Lost and Love on The Way Home

Ryan moved to the United States from Guangzhou, China at the age of twelve, and has lived in three U.S. cities and two different continents since then. Ryan received his Master of Divinity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is currently serving as a church planting resident at New City Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, OH, his US hometown. Before moving to Boston for seminary, Ryan lived in Washington D.C. for seven years, first as a student at Georgetown University and later working for a law firm. It was during his time in D.C. that Ryan met his wife, Abigail, who shares his love for history and classical music. In his free time, Ryan likes to watch Chinese dramas, cook, swim, and listen to Beethoven.

Christmas in America always reminds me of Chinese Spring Festival – more commonly known as Chinese New Year – because it is the closest equivalent to the Chinese holiday. One of the biggest events in Chinese television every year is the Spring Festival Gala on Chinese Central Television. The 4-hour long variety show leading up to the new year’s countdown features the best artists from all across the country, performing in comedy skits, songs, magic tricks, dances, and much more. The show takes months of planning, and many artists practice for decades for only a few minutes on that stage.  Even though its popularity has declined a little bit in the past few years, I believe it is still the most eclectic demonstration of Chinese culture and talents in a single evening. 

Fortunately for us, if you are curious to know what the Spring Festival Gala looks like, you can easily find recordings of recent years’ shows on YouTube. On New Year’s Day in 2015, as I was catching up on highlights of the gala from the previous evening, I was delighted to see my favorite artist, Andy Lau, singing “The Way Home,” the theme song for that year’s Spring Festival. Its chorus is goes somewhat like this:

Go home Happiness, 

Happiness is embracing you, mother and father;

Speak your long-awaited words, 

Until the light grows dim in the corner. 

Go home Loneliness, 

Loneliness is still waiting for comfort; 

Remove the multiple layers of costumes from your body, 

Dispel the fog in your heart.


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Each year over 200 million people in China leave their homes to seek work or schooling in a different city. That is roughly one in every six people in China (or for perspective, two-third’s of the total U.S. population).  Most of them are only able to visit their families once a year during the Chinese New Year holiday. For a civilization that prizes family as a core value, these year-long separations are painful. Perhaps this is why many people in the audience began to tear up as the song resonated in their hearts.

I later found out that “The Way Home” was also the theme song of a heart-wrenching film titled Lost and Love (失孤). The irony is, Lost and Love is not a film about someone on his way home; rather, it is about a dad who has been on the road away from home for fifteen years.

Lost and Love is a story about a poor farmer from Anhui province on a journey to search for his stolen son. One large group of people who are unable to return home are children who have been abducted from their families. According to some reports, more than 200,000 children are kidnapped and sold in China each year. Unlike most trafficking, many of these children are not sold into sexual exploitation or for labor, but are victims of “forced adoptions.” Forced adoptees are stolen far away from their homes – usually from poor families in rural villages – and taken to the other places to be sold. Upper-middle class families, who are dissatisfied with having only one child under China’s one-child policy, purchase these stolen children and “adopt” them (usually boys) into their families. Even though these forced adoptees may end up in families who are wealthier than the ones they were born into, and grow up with good education and a loving home life, they are invisible to society because without their original birth certificates they are unable to obtain a government issued ID. Without this mandatory ID, they are not able to purchase plane tickets, ride in trains, attend public schools, or work legally. Of course, all of these inconveniences still pale in comparison to the pain of being stolen from their biological parents at a very young age. 

At the opening of Lost and Love, the farmer Lei Ze Kuan has been on the road for fifteen years, searching for a son who was stolen when he was only two years old. He travels across China on the back of a motorcycle. On the two sides of the motorcycle, Lei flies two large banners displaying a picture of his son and a brief description of his family’s story. Of course, after fifteen years, Lei’s son no longer looks like the toddler on his motorcycle banner, and no one he meets knows whether he is still alive. It is unclear from the film how many miles Lei has traveled on his motorcycle, but from the dirt on his clothes and the grayness on his brows, we can see Lei is tired to the bone. 

His quest is met with both sympathy and coolness. In one scene, Lei passes out fliers at a public concert, which almost immediately find their way to the ground. In order to save on printing costs, Lei goes around after the concert to pick them back up. In another scene, Lei is informed by an online network that his son may be in a fishing village. Lei drives for days to the village and finds a teenage boy who was adopted at a very young age. As Lei tries to look at the boy’s foot to verify a scar on his son’s foot, people in the village gather around Lei and beat him to the ground. When he is finally left alone, he realizes his motorcycle has been tossed into the ocean and the photo banners have been carried away by the sea.

But Lei also finds help in some unexpected places. One time Lei is pulled over by two gruff police officers for driving his motorcycle on the highway. Lei immediately apologizes profusely.  After pointing out to him that he is on the wrong road, one of the officers takes Lei’s map to point him in the right direction. He folds the map and hands it back to Lei, and they go their separate ways. A little while later, as Lei pulls out the map he discovers two hundred-dollar bills hidden inside.  

I encourage you to watch the film to find out how it ends. Besides featuring my favorite Chinese actor, the film also displays some of China’s most beautiful scenery. But the best part of this story, and the most moving aspect, is that it is true. The real-life protagonist is a poor farmer named Guo Gangtang from Shandong Province. He has been in search of his son for over eighteen years. Although he is still looking for his own child, Guo has created multiple platforms and networks that help many families reunite with their own loved ones.

We may not identify with their experiences, but stories like these still resonate with us because you and I both know we long for unconditional love like this. Regardless of what we have done, how long we have been missing, or whether we are still recognizable, we want someone who will love us enough to search for us when we are lost. 

The Advent season reminds us every year that this story is true for us, too. Advent tells the story of a people who are lost and yet still loved, and a God who came to search for us at all costs. His wandering is our hope; his coming is our way home. 

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Further Reading

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Nanjing: Love Under Pressure
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Why Should I Love My Enemies?: Give Up Revenge, Love Enemies
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Nanjing: Bringing the Gospel Into Life
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LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

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ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

About Shenyang

Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

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Stories from Shenyang

About Qingdao

Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

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About Xiamen

Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

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About Chongqing

Chongqing is a city located in southwestern China and is a major economic center in the region. The city is known for its spicy cuisine, especially its hot pot dishes, and is also famous for the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. Chongqing is also home to several historic sites, including the Dazu Rock Carvings, which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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About Nanjing

Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

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About Changchun

Changchun is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Jilin Province. It is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to several historical landmarks such as the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Changchun is also a hub for China’s automotive industry, with several major automobile manufacturers having their headquarters in the city.

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About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

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About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

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About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.

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About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

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About Beijing

Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 21 million people. The city has a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it has served as the capital of various dynasties throughout China’s history. Beijing is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The city is also a hub for political, cultural, and educational activities, with numerous universities and research institutions located within its boundaries. Beijing is renowned for its traditional architecture, rich cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for travelers to China.

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About Shanghai

Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.

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