I spent most of the past week in a foreign city. I was told it was the original capital of China. I am not sure when it gained that status or why it lost. What I knew for sure was that I was a stranger in this land.
There were several indicators.
The most obvious indicator was language. Everything was in Mandarin. Even when a store had a sign in English, it was no indication that anyone spoke or understood English inside. Drivers, doormen, and others that you thought would know a few English words, did not.
There was a new side to the city as well as an old one. The old one was the former capital. I was in the new one. While everyone talked about culture, food, and historical context, it was someplace other than where I was. The two cities are more than 25 miles from each other. I am sure there is a way to know which Tianjin someone was speaking about however I never discovered what it was.
One had a feeling that you were a long ways from anywhere. The airport and Beijing are a two-hour drive, without traffic. In between I did not see much if anything. The land seemed to be farmland that has lost its attractiveness. There were a few signs along the way indicating city exits; only one could not see a city between the highway and the horizon.
The experience of a city that has more infrastructure than people is strangely unnerving. I realized that I love people and communities that are inclusive. I love being a place where I understand the language, I can find my way, and I understand where I am. The idea that God could be in such a place is compelling. Imagine David’s words alive – “All the power-mongers are before him – worshiping! All the poor and powerless, too – worshiping! Along with those who never got it together – worshiping!” (Psalm 22.29)
As opposite as the city was, the people in Tianjin were warm, friendly, and welcoming.