Come Over to My House, Come Over and Play

“Come over the my house, come over and play”

A quote from a favorite childhood book. Children from all over the world saying the words “come over to my house.” It’s a beautiful image of friendship, crossing cultures, global unity.

I was a stranger and they invited me in.

In Santa Cruz, Bolivia, A six year old boy of a twenty-one year old mother whom he called sister held hands, in his other hand he grasped the fingers of a tall American woman. Jenny is his sponsor through Compassion International. We followed as he lead us down a dusty road full of roaming cattle, horses and chickens. When he arrived as a small brick house with a tin roof he whirled around and waved his hands in joyous excitement. “Este es mi casa!” “This is my house!”

A six year old boy in the spirit of thanksgiving invited friends over to play. At the beginning of our trip in Bolivia with Compassion International, we were told that we would represent all of the sponsors. What I found was a six year old boy representing Christ.

Skip ahead a few weeks. I’m a stranger in a foreign land. I live at a University in China. A local group of Christians invites my room mate and I to dinner. And Afterwards into their home. They are thrilled to hear we have been praying for them. In China it’s expected you bring a gift if you go to a person’s home. We came empty handed. Yet they welcomes us with open arms. The child sang and danced for us, the grandmother served us fresh fruit.

They new nothing of me and welcomed me anyway.
I was a stranger and they invited me in.

What we have big or small we still have to offer to the work of The Lord. And when we come empty handed he makes no scene over it.

Come over to my house, Jesus.

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Religion in China

I have been back from China for about a month now. My experience was incredible, if not life-changing. Today I would like to talk to you all about Religion in China. Myself being quite a religious person (and because everyone is somewhat religious (please refer to anthropology) I don’t despite this title for myself), I really wanted to know about religion in China.

“You know–China has no religion,” one Chinese girl told me. I have heard many things about China and religion there. First of all, in some areas, religion is oppressed. It is my assumption that the primary area of oppression of religion is in Western China and Tibet. This is only what I learned first hand about religion in China.

In China I visited a Mosque, a Synagogue, 4 Buddhist temples, 1 Taoist temple, and 2 Christian churches (one sanctioned and one unsanctioned). According to Voice of the Martyrs, PRC (People’s Republic of China) recognizes 5 religious groups: Buddhism, Islam, Daoism, Protestantism, and Catholicism. Churches are supposed to register with the government. Non-government churches are illegal in China.

Buddhism and Daoism are two of the primary Chinese religions, they are ancient to China and have combined with folk religions and superstitions. My first encounter with Buddhism in China was a friend of mine in the United States was talking to me about God. My friend was from China and told me that China’s religion was Buddhism. Her thoughts about God were probing and profound and she grappled with how God could care about her, since she was from China.

Buddhism began in China during the Qin dynasty around 220-210 BC. Since then Chinese Buddhism has developed many branches and sects of Buddhism. The religion celebrates the enlightenment of its devoted followers. My first morning in China I saw an older woman counting her prayer beads. Counting the prayer beads in Buddhist tradition is an important task.

In China I visited the Jade Budda Temple and Long Hua temple in Shanghai, a temple on tiger hill in Suzhou, and a temple over-looking the forbidden city. Many of these temples were recently reconstructed, as many of them were used as refuges or forts during the Second Sino-Japanese war and WWII.

Most of the people who came to pray in the temple were older. But not all of them were.

This is a photo of the temple overlooking the Forbidden City (in which the Emperor was treated as a god).

Even though most of the people in the temples were either tourists like us or the older generation, some young couples brought their children. This young girl was following the lead of her parents in praying to the gods.

These are some people praying to gods and goddesses of Buddhism.

These are some cauldrons for incense, which many people burn as they pray.

Such as this woman who is bowing to each corner of the world with he burning incense.

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The Temple of Heaven is regarded as a Daoist temple, but it was possibly built before Daoism became a religion in China and it is also regarded as Chinese Heaven Worship (I looked all of this up on Wikipedia… soo….)

The emperor is known to have worshiped there.

Interestingly enough Valerie and I went with our professor (Luo Laoshi) to a Jewish museum in Shanghai. Judaism has been in China for many years. Jews migrated to China as early as 7th century AD. They blended with the Chinese to become a dual culture. Later in the 1940s Jews from Europe sought refuge in the only country that would take them, and they lived in an area of Shanghai. The first group of Jews are known as the Kaifeng and they are an ethnic minority in China, hardly recognized by the government. They experienced persecution in the Tang dynasty. Now they are nearly impossible to distinguish from the Han Chinese (the primary people group of China) or the Hui (the Muslim Chinese people group).

During the 1940s Jewish refugees were met by the Kaifeng Jews in Shanghai and the refugees lived in this area of Shanghai.

This photo is a glass engraving of the first chapter of the Torah (or Genesis 1) written in traditional Chinese.

The Museum is located in this synagogue which is used for ceremonies such as weddings to this day, but according the the curator Jews no longer practice their religion in China. She did not either know, or would not give me a reason for this, but I suspect it is because they are not a recognized religion by the government. Therefore, they can practice cultural ceremonies like the wedding that happened the day before I was there, but they cannot hold services. The curator told me those two things were quite different.

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While Islam is regarded as an Middle-Eastern religion, it has flourished in China nearly since its birth. The Chinese Muslims, the Hui people, live in communities all over China. In Beijing I visited an ancient mosque from the 12th century AD called the Niu Jie Mosque. Like all religion, Islam was suppressed during the Cultural Revolution. During this time Muslims were not permitted to go on a Hajj which is the journey to Mecca. But in 2001 the China Islamic Association was started by the government. This works to allow certain rights to the Muslim communities such as marriage performed by an Imam.

Here is a picture of a Chinese Muslim woman studying the Qu’ran in the Mosque.

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Christianity is now a recognized religion in China. Christians experienced extreme persecution during the Cultural Revolution, but soon, the government realized that the more they persecuted the Church the stronger it became.

Persecution still occurs in many areas of China, and especially in Western China.

Churches in China are supposed to register with the government. I went to two churches in China, one home church (unregistered) and one international church (registered).

The home church was in a 7th story apartment. We sang hymns in Chinese and studied the Bible. There were maybe 20 Chinese there for the service. The church has been in existence for some ten years. My friend there told me that it is not that dangerous as long as they don’t bother the neighbors or preach in the streets. In other areas of China, it can be very dangerous to be in a house church, and Americans or any non-Chinese would be unable to go to the church because they would risk its exposure to the government.

The international church is set up to be for only international peoples. The church was registered by the government and pastored by my pastor’s brother in law. Unlike the Chinese service, the church service was in English. People from all over the world (including some Chinese (or possibly Taiwanese)) attended the Church. The church meets in a building they rent from the government. And while you may have heard that they were unable to preach the full gospel, I found the church the be genuine and preach the gospel. Chinese people are not supposed to attend a church which is pastored by a non-Chinese per government regulation.

 

Religion is not often talked about in China, yet the Chinese are eager to know about religion and Christianity. Christianity is spreading rapidly in China and has been for many years (despite the government oppression, even during the Cultural Revolution). I had the opportunity to share the gospel with two Chinese girls from my campus and they were fascinated and interested… they were captivated by the idea that God would love them even though they lived in China.

God’s passion is for us all of us, regardless of our ethnicity, political views, or religion. A fire is spreading in China. And God is consuming the attention of people all over the PRC.

Hostels and Beijing

So I made it to Beijing. If you read my previous post you’ll see that my trip to Xi’an didn’t exactly pan out the way I had expected. We took a nice flight from Shanghai to Beijing on Saturday morning. They even fed us a meal on the 1 and 1/2 hour flight. Arriving at Leo Hostel we spent two days in private rooms (the girls in a 3 bedroom and the guys in a 2 bedroom). On Monday we moved out of those rooms and into an 8 bedroom. So far they have not placed any more guests into our rooms, following the Western customs of proximity. (Next time you go into any public place notice how people will place themselves in the space. Such as in public transportation, each person will take their own bench until the car fills and then people will double up. In a restaurant you will not be seated with people who are not in your party because there aren’t enough tables. These things are not entirely true in China. It is more than acceptable to sit with strangers in a restaurant at their table.

Leo Hostel is much nicer than expected. They offer a restaurant, upstairs there are movies, games, computers, and a tv to watch movies, and the front desk is fairly helpful. After trekking with all of our luggage from the airport through the subway on Saturday afternoon we were met by one of the staff members who guided us down some alleys and about a ten minute walk to our hostel.

Valerie and I will be moving out of the hostel on Thursday morning. We’ve had some trouble flagging cabs here in Beijing and we were able to get one today back from the Temple of Heaven late this morning. We now have the number of the cab driver and he told us to call him tomorrow to pick us up on Thursday to take us to the hotel we’re staying at near the airport. At some point I need to buy an extra bag for my stuff. I’ve accumulated a lot of souvinears and gifts over the past month or so and I’m going to have to check a bag on the way home I think. Hopefully I can buy a cheap enough bag and hopefully our cab will not be too expensive. I’ve been praying. I’m glad God has already provided us with a cab, two days prior to our needing it.

The weather has been phenomenal. Our first full day in Beijing was on Sunday. We visited Tienanmen Square, the Forbidden City (which is the ancient palace of the emperor and has over 8000 buildings), Jing Shan (which is a park with a mountain peak which overlooks the Forbidden City), and that evening we went to the Olympic Stadium.

 

Yesterday we spent the day at the Summer Palace. The Summer Palace is a huge sprawl of land surrounding a lake with many gorgeous buildings, a temple, and many gardens.

Today we toured the Temple of Heaven. Many of the temples are surrounded by parks which are patroned by many old people. The Temple of Heaven had whole sidewalks full of old people playing hackysack, women knitting, men playing chess, people dancing, singing in a choir format, and doing taiji.

We also went on an adventure to find the Muslim section of Beijing and managed to find the oldest mosque in China which I think dated back to the 13th century. (I promise I’m getting on that religion post).

Tomorrow we will get up much earlier to go to the Great Wall. I will end China with one of the world’s most renowned monuments. Thursday I will grab some of my last delicious Chinese food, spend the rest of my money, and get ready for my 15 hour journey (MUCH SHORTER THAN THE WAY HERE) home to Kentucky.

 

请问– I Never Thought I’d Need a Compass

With the exception of a few afternoons most everyday had a legitimate plan of some sort: classes, trips, touring . . . etc. In fact, the first few weeks were so jammed with stuff to do that I didn’t hardly write about my days. Yesterday I faced a free weekend looming over me. It’s a little overwhelming to look at two days with no plans in a city at least double the size of NYC. Some people enjoy exploring the city themselves. Even though I can get around pretty well, I dislike being by myself. The first things I do when I come into my dorm room are turn on all the lights, open the window, turn on the TV and music, then and then re-connect the internet and VPN on my phone and computer. The VPN allows me to use facebook, twitter, youtube, and other websites which are blocked by the government  (including netflix which only works in the US, which I also often turn on, though it takes quite a long time to play anything)

Looking at the logistics of buying train tickets, booking hostels, studying for a final exam, and packing up for a final week of travel plus the free weekend was beginning to feel like more than I could handle. This morning I slept in a bit and then watched some TV. By 10am Valerie and I had decided on going to LongHua Temple off the end of Line 3 on the subway.

I grabbed a little extra money in-case we got lost and needed a cab ride home and we set off to the Yanchang station. Two stops later we were in the Railway Station trying to transfer lines. Both very confused we went to the service desk.  I had exactly the words I needed to say to explain how we were coming from Yanchang and needed to get to line 3 and that we had already paid the fare. Apparently everyone but us knew how the transfer worked and it wasn’t a big deal. She scanned our cards and let us through.

Our destination was quite a few stops away and not in the main area of the city so when we got off the subway and grabbed some drinks a local store the ladies were very fascinated with us. They asked how long we were here for, where we were from, how old we were, I was quite happy to practice my Chinese with them, and they were amused at us.

Our directions told us to get off the Subway, exit out gate 1 and then walk east for 15 minutes. I never knew I’d use that compass app on my iPhone. I will say my Chinese character apps have been priceless.

The Temple was gorgeous.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Afterwards we stumbled across a memorial for martyrs and explored a history museum for quite a while, trying to recall information from Chinese 331 history and culture class from the Spring semester.

As we were leaving Valerie went into the restroom and I stood waiting by the door. One of the curators or guards asked me to sit down, she talked to me in rapid Chinese but I was pleased to find that I understood almost everything she was telling me.

After a while we bought some food at a street vendor. It may have been a little sketchy, but my steamed dumplings were delicious and the people were so pleased to have us come, we even came back again for seconds.

From the time we left the South Gate and the graduates asked for our picture to the subway home we were surrounded by lots of friendly Chinese who were fascinated and amused by us.

Language learning and entering a new culture has a lot of ups and downs. Today was an up, and I hope that I can continue to use as much Chinese in my final 13 days here. I feel like today was quite an accomplishment on a lot of levels and if I can feel that way about the rest of my time here I’ll be very happy when I get home to Kentucky. I’m so thankful that Jesus gets me through days I expect to be impossible.

He makes everything possible.

 

Cheer: The Modern Wash Day Product

Today is laundry day once more. Laundry day consists of trips to the post office, buying coffee out of the vending machine to get coins for the washer, cleaning, grocery shopping and desperately looking for places to hang my clothes (everyone else appears to be doing laundry as well).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Laundry day for many people occurs everyday. There are always many many clothes hanging on hangers outside of buildings, on the street outside family owned restaurants, and hundreds of stories above the road in high-rises.

I love to sight see, I also love to observe life in Shanghai. (You may have noticed this by the sheer number of mundane things that I discuss in these posts–I will spice this one up with some photos.)

Monday afternoon I went exploring a bit after my experience at the post office. I wandered through some streets close to campus. The most fascinating thing that I saw was a market that I’m supposing is where many many Chinese shop. The market was filled with many shops/stalls in a large covered area. They sold everything from roasted sparrows with all their body parts still in-tact, to cucumbers larger than that of a child. Additionally, large cracker-barrels were filled with live crabs, some scorpion like creature,  什么的。 (That’s how you say ‘etc.’)

And speaking of odd animals, being sold on the street I have seen Goldfish in little balls that you carry on a string, crickets in little cages, live fish for butchering, live rabbits, small turtles, and today I saw a woman with a duck in her grocery bag hanging next to her purse. . .  and casually strolling down Yanchang Rd.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As far as food goes I would like to have it known that I did try a fish that was infact a whole fish, with bones and eyes still in it, it happened to be fried, which is besides the point. I did try it though. I’ve been getting lots of spring rolls 春专. Coffee is either instant or bottled/canned. And of course all the weird/delicious breads from the Bakery across from the South Gate.

Tonight Valerie and I went down to the Bund, it was absolutely beautiful this evening. The Bund is a German area (built in the early 1900s) with gorgeous European architecture and PRC flags blowing in the fierce wind by the Huangpu River. The river divides Pudong and Shanghai. Similar to Manhattan and New York City. The shopping is similar as well, but the bargaining is much more fantastic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Haggling is an art, and I’m not always very good at it. I will say I got a few things that I could have easily found for cheaper, I got totally ripped off for being too ignorant and appearing too excited. There’s a trick to looking about half interested and being willing to lose the deal. A few days ago a few of us went to what we call the 买的东西地方。 Or “The buy stuff place.” It’s a market filled with fake knock-offs of famous things, anything from your Rolex watches and Swatches, to pirated DVDs, to cheap jade and pearls, your fake Jucci Courture, silk, TOMS, and any number of other items. And this place barters. I got a few decent deals, a Qipao (traditional, early Communist Era dress), a pair of fake TOMS (The human rights activist in me is dissapointted in myself), and a really great gift for my little brother which is a surprise and thus must not get to him via web (though I doubt he’d read my blog post). For one particular item I saw, I was mildly interested, so I ask “多少钱?“ “200 Yuan” is the answer. I widen my eyes and stare at him, “too expensive” I say. I name my maximum price as 10, he tells me I’m crazy, so I leave. He chases me down and says 20. I say no. I get it for 10. I have a lot more confidence in my haggling skills now.

I’m hoping to go back down to one particular market on Nanjing Rd. They sold some great items, like Mao’s little red book, lots of pretty chopsticks, tea-sets, jade, pearls, fans, and notebooks with Cultural Revolution Propaganda posters.

I began this post after Calligraphy today when Valerie called and wanted to go down to the Bund. It’s 10pm now and it’s like I’ve gone backwards in time, I’m still sitting, drinking the weird orange juice, typing up blog posts, and trying to get my episode of Glee to load enough to not stop 100x during a song.

All in all it’s been a good day. I hope to use even more Chinese tomorrow. I ought to study, that would improve my level of immersion most-likely. First I’ll go get my laundry, it should be dry now.

Day22 out of day 37. Signing off at 10:11 pm, 5/31, Shanghai, PRC.

Communicate

Today I went to the post office. I said two words from the time I left campus to the time I came back. I found the office on my own. I didn’t have to ask for directions. Sometimes people get frustrated with my limited vocabulary. Sometimes they don’t say anything at all. Which is fine by me I suppose. I wish I could have asked what the stamp he showed me when he took my letters was. I should have tried to ask. Instead I nodded. It said something in French, I suppose it meant air mail. He didn’t have me put stamps on them. . . . I guess he did that. I hope they get back home. Though, I’ll be home possibly before they get there. It’s alright I suppose.

It cost 24 块 to send. 6 per card. There are lots of kuais. The one for money literally means “chunk.” Another Kuai is for chopsticks, and another is for quickness. 快 块 筷。 Fast, Chunk, Chopstick. You have to pay attention to the details. The first kuai as a dot then a line then a dot and then the radical. 2 dots. One stroke. The second has 3 strokes. The third looks like the first but it has another radical on the top. 你不明白?Did you understand that?

You have to really focus. Sometimes instead of saying nothing to me, people say too much. They talk so fast, they have weird accents I’m not used to, they don’t understand my northern Chinese, southern American accent. It’s hard to put your whole mind into what they say.

Classes last 4 hours. I’m not even sure my teacher speaks English. It’s hard to focus that long on each word, to consciously translate it every time. I forget I am there. I wander off. . . .

I wonder if my post-cards will make it to the US. Communication back home is frustrating. Sometimes things don’t work like they should. Sometimes my internet shuts down, sometimes my vpn won’t work, sometimes it takes 2-3 weeks to send a letter.

I can’t believe people used to do this before phones and internet. I can use facebook during breaks in class (usually) via my iPhone. So many people whose travels I read did it all without anything but a letter, maybe not even that. I doubt Mary Slessor could mail letters from central Africa in the Jungle. I am not that brave.

In fact I am not very brave at all. Sometimes I wonder what I’m doing here. Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it. I get scared that I won’t learn enough, that the weeks won’t go by fast enough, that I’ll spend so much time worrying that I won’t learn enough, that I’ll spend too much money, and what about after I leave, will I forget everything I learned? Will I spend months more learning Chinese with no avail? I wonder why I am so blessed to do this? I’m scared that I’ll abuse the purpose. I wish I knew what God was doing sometimes.

Some days I’m pretty sure I’ve got it all together.

Other days I don’t think I can.

Those are hard days.

Days in need of faith.

My throat hurts and I don’t know whether I’m holding back tears or I have a cold.

谢谢呀。 The only words I said to the post man.

Looking at Poverty but Seeing People

I won’t say that I have seen a lot of poverty, but I am aware of it, I have seen it. The poor have always been close to my heart. The places I saw in Colombia were nearly unbearable situations, shanties made of found materials, entire peoples displaced by guerrilla warfare, 12 year old children taking on the financial burden of a family. . . it goes on. The people were stunning, they were brave, many of them had firm faith. I watched many smile. I was invited into homes with dirt floors filled with smiling faces. It was obvious who had hope and who did not.

The poverty in Shanghai is different from what I saw in Bogota. China has no middle class. There are the very rich and the very poor. On one block I may see a Ferrari and a fisherman gutting some sea creatures. Each street is different and obvious according to class, some even vary building to building. I thought I was prepared to see both rich and poor but some of the poverty has been entirely shocking and difficult to stomach.

I may have seen one or two people begging for money, Stephen and I were even approached one night outside Starbucks, a woman was in tears and needed some money. I’ve seen homeless, and suffering, and hurting. What I have seen in Shanghai does not compare to what I have seen previously. There is nothing to prepare you for the discomfort you face at seeing these people so frequently.

Begging is simply not uncommon. I have seen old men who are obviously disabled (one man only had one leg), their bones show, their clothes hang on them like rags. Everyone shuffles to avoid them. I was told enough foreigners would give them money. I Twice I have seen people on the Subway trains, they carry a sound system with a mic and sing depressing songs, one was preceded by a woman scooting on the ground, the other held the hand of a small child. I saw a man lying on the ground as if he was dead, another man was screaming out, no one looked up too much. I saw a man lying on the ground on his stomach, I passed him going to Nanjing Rd. I passed him coming back. 3 hours must have passed. He was dirty, his hair was mangled at best, I couldn’t see his face because he kept it towards the ground. He didn’t even seem human. . .

And my heart breaks as I say it. He didn’t even seem human. And how could he? Who treats him as a human? He was alone, lying on the street, and no one did anything. He’s not the only one. The others I mentioned, who sees them? I have fallen into the trap with the others. Like the Levite I cross on the other side. Everyone else is lowering their head, everyone else is saying someone else will give, everyone else is questioning their motives. Are they really as poor? Couldn’t they sell their mic and not beg professionally? I’ve said it myself.

One thing is for sure, a person who begs is poor of spirit. They have lost hope. How wretched would it be to not only be without food, shelter, clean water, but to have no communication with another living soul, because to those who are living, you are not even human.

It’s so uncomfortable to see that it is easier to lower your eyes, to say nothing to them–how could you fix it? What would you say? “I won’t talk to them” I tell myself, “what could I say?. . . My Chinese is so bad. . . . they wouldn’t understand.” I gave what I had to a man who trailed our group after we arrived in Suzhou. He was a lovely old man. I smiled at him, but said nothing. I think that is my biggest regret. I didn’t want to make a scene, I didn’t feel like I had the time to attempt to tell him something, or anything, even when there’s so much I could have communicated, even without words. He smiled back and told me thank you, and then I followed the rest of my group.

We took a bus to Hangzhou a little while later. I leaned back in my seat and began to study what was outside. There were fields dotted with shacks similar to what I had seen in Bogota. A few workers were out in the fields wearing their straw hats, harvesting brown stalks. Some fields were surrounded by concrete buildings that looked as if they could nearly fall in. Laundry hung outside the block windows. They looked like barracks but I think they were work units: or communes. Many times I had to search between trees or over the tops, straining my eyes to see the rural areas. They were hidden from our view, as if someone didn’t want us to see.

I began to think about that. To really pray about it. We ask all these pointless questions, how poor must someone be to be in poverty? How their wrong methods make them unworthy of help? What if they just buy drugs with what we give them? People don’t associate with this class, especially the beggars. Yet, Jesus himself was homeless. He knew what the religious scholars were talking about, but he associated himself, not only with them (whom may have been hypocrites), but the real dregs of society: the lepers, the prostitutes, the crippled. . .  the beggars. He encountered beggars, they were in all the public places. They were despised by the Jews “and the Jewish communities are forbidden to support them from the general charity fund (BB, 9a; Yoreh De`ah, 250, 3). But the spirit of the law is evinced again in that it is likewise forbidden to drive a beggar away without an alms (ha-Yadh ha- Chazaqah, in the place cited 7 7).” (http://www.biblestudytools.com/encyclopedias/isbe/beg-beggar-begging.html).

Jesus gave more than alms. We open our eyes to look at poverty. Jesus looks at poverty but sees people. We often remove ourselves from the situation emotionally, physically, spiritual. Jesus is present. I’ve heard some talk of Jesus’ eyes. I know they must be beautiful beyond measure. You can see his love in them. When he looks at someone he doesn’t lower his head and peer out avoiding eye-contact, I bet he looks deep within with such love and raw emotion and passion for whoever he sees. He associated with those who make the rest of us uncomfortable for the most part. He reminded they, themselves, that they were worth being looked at, being smiled to, being helped, being human… and to be human is to be made in the image of God, and he has made us worthy because of the price he paid for us. He has made us priceless. The outcasts are included. No one is turned away. His arms are open. Ours should be too.

Tomorrow when I’m out on the streets of Shanghai once more I desire to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and seeing people as he sees them, treating them how he would treat them, and loving them.

 

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