From October 25th to November 13th Keep Believing Ministries had staff and supporters ministering in China and South Korea. Each day this week you’ll be taken on a journey to apartment churches, city walls, and into the heart of Christianity in Asia. We hope you’ll join us back here each day to read the stories, see the pictures, and rejoice in what God is doing on the other side of the world!
Nick lives in Chicago, Il and has been to China 3 times including living in the Hebei province for a summer while he taught English. Join him on a bike ride along the city walls of an ancient capital of China.
Jason (our guide for the trip): “We’re going to ride bikes on the city wall.” (said in a plain and matter-of-fact tone)
Nick: “What?” (trying to find a frame of reference for this statement)
Jason: “We will rent bicycles and you will ride around the city wall.” (same matter-of-fact tone…apparently he wasn’t joking)
Nick: “What?” (currently expressing some incredulity)
This exchange pretty much sums up my experience in China. It is a country that constantly laughs at our US frame of reference. There are more people, buildings, cars, mopeds, and flashing lights in China than you could imagine. On top of that, it has a history that dwarfs anything in the western world. Seeing and experiencing the vast expanse of China firsthand is what makes explaining it to those who have never been so difficult. Where and how do you even begin? Given that, it should not have been surprising when we were told that we were going to be riding bikes on one of the oldest and most intact city walls in the world. And yet, it was.
The current wall around the city of Xi’An has been around, in some form or another, since the Ming Dynasty in 1370. The wall measures about 8.5 miles in circumference, 39 feet in height, and between 49-59 feet in thickness at the base. No matter where you stand within the confines of the city wall you can feel its imposing presence. And there we were, standing on top of this massive, ancient structure about to go for a bike ride.
It cost us about 8 US Dollars to rent and ride bicycles on top of the wall. The first thing you notice, besides the hundreds of uniformly white bikes waiting to be rented, is the cobble stone paving across the top of the wall. The second thing you notice is the lack of shock absorbers on any of the hundreds of uniformly white bikes waiting to be rented. You wouldn’t realize it at first, but you’d be wishing you had the shock absorbers by the time you made the final turn to head back to the rental office.
About a mile into the ride I realized that this was one of the coolest things I had ever done and that I would likely never do anything this unique ever again. The beauty of the ride was that it gave me a passing view of some of the more unexplainable things about China.
- The ride around the city only reinforced the size and sheer expanse of China. The total area within the wall is about 5.4 square miles but what stuck out to me during the ride was how many square miles the city of Xi’An expanded beyond the city wall. Every direction outside the wall boasted tall buildings as far as the eye could see. So what if some of the vision was blocked by the haze that constantly covers the city? There are so many buildings everywhere that you constantly find yourself playing the skeptic. There cannot possibly be enough people to inhabit these buildings. China currently has 94 cities with over 1 million residents – compared to the 9 in the United States. Sound ridiculous? By 2025, that number is supposed to jump from 94 to 221 cities. According to Chinafaqs.org, by 2025 nearly 1 billion people will live in China’s cities. Maybe if that isn’t completely mind boggling then this might be: Conservative estimates show that approximately 25% of the world’s cranes are located in China. Very liberal estimates put this number closer to 50%. It is all so absolutely incomprehensible.
- You cannot visit Xi’An and not be immediately hit with China’s storied history. Xi’An is China’s former capital and has a history dating back to the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC). In the middle of the city are both a drum tower and a bell tower. Both towers were erected in the late 14th century and were used to tell the citizens of Xi’An what time of day it was. Both towers were visible throughout the entire ride. There is also a museum on the east side of the city that boasts ancient stone tablets that are over 1,000 years old. The stories on the tablets range from the mundane (a draft of a letter) to the historical (a Nestorian tablet on the history of Christianity in China). These towers and tablets have been around and preserved longer than anything we, in the US, can claim. And this is just the tip of the iceberg in China — to speak nothing of the Terracotta Soldiers or the Great Wall. So when people ask what China is like I always hesitate because I am not sure there is an answer that would do the country justice.
- There was something spiritually moving about biking around the city of Xi’An. As we made slow right turns around the wall I kept thinking about God’s statement to Paul in Acts 18:9-10:
“And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”
It was encouraging to think that God also has His people in Xi’An. In a city that expands beyond where the eye can see and in a country with people too numerous to count, it was a great reminder that God is doing work in a complex and unexplainable land. As we rode I prayed that God would continue to raise up more people from within those city walls. To raise up men and women that would call Him “Lord.” To raise up men and women that didn’t put their hope in historical structures or a vast history but who put their hope and trust in a God that sustains those things with a breath.
The ride concluded without much incident. It would take days for my body to recover from the constant shock of the wheels over the cobble stones. The lasting image from the wall, however, was not one of pain but one of hope. God has his people inside those walls. Let us rejoice at such an awesome thought. Then let us ask God to use us to make His glory known to a people in an unexplainable land.