Torah and Touring in the People’s Republic of China

First Fruits of Zion teachers are just ordinary tourists on an extraordinary mission.


Teaching EventsNov 20, 2015

Teaching EventsNov 20, 2015


The high-speed train out of Hong Kong, on our way to mainland China. (Image © Bigstock)

By

Shalom from somewhere in China. It’s not helpful to say exactly where we are or why we have come here. Suffice to say that we have come for some “sight-seeing” and a reunion with some extended family members.

Our last several days in Hong Kong were busy with teaching opportunities. Friday night I presented a talk on the weekly Torah Portion (Toledot) to conclude the series of seminars we conducted at Hong Kong’s City University. We learned about the Torah cycle, and we learned about the story of Jacob and Esau. Each subsequent night at City University was larger than the previous night. We received great feedback from the event.

On Sunday morning, Boaz visited a church filled with young students and presented a sermon about replacement theology and the Paris bombing. I was brought to another church where I presented an afternoon seminar on the Jewish Gospel. Monday brought more opportunities. We crossed Victoria Bay and landed on Hong Kong Island where we presented the new Chinese HaYesod program in a small church occupying office space in one of the city’s uncountable towers. The small room filled up with local pastors and lay leaders. Later that day we visited the Hong Kong JCC, loaded up with kosher groceries, and then hurried off to an appointment at a local seminary specializing in biblical languages. The faculty had never before met a Messianic Jew, and they wanted to meet Boaz. We sat at a table in dialogue with the seminary faculty and the teachers from HaDevar Yeshiva for a few hours.

Into the Heart of China

Early the next morning we left Hong Kong behind and headed out on a “sight-seeing” trip into the interior of the People’s Republic of China. A high speed train carried us at 300 kilometers an hour into the heart of the land. We watched the countryside, farms and hills, fields and rivers, villages and houses, pass by in a blur. By afternoon we had arrived at our “sight-seeing” destination and made contact with local brothers and sisters who had invited us.

This was our first glimpse of the interior of China. Unlike Hong Kong, the enormous city in which we are staying is blanketed with smog. We are the only non-Chinese people on the streets, and we attract attention. The weather is cold and wet; the city is less than well-maintained, and the hotel at which we are staying is a seedy establishment of unlit hallways, friendly roaches, dirty elevators, suspicious plumbing, and carpets that saw fresher days sometime in the 1990s.

In stark contrast to their context, the local community of brothers and sisters is full of light, warmth, and hospitality. They share the abundant joy of the presence of God.

The many family members in this place enjoy a good relationship with the local authorities—something unusual in these parts, but that did not prevent an unanticipated visit from those same authorities. We were warned, “If things go wrong, you guys need to be out of this building.” Thank God, things did not go wrong. They came, but they raised no objections, and the conversation went on completely undisturbed. This is a testimony to the good reputation that the brothers and sisters have with the government here.

Unexpected Visitors

Only a few hours after that visit, we received another set of unexpected visitors. Two seemingly random Israelis who looked like thugs dropped by. The strange thing about this is that, for our entire time here, these are the only two non-Chinese people we have seen. In my opinion, they were certainly Mossad agents or something like that. They said they had come to check on a report of an Israeli in town. They were curious about his business in China. Boaz exchanged phone numbers with the “agents” and told them about Messianic Judaism and his work for First Fruits of Zion, and they seemed satisfied. “So are you able to eat kosher?” they asked.

“Canned tuna in my hotel room,” Boaz replied.

“Next time you are in town, let us know, and we will have you over for some meals.”

We will do that. The other dinner options in the local food court consist primarily of the prohibited species listed in Leviticus 11.

Our time talking with the brothers and sisters was powerful and well-received. Most of those present seemed to be under the age of thirty-five. We have never taught a roomful of more eager students, hour after hour, day after day, tracking with us through difficult lectures, reading all the texts together aloud in unison in the Chinese language, asking pertinent and insightful questions, and completely invested in the progress of the teaching. “You are stretching our minds!” they said. “We have never heard these things before!”

These Chinese disciples, sheltered from so much of the outside world, possess a sweet, sincere spirit and an eager enthusiasm for the word. They are quick-minded and theologically fast on their feet. Their biblical literacy surpasses any expectations we might place upon Western Christians. The local leader sat in the front row, affirming the teachings, asking excellent questions, and encouraging his flock to press on in the studies. In the evenings, attendance swelled to capacity. On the last day, at the conclusion of our time together, when we prayed the priestly benediction over them, many eyes filled with tears, and we too felt that parting sorrow.

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Local leader of Chinese flock with descendant of Hudson Taylor.


Before we left, the local leader showered gifts and souvenirs on Boaz and me. He also showed me a prized photograph he kept in his office. The picture depicted him sitting beside a middle-aged white man, and the two of them held an old book in their hands. The middle-aged white man, I learned, was Hudson Taylor’s great-great grandson. The book they held in their hands was the famous missionary’s original Bible.

Our short week in the interior is now at an end, and now we hurry back to Hong Kong for Shabbat and, after the Sabbath, a meeting with directors of a local mission effort. We leave the interior with grateful hearts, in awe of God’s providence, and hoping to return for more of that kind of “sight-seeing” in the future.

More articles from China:

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About the Author: D. Thomas Lancaster is Director of Education at First Fruits of Zion, the author of the Torah Club programs and several books and study programs. He is also the pastor of Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, WI. More articles by D. Thomas Lancaster

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