From the Worldwide Faith News archives

English teachers experience culture

Date 07 Feb 2001 13:13:54

February 7, 2001
Beth Hawn
Communications Coordinator
Mennonite Board of Missions
phone (219) 294-7523
fax (219) 294-8669

February 7, 2001

English teachers experience culture, faith with Chinese students

ELKHART, Ind. (COM/MBM) – Whether they were spending the evening
in an English classroom or at a local restaurant, Bob and Fran
Gerber and their Chinese students and friends enjoyed sharing
culture, life and faith in many fruitful conversations.  After
serving four years with China Educational Exchange, a program
that places workers in Chinese universities to teach English, Bob
and Fran Gerber returned to the United States last fall with an
“incredibly rich experiences” both in and outside the classroom
in China.

The Gerbers brought home important experiences of human
relationships, understanding another culture and faith.  “The
[idea] that the reign and rule of God is beyond boundaries has
become more real to me since our experience in China,” Bob said.

Some of their richest experiences came in close interactions with
graduate and professional students at an agricultural university
in Zhengzhou, he said.  “After a month, trust develops.  They
talk about very personal things, some that they wouldn’t share
with friends or family.  That’s exciting and humbling.”

A highlight of the Gerbers’ term came when a Chinese colleague at
the university shared how she had just experienced and accepted
the love of Jesus, though she had been steeped in the
philosophies of Karl Marx throughout her intellectual career.

Fran said, “There were always students asking questions about the
Christian life, and we were very open in class saying we were
Christian.  It’s not something we [volunteered], but when they
asked questions, we responded.”

During their years of teaching and relating, the Gerbers
repeatedly found that they did not fit their Chinese friends’
expectations of Americans.  “It was interesting to see the
student responses,” Fran said.  “They have a very warped idea of
who Americans are via movies.  By the end of the term, they would
say, ‘We now know there are other kinds of Americans.’”

One Chinese friend told the Gerbers that she sensed in them
something different from the idea of “Western” that she had.  The
difference had to do with their peacefulness and calmness and the
kind of lifestyle behind those attitudes.  Faith in God and the
Anabaptist peace tradition are the sources of their different
lifestyle, the Gerbers said.

Modeling a compassionate alternative for relationships was a
significant part of their purpose in China, said Bob.  The
Gerbers especially enjoyed informal interactions after class,
having students in their home, and sharing the evening meal with
Chinese friends.

“We felt that if [faith] didn’t show, then why have it – if it’s
not an everyday thing?” Fran said of their efforts to build

Besides being a living witness to those they met in China, the
Gerbers were also personally transformed by their experiences.

“It does change your worldview, your view of life if you go
abroad,” Fran said.  “It changes your priorities.  For example,
it has made real how important my faith in God is and the
church.  Relationships also become more important.”

For Bob, the expressions of faith he saw in a very different
international setting taught a significant lesson.  People in
China often come to faith from very little church background, he
said.  “In the West, we are influenced by Christianity a lot,” he
said.  “There, the feeling is even anti-church, anti-spiritual.
When people come to faith in that setting, it seems to be a very
free, genuine, calming experience.”

While the Gerbers’ official assignment in China was in the
classroom, they also attended a local church, as most CEEers do.
Their congregation held two worship services with a combined
attendance of 3,000.

For four semesters, the Gerbers also provided pastoral care for
the 30 other CEE teachers throughout the country.  This involved
regular visits, sharing experiences, listening, and hosting the
other teachers in their home.

The Gerbers said the possibilities for Christian witness in China
are increasing.  “The world is getting smaller with Internet and
air traffic,” Bob said.  “There is increased opportunity for the
churches to continue to build bridges.  The Chinese mind is very

Fran said curiosity grows in China because outside knowledge has
been cut off for so long.  “Many students recognize that
Christianity has influenced the West and they ask why – why has
it lasted?” she said.

Since they returned to the United States, the Gerbers said they
are struggling with the inequality among the world’s people, the
over-consumption in this country, and the question of how much
people really need.

Though their term in China has ended, the Gerbers will continue
the cross-cultural work they have grown to love in the CEE office
in Harrisonburg, Va.  They will host Chinese scholars arriving in
the United States, orient new teachers traveling to China, and
annually visit the teachers abroad.

CEE member groups include Mennonite Board of Missions, the
Commission on Overseas Mission, Eastern Mennonite Missions,
Mennonite Central Committee and Mennonite Brethren
Missions/Service International.  CEE arranges educational
exchanges with China in the areas of English language study and
teaching, agriculture, medicine, nursing, mental health and
social work.  Most terms are two years.

Mennonite Board of Missions extends the whole gospel to a broken
world by building holistic communities of faith in 46 countries.

* * *

Anne Horst for MBM news      PHOTO AVAILABLE

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