Thursday, October 26, 2006

A Ray of Light

After lunch one day, we had a few hours to explore the city before a meeting that evening. I took Casey, Evan, Katy and Brad by a few outdoors shops I had found last year. Brad and Casey both bought shirts for $8 US, and after they had gotten their fix, we had to decide our next course of action. Brad and Katy returned to the hotel, but the rest of us maximized our down time by exploring the city. I had spent less than 24 hours in JH last year, and this was my chance to get a feel for the city.

From the "Forest Explore Shop," Evan, Casey and I headed to the east side of the city, where a relatively new suspension bridge stretches over the Mekong river. The brown water flowed through the wide channel in a swift current, and the valley stretched into the horizon, lined on either side by green mountains peeking through the low-floating clouds. We could see where the city ended on the north and south sides and where it spilled over to the other side of the bridge. I wondered if this was still JH proper, or if this suburb of sorts had another name.

We stopped about halfway across and spent a little while admiring the scenery, joking about how sometime on this trip, we should go "brownwater rafting." Foot traffic on the bridge was heavy, mostly with dark-skinned, non-Han-looking (minority) people. It was almost dusk; the ones moving east must be returning home from a day's work. The one's moving west toward town might be going in to do some shopping or enjoy the vibrant nightlife.

We remembered our hosts mentioning an old Christian church standing strong on this side of the city. Looking from the north side of the bridge back toward town, we looked for any semblance of a steeple. A cross stuck up in between some buildings, and despite its crimson color, we knew it didn't signify the presence of a hospital. Darkness was beginning to descend on the town and pull the curtain on our beautiful scenery, so we decided to use our remaining 30 minutes to find a ray of light: the church.

Back on land, we ducked northward down a narrow street, guessing at where the church could be. The steeple was no longer visible, so the plain, computer-drawn map given to us was our only guide. We found an outdoor carnival where vendors had set up grills and were preparing to cook dinner. Evan found a game where for one yuan you could shoot plastic BBs at balloons taped to a wall.

After this quick diversion, we maneuvered around some condos toward the bank of river, hoping to use it as a point of reference. The looks we got from people indicated that we were off the beaten path for tourists. From the bank we got some great views of the bridge, which turns into a neon light show at dusk. Turning back toward town, we saw the same cross we had seen from the bridge, this time a lot closer but still inaccessible because of fences and buildings blocking our path.

With five minutes to spare before we needed to find a taxi, we saw an alcove with crosses on it and figured it must lead to the church. Under the alcove, down an alley and through a gate, we made it into the church's courtyard. Through a glassless window we saw a group of believers, mostly women, meeting in a one-room sanctuary. A single, uncovered lightbulb cast a bluish glow in the room, illuminating a scene that encouraged us greatly. The woman standing at front held a Bible in her hands and she seemed to be reading from it. We wanted to stay and listen, but we didn't want get the others worried.

We left unnoticed, thanking God that these dear brothers and sisters were here, paving the way for those that will pray later for them and their country, doing their best to shine a small ray of light into the darkness that has fallen on their city.

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