The Search for Church: Legends of the Hidden Christians

It started innocently enough: it’s Advent. We are no longer losing our minds every single day. Let’s go to church. (I.e., let’s voluntarily lose our minds doing something that would be easy at home and most definitely will not be easy here. Great idea.)

If you mention “church” to any expats here, they’ll respond with something about the Dushu Lake Christian church, that brick building, which is notable only because of the few buildings made with bricks left exposed à la western architecture. It’s relatively close to the university and is a generalized Christian church, which is fine, but Andy is Catholic. We know there is a nearby Catholic church, and the man I tutor said that even the Pope has visited this cathedral, so we wanted to find it.

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It’s over THERE. How do we get there?!

Taking a taxi card with the address and wearing our most comfortable shoes, we set off at 9:45 in search of the church for mass at 10:30.

Our taxi driver negotiated the location with us before we set off. That should’ve been a red flag. We’ve had mixed experiences with taxi drivers lately—last Monday I argued with a taxi driver (in Chinese!) when he wanted to drop us off at the wrong location, and this past Saturday, just one day before our church attempt, we got yelled at (in Chinese) for giving the “wrong location” to the taxi driver… even though this was precisely the same location I had provided on Monday when I yelled at the driver in Chinese. Harrumph.

The inconsistency in addresses here is flabbergasting. I *still* haven’t received that Listerine I ordered from Baopals over two weeks ago. (I’m convinced that somewhere there’s a vagrant who has very fresh breath on my dime. Er, yuan. My yuan.) I have successfully received several packages at the university because I now use my work address as my shipping address. Instead of going to stores to look endlessly for things they might not have, I just order things online and have to schlep them home. It’s sort of okay, but still not. It’s a great metaphor for the measurable “progress” we witness every day in China: close… but, as someone who calls the U.S. home, still not quite what you might expect from a “convenience.”

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Honestly, we still couldn’t find it at 700 ft away.

You may also recall from the previous post with the title regarding the “kindness of strangers” that I had to tell a perfect stranger who called a taxi for us (and who paid for said taxi) that we lived at a place called Garden Bakery because she couldn’t make sense of the address I provided. Our address, I am learning, is not an exception. It is the rule. (I should mention that our address was given to us in Chinese and English by the rental company agent. We are not using some strange Chinglish address we cobbled together on our own.) Using a GPS or smartphone also doesn’t guarantee you’ll find what you’re looking for. (Some days I’m not even sure it helps, honestly.) Addresses in this place are weird, unreliable, and sometimes flat out wrong. It’s worse than when, as a teenager, the Pennsylvania 911 emergency services renumbered my family’s house. When our house caught fire in 2003 and my sister called 911, she gave the operator the new house number and 911 had no idea what she was talking about. (Good thing she remembered the OLD house number… but that’s a story for a different day.)

So in my very limited Chinese, we negotiated the location of the Catholic church with the taxi driver. Not that we actually knew the location. Not that the driver knows what Catholic is or a church is because (I am not joking) Chinese citizens are not allowed to attend religious services. In my school’s welcome guide, it blatantly says that you must demonstrate that you are a foreigner in order to enter places of worship. (This begs the question of how someone like a minister or priest even gets a work visa to lead worship here. If it’s not supported by the government, how in the world does someone with only religious intentions get into this country and get legally paid to work?) But I digress…

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We found it! But the doors are locked.

These are the topics of conversation that came up after we got out of the taxi, asked for directions four times, showed people a photo of the building we were looking for, walked around for two hours, completely missed the church service, found the gate of the church was locked, wailed about churches *always* being open in western countries (“This isn’t how this works! This isn’t how any of this works!”), and walked away feeling jaded about China.

Yes, despite having the address and appointed time, we were foiled by the China-ness of it all in our attempts to attend worship.

We did, however, find the Suzhou Revolutionary Museum on some very Soviet looking grounds. So there’s that.

We plan to follow this failed expedition in the search for church with a more Indiana Jones-esque mission once we get inside. Details to follow.

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2 thoughts on “The Search for Church: Legends of the Hidden Christians

  1. What an amazing post. While I always knew church was against the law in China, I guess I never really…”knew.” I think that’s the most intense difference/adjustment you’ve mentioned so far, as I can see it affecting So. Much. Else. You sure aren’t in Kansas anymore. XO

    Liked by 1 person

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