Part III – Huo Chi? Is That You?

Posted by admin in June 22nd, 2009
Published in Uncategorized

Tuesday morning Pia had survived yet another night with me sleeping in the bunk above her. Thank God for little things. I was thrilled that I had my Aeroflot tickets in hand and was scheduled to leave Helsinki on Sunday, April 27, heading for Moscow and then on to Beijing. But Aimo strongly cautioned me not to get too excited as I still didn’t have my Chinese visa and that was, in his words, a very big hurdle.

Still, Aimo and Marianne were very happy to see how God had provided the ticket money through what they considered “virtual strangers.” I was just relieved that God was revealing His will to me through opened doors. Kinda like Eric Liddel said, “When I run I feel His good pleasure.” I was definitely in the “good pleasure” zone.

Aimo wanted to help me with the Chinese visa. “They won’t let you on that plane Sunday without a Chinese visa. We need to work on that right away.”

Aimo was the reluctant servant. The Big Brother in Christianity that does things by the Book; he was disciplined, cautious, obedient, practical, a tither, a great dad, a caring husband. He did the right thing even when it wasn’t always convenient. And somehow, Aimo had decided he liked me. Sure, it took a while, but against all of his better judgment, he had accepted me as his little sister and felt he needed to take me under his wing.

Fretting about the visa, Aimo said he would do what he could for me. So he drove me that morning to the Chinese Embassy in Helsinki and we went inside the dark, unkempt building together.

Aimo tried to explain my situation to the Chinese gal at the front desk, but the receptionist just wouldn’t budge. She was not interested in helping us in any way. (Gatekeepers with a tiny bit of power can sometimes behave in this way).

“Visa take two week minimum! No exception!” she was firm.

Aimo tried to explain to her that I didn’t have two weeks. You see, Aimo had instructed me in the car to keep quiet in the embassy and let him handle everything. After all, he was a Finnish Foreign Affairs officer. He had experience and some clout. He knew how to get things done in these types of situations. He was after all, a diplomat.

Aimo tried again, “You see, she leaves on Sunday so we need to ‘expedite’ this visa.” He smiled and decided to show her his official Finnish Foreign Affairs ID.

“Two week minimum! No exception!” she just kept repeating that phrase over and over and over again.

In the meantime, Aimo had picked up a visa application, stuck it on a provided clipboard, handed it to me and told me to go sit over in a corner and start filling it in. I obeyed.

Now he was trying to charm the woman, explain the situation yet again, reason with her and still, like a punch button recording, “Visa take two week minimum! No exception!”

There was a question on the visa application that I didn’t quite know for sure how to answer. I walked up to the desk where Aimo and the Gatekeeper were still going at it. I tried to be polite and gently interrupt, but they were in a gridlock. So, mostly for impact, but also to get her attention, I said in my best Mandarin Chinese, “Dui bu chi. Zhe shi she ma dong xi?” (i.e. Excuse me, Miss, but what is this on the application?)

The woman stopped talking, looked at me in surprise and asked me in Chinese, “You speak Mandarin?”

“A little” I replied in good modest Chinese form.

“How do you speak Chinese?” meaning, where did you learn it, how did you learn it, who are you?

“I lived in Changchun for two years,” I explained still speaking Chinese. “In fact Changchun is wo da di er gu shang.” (Changchun is my second home town). This is a very polite thing to say in Chinese.

“Really?” she said. “All of us that work in this office are from either Changchun or Harbin! We are all northerners, just like you! Wait a moment please miss. I want to get my chief.” And she left her little gate, uh, I mean desk and headed down a dark hallway to the back offices.

Aimo stood there staring at me. Stunned. As if I had just removed my head and was rolling it around the room. Disbelief actually.

“I didn’t know you spoke Chinese,” he said.

“Yup. I do,” I smiled.

In a few seconds the woman returned with an unusually friendly older man all dressed up in a navy blue Mao styled jacket and pants. He held out his hand long before he reached me and gave me a warm and a little too vigorous handshake. In Chinese he said, “Huo Chi! Is that you?”

Huo Chi is my Chinese name. I didn’t recognize this man, but it seemed he sure did recognize me. He was so glad to see me. He was so friendly.

“Yes!” I answered back in Mandarin. “It’s me!”

I had been an English instructor at the Changchun Geological College for two years. It was a great experience for me and I absolutely fell in love with my students there. I had built some very good relationships with them as many of my students were about my age. China had gone through a horrible time called The Cultural Revolution when education had shut down and the nation was almost destroyed by Mao Ze Deng’s insane and egotistical policies. With Mao’s death and Deng Xiao Ping’s new reforms, people were being allowed to go back to university and try to earn their degrees. As a result, my class was filled with non-traditional college students—people my age or older who were eager to forget the pain of the past and try to start again, fresh. It was an amazing time to be in China back then.

One of my students, a woman who became my best friend in China, was Xiao Li Li (I called her Lilly). The man shaking my arm off and almost teary-eyed before me was her elder brother Xiao Yu.

I had met him once at their mother’s house for dinner. But I wouldn’t have recognized him on the street. When I realized who he was I starting laughing. Then he started laughing. We laughed, we shook our heads, we slapped our knees in disbelief. As much as I hate that song at Disneyland, it really is a small world after all. The receptionist was stunned and she became a completely different person—warm and friendly and eager to enter in the conversation.

Xiao Yu asked, “What is your business here, Huo Chi? How can I help my good friend?”

“Well, Xiao Yu, I want to go back to my second hometown Changchun to visit my old friends there. I already have my plane ticket, but I have foolishly forgotten my visa. I am so embarrassed and ashamed. You see I leave on Sunday and now I don’t know what to do.” My language wasn’t the only thing Chinese about my statement. My manner, the demeaning of myself, these were traditional Chinese ways of showing humility and sincerity. I was letting Xiao Yu know I needed his help without asking for it directly.

“Let me see your application Huo Chi,” he asked and I handed him the clipboard with my partially finished document. “I’ll be right back,” he said. “Oh and I’ll need to see your passport.”

I gave it to him.

In about fifteen minutes my old Chinese friend walked out of his office with a visa so new and fresh that the ink was still wet on it. He actually warned me to let it dry before closing my passport. Oh, and the usual $25 fee? It was of course waived.

You should have heard Aimo telling the story that night before dinner. He went over the details again and again, each time embellishing it a little. Things always get better with age. At the dinner table we bowed our heads to ask a blessing over Marianne’s beautifully prepared meal. We took hands and as was their family tradition Aimo said the dinner blessing. We waited. Pia, Marianne and me. No words. Then a sniffle. Then a cleared throat. Then Aimo, his voice a little cracked with more emotion than a Finn is used to showing, said it so well, “Thank You Father…for everything. Amen.”

You see I don’t believe Corrie ten Boom was an extraordinary woman. I believe Corrie ten Boom was an ordinary woman in the hands of an Extraordinary God. I believe she was a woman who yielded her life and allowed God to work in and through her not because of who SHE was but because of Who HE is and was and will always be. God isn’t looking for the brightest or the best or the most talented or even people who have it all together. God is looking to and fro across the earth for men, women and children who are flawed with feet of clay and that make mistakes but who are willing to lift up imperfect and feeble hands toward the heavens as an act of surrender and say, “Here I am Lord. Please use me!” And God does. Because He loves using the foolish things of this world to confound the wise and the weak things of this world to confound the strong. In our weaknesses He always shows Himself strong.

With my visa and tickets in hand along with a fresh sense of God’s calling, I started preparing for my trip to Moscow. Little did I know that I would be heading into one of the worst disasters humankind has ever known.

Tomorrow Part IV – On to Moscow, April 27, 1986! Peace.

Part IV – Moscow: April 27, 1986

2 users Responded In This Post

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139. big sister said,
June 22nd, 2009 at 10:18 am

In the hands of our Extraordinary God, you, my sister, have accomplished extrarodinary acts that I could hear told over and over. The most amazing and awesome part of it is that the best is yet to come – this is only the beginning…

140. Laura said,
June 22nd, 2009 at 1:07 pm

Hi Teri!
You are such a wonderful story-teller! I love to hear your amazing accounts of God’s work in your life. I usually do a read-aloud time with our girls over lunch, and today I decided to read them Part I of this story. They can’t wait to hear the rest. 🙂

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