I’ve heard before that it’s not always good to listen to what “they” say, but it can also be very difficult to get first-hand experience, especially when it comes to expat life in another country, namely China. We also often hear a friend here say, “What’s true today in China will not necessarily be true tomorrow.”
When the Father called our family to China to work among the Dongxiang people, we were about as green as you could be when it comes to working among Chinese Muslims. We had a mixture of other international experiences between us: some work with Muslims in other countries, some work with other Chinese minorities, some work with college students, some work with children.
We’ve lost luggage while traveling. We’ve missed flights. We’ve stayed in dingy guesthouses. We’ve eaten unidentifiable foods.
However, when we felt a call to live among and love the Dongxiang, we had no first-hand experiences to go on. We had books with very vague, roughly estimated information. We had a few scattered web articles written by likely well-intentioned journalists. We had a few pictures and some general folklore. Having nothing else, we had no choice but to take this heap of disconnected information and store it in the back of our minds, saving it until the day when we finished language study and could actually pursue these people.
They said the Dongxiang are poor and illiterate. They said they’re known for farming mostly grains and potatoes. They said their county is a dirty, brown place. They said a lot of Dongxiang are drug dealers. They said they’re thieves. They said they have their own unwritten language and that many Dongxiang don’t even speak well themselves. They said they’re very religious Muslims. They said they wear a certain type of prayer cap for men and a certain head covering for women.
They said they don’t get along well with Hui Muslims. They said they have no problems with Hui Muslims. They said some Dongxiang don’t even really know what China is. They said they’re a mean and difficult people to work with.
But as my friend says, what’s true today is not necessarily true tomorrow. So while some or all of those “they saids” may be true, we’ve learned to step back and only take in the truths we learn first-hand from these people. Granted, we’ve only been in China for a couple years, with only part of that time in direct ministry with the Dongxiang. But we’ve picked up a few truths of our own. To others, our words will simply be “they said” statements, but to us, these are truths that fuel us and keep us going daily as we seek to love these people better.
My Dongxiang friend Sally is a multilingual, highly educated teacher. She is devout in her Islamic faith but is also open to the truths of Jesus. She is generous, kind, and has a wonderful sense of humor. Another friend of mine, who is now a believer, was divorced by her Muslim husband because she had many serious health problems. She is pregnant and single, but she’s still learning to find comfort in Jesus. Another female friend, Sarah, is just a young Muslim mom trying to learn to discipline her son and teach him to be kind, while somehow simultaneously managing her large extended family.
There is another family we know who run a local veggie shop where I often buy groceries. They’re very poor and have very few worldly possessions, but they are generous and kind. They often give me veggies for wholesale price or for free, and they invite me in to eat with them weekly. They too appear devout, but they lack knowledge about spiritual things, even from their holy book.
These are only a few of the Dongxiang people we’ve met and learned to love. They’re just people in need of Jesus, like we once were. Would you pray that a Dongxiang person of peace is revealed in this community and that they’ll begin to love and lead as Jesus did and does?