts with some new friends as well.
Security concerns do not allow me to go into all the details I’d love to relate to you. You’re always welcome to stop by the New Hope offices in Birmingham to hear more; my co-worker Jonathan Howe will also enjoy showing you the nice yak he now has in his cubicle—a gift from me. (Go to New Hope’s Facebook page and name the yak. The name with the most likes will win a New Hope prize pack.)
- The primary inland city we visited has a population around 11 million. We taxied around only a small portion of the city but saw 2 Apple stores. At least, they looked like official Apple stores. Four years ago, the closest thing I could find was an authorized Apple reseller. In June 2011 I saw a not-so-trivial number of iPhones and iPads.
- The airlines in Asia still think flying should be pleasurable. I was fed on a flight that lasted only an hour! When I flew from Vancouver to Chicago (like 4 hours) I got nothing other than some water or soda.
- Forget facebook.com and twitter.com. Both are blocked to the average Internet user there.
- The declining value of the US dollar is painful for those living and traveling overseas. I remember when I could about 25 percent more of the local currency per dollar than I can get now.
- Some Tibetan areas once fairly open to tourism a decade ago are less open than they once were. Tense times in light of protests, earthquakes, etc. This is the opposite of what we expected back in 2002. (For those interested in contemporary life in Tibetan areas, you may find this documentary interesting. http://www.khamfilmproject.org/SummerPasture.php. I have only watched the preview, but it looks insightful. )
- The number of young people wearing shorts seems to me to have skyrocketed. I don’t remember hardly anyone wearing shorts just 4 years ago. Ditto for Western-style T-shirts, sometimes with Western slogans, icons, or fantasy characters. The days of every man in a cheap black suit coat, a white button-down shirt, and dress pants are over. The number of women in ridiculously high heels has stayed about the same—way too many.
- Public displays of affection. Imitating the West is not the best choice in this case, I think.
- Lots of young men with girlfriends on their arms this summer. I’m not opposed to this per se, but I think it reflects a cultural shift and a larger problem—namely, East Asia too has adopted the hypersexualized tendencies of the West. Movies, TV shows, clothing, societal changes, etc. When I first visited Asia in 1997, many young men walked down the street with an arm around the shoulder of another young man. This was considered culturally normal and completely nonsexual. Times have changed. Innocence lost.
- Travel is still sketchy beyond the main cities. On our way back from a Tibetan town, our bus stopped for an hour because of some minor flooding over a dirt road. The 3 guys with pickaxes who came out to fix the problem didn’t do much for anybody. At least this traffic jam was moderately amusing.
- We had a meal interrupted by a rat, and a cockroach fell onto my neck when shopping for contact lenses. This was in the big city, mind you.
- The Tibetan “Podunk” town we first visited in 2001 is now a major tourist destination. Someone told me it gets 3 million visitors a year. I can’t confirm that, but I can confirm there are major hotels on every corner, and I can’t recognize the place anymore. Yes, there’s a real Sheraton being built there as I write.
- The food still tastes as good as ever. Gong bao jiding (kung pao) chicken never tasted so good to me. Different peppers and different spices. I even got to bring back some tsampa (zam pa), the unofficial Tibetan national food, to share with co-workers.
- There are many millions of people in East Asia who still need to hear the gospel, many for the very first time.
- House churches continue to make great strides in reaching out to other ethnic groups. But there is still much training needed.
- Business as mission is an important, timely, and relevant concept that many people, including local believers, are trying to figure out in real-life. It can be messy; it can be fun.
- Making disciples who make disciples who make disciples is the key.
- Smaller and smaller people groups are now being reached with the gospel. That’s great news! The task is nearing completion. Come, Lord Jesus, come.
May the Lord be glorified in and through His church throughout the world.