So, I'm on vacation with my family in Newport Beach. It's been a really nice week. We've done a variety of things from sitting around and talking, to playing board games, to acting very silly, to watching movies or TV, to playing tennis, to going to Crystal Cove beach, to spending the day at Wild Rivers (yesterday), to swimming at the pool where we are staying, to eating in, to eating out (a little) -- and even getting in a little writing. We are such a diverse tribe in ages and interests that it makes for a very rich time whenever we're together.
I've been trying to be selective about answering my phone and even some of my emails since, after all, I'm on "vacation" which is supposed to involve disconnecting from the usual routines and voices in my life in order to give my brain a change of pace and a break. But then Ray called. I did not hesitate to take it.
But even Ray was surprised that I did. Still, Ray and I have learned over the years that when we call each other, it's usually a divine appointment. This was no exception. Ray's call lifted my spirits and helped me see my life through the eyes of someone I deeply respect. Yes, Ray's call was a godsend. But to understand why, you'd have to know who Ray is and where he's been in life.
Ray fills a number of roles in my life, but none more important than "the man who took me to China". I didn't want to go to China, mind you. I've never felt drawn to China or to the Chinese people or culture, even as a tourist. But, when it comes to going to China, the "Ray Factor" trumps people's resistance or disinterest (I have witnessed this on many occassions) including my own. Of course, in my case, there was the God factor, too -- as in God said, "go with Ray to China". So I went.
Those ten days in China taught me something unexpected about why God put that nation on the map; at least when it comes to American Christians like myself. See, people like me think the only reason God would send them to China would be to somehow change China. I suppose that could be true in the same way a raindrop might change Lake Superior. But really (I came to discover) it's about how China changes you, especially if you get to hang out with the believers there in the underground church. Especially if you are doing that with Ray.
Let me ask you: can you always connect the dots in your life? Do you know why God has you go through this thing or that thing that seems (as the kids say today) "totally random"? It's been several years since I bounced around China with Ray and our small team and I'm still unpacking the spiritual bags I brought back from that relatively brief experience. I see now that my exposure to the life of the underground church in China gave me an instinct about the power of church as network that I could never have really appreciated otherwise -- something I didn't know I was going to need the way I need it now. And those people...their generosity, their passion for Christ, their vitality and their simplicity; they truly rocked my world. As someone recently observed about another people group of similar constitution: "I marvel at how much they do with so little and at how little we (the American church) do with so much".
Ray and his family used to live in China and he speaks fluent Chinese which, if you met Ray on an airplane or something, you would suspect about as much as you would suspect him to be an expert on nuclear physics, artichokes or women's fashion. Ray doesn't present as a Chinese man trapped in a tall, middle-aged white man's body. But when I saw Ray counsel and pray and teach and preach and translate and relate to people in China it was like watching Clark Kent go into a phone both and burst out a minute later as Superman. Stunning.
But now, Ray lives in Illinois and not Shanghai. He's there mostly because God called him to drill for oil. Of course, given who Ray and his wife are, that includes tons of "ministry" within and without the local church scene there as well. And the truth is that it's been really, really hard on Ray and his wife to completely reconfigure their lives to accept this call to drill for oil instead of serve the Lord in China. But one thing you get pretty quickly about Ray is that he understands that his life is not his own and that following God means going wherever He leads. And because Ray and Christine are visionaries AND a hard-workers, I keep them close.
So, in my next post, I'll tell you more about that phone call.