Searching for Significance – A Reflection on Conversations with Ayi

Lydia currently lives in West Lafayette, Indiana, where she and her husband, Nick, serve full-time with China Outreach Ministries, reaching Chinese international students at Purdue University. Lydia is a Wheatie for life (Wheaton College) and an enthusiast of Christian Classical education. In her spare time, Lydia enjoys being with kids (Nathaniel, Ethan, and Abigail in particular), doing calligraphy, teaching piano, running, and being active.

For more of this series check out: The Hostess with the Mostess – A Pre-Arrival Reflection and Adventure and Inconvenience – A Reflection One Week In.

It’s hard to realize that Ayi has been with us for one month already. As cliche as it sounds, the time has just flown by! Since my last post, a lot has happened. Our family went on a one-week vacation and we have started organizing August’s new student welcome activities. Another year begins, and the ebb and flow of college ministry continues.

I’ve realized that Ayi often assumes that our family’s views and values are representative of American culture as a whole. She has commented, “Oh, I think it’s great that all Americans can jar their own garden vegetables,” and “The American way of raising children is much better than the Chinese way!” I find myself often trying to make the distinction that not every American family is like our family and not every American has the opinions I have. More often than not the values Ayi notices are those that are distinctively Christian, not American. As she and I talk, we realize that American and Chinese modern society are similar, and it is the Christian worldview that is countercultural in both societies.

One afternoon Ayi and I were washing dishes. As usual, Ayi and I were chatting about everything under the sun. Somehow we ended up talking about marriage, divorce rates in America and China, and the like. Ayi shared a lot about her own views on marriage, the importance of being self-reliant, and some other trends among women her age. I’m not sure if being one of six sisters was formative, but many of Ayi’s ideas stem from the underlying idea that women need to be independent, proactive in protecting themselves, and free from relying on others.

A person’s worldview and personal life mandates are deeply influenced by the environment and circumstances surrounding her childhood. Ayi grew up in poverty during an era of Chinese history filled with social upheaval – the years of the Cultural Revolution. The overall morale of the culture was one of distrust, and people were focused on getting food into starving mouths. Perhaps it was during these years that she inherited a distrust of people. Or perhaps it was during this time that she experienced having to prove herself in order to be respected. Maybe this was when she developed a fear of betrayal. I have heard her say, “What if my husband finds me unattractive one day and leaves me? I have to work so that in case that happens, I can survive on my own.”

For Ayi, higher education was the chance out of hunger and poverty. Even today in China, education is the salvation for those stuck under the hand of poverty. She told me that when she and her husband got married, they couldn’t afford a bridal gown; instead, she went out to buy herself a new wedding sweater, and that is what she wore to her wedding at the department of justice. There was no party, no banquet, no wedding cake. Thus, Ayi and her husband started a new life together.

Having recently graduated, they started working, bringing in a meager salary and slowly working up the totem pole. Helping their parents financially was an important priority, so they lived frugally and gave money each month to their parents. Ayi has worked at the same company for thirty five years, has good standing with her boss, and will be taking retirement soon. She has the money to travel anywhere in the world, buy anything she wants, eat anything she wants, and pay for her daughter’s college education. Considering the conditions into which she was born, this is surely a huge accomplishment! She has definitely proven herself worthy of respect.

Having a daughter of her own, I can see how Ayi thinks it important to pass down the life lessons she has learned as a woman, teaching and equipping the next generation for success, security and significance. Ayi shared with me that she will always encourage M to pursue as much education as she wants. The more, the better. After all, the more educated you are, the more likely you are to find success, albeit, worldly success that is finite and temporal.

Judging from Ayi’s experience and sharing, perhaps security can be found in money; the more money you have the more secure you will be. With money, you can pay for medical treatment, go where you need to go, buy a comfortable house, etc. On the parental front, money can help with an aging parent’s needs and can give the next generation a solid education and comfortable lifestyle. According to Ayi, money can also earn you respect. When asked about her decision to continue working instead of becoming a stay-at-home mom when M was born, she said, “I thought that I should have a job so that I could have my own money and my husband could have his own money and we could spend it on our individual lives. Then he would also respect me more.” Though it may not be true that Ayi’s husband would not respect her if she didn’t have a salaried job, her own beliefs include an inherent fear that she wouldn’t be respected if she did not make money.

But how then can one attain significance in life? It seems that Ayi would encourage M to find significance through her career, working up to management one day and being needed by the company. “M shouldn’t get married too early. She needs to find a stable job first, become financially independent, get settled on her own, and then think about marriage.” If you are financially independent, you can also send money to your family and fulfill your filial duty, gaining significance in that way. My speculation is that to Ayi, a big part of a person’s significance is found through career accomplishments and being a loyal daughter.

Thus far self-preservation, self-reliance, and independence are secular values that have led to success, security, and significance for Ayi’s life. It is no wonder that these traits are ones that she deems most important to pass on to her daughter. Although these secular (American, Chinese, or any other country) values have led to temporal success, security, and significance for Ayi’s life, they are also just a human-centered response to the lies generated by the great deceiver. “You are not worthy.” “No one is trustworthy.” “No one will love you unless…” “Only you can save yourself, no one else cares.” For a Christian, preservation, reliance, and dependence on the self are redeemed and given new eternal meaning. My life is preserved by God, given worth just because I am fearfully and wonderfully made by the Creator of the Universe. I can rely on God wholeheartedly; relying on anything else leads to disappointment and pain. I depend on God because he is strong when I am weak. Christianity is a culture of its own; it redeems facets of all cultures that have been tainted with man’s self-serving desires.


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Let us pray that that Ayi realizes that a Christ-centered culture gets noticed because it is so different than anything within American or Chinese culture! May Ayi’s life be given new, eternal purpose, and mat her success, security, and significance be founded on the Rock of Ages, her Creator and her Abba, the Father who loves her.

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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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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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