a blog for teachers who follow the Master Teacher
by Don Snow
On a typical day teaching my classes here in China, one might wonder if a gift of peace is really needed. At the beginning of class, I am usually greeted by a room full of smiling faces, and there is generally quite a bit of laughter and fun as we work on English in the class period that follows. Of course, not every student here is an angel–there are always a few who don’t do their assignments very conscientiously, aren’t so interested in learning English, or didn’t get enough sleep last night. But I virtually never encounter hostility, and don’t often encounter poor attitudes. So, on the whole, things already seem pretty peaceful.
But every once in awhile I am reminded of the many underlying tensions between China and the United States–my country and the country of which my students rather naturally take me as something of a representative and even an ambassador. Probably the most fertile source of such reminders is the news, with US news outlets often putting China in a rather bad light and Chinese media returning the favor. This happens most obviously and dramatically when a particular incident stirs things up, but these are merely the peaks that break the surface of the water, and there are a lot of less visible reefs that are only a few inches below the surface.
On a very different scale, another source of reminders comes from the daily life around me. I work in a very international institution where staff, teachers, and students from China, the US, and quite a variety of national and cultural backgrounds work together. On the whole things go quite well–which is a real source of joy for me. But there are always days when things go wrong even between well-intentioned people. Perhaps a Chinese staff member is reluctant to come right out and say something is a bad idea so just quietly puts off doing it, resulting in displeasure from an American colleague. And maybe the American colleague wants to be culturally sensitive, but assumes that “sensitive” means treating explicitly expressed desires generously, rather than being on the lookout for unspoken hints. In a situation where people are sometimes rather tired and/or stressed, small grievances can sometimes linger and have more impact than they really deserve, and this is particularly true in a setting where cultural differences often lead to misunderstandings.
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians of how Yahweh has committed to us a ministry of reconciliation, and how as His followers we are ambassadors. Sometimes to me the task feels like one of lubrication–helping people understand each other a little better, calming and caring for them, and occasionally taking a bit of the blame to defuse tense situations. It also often feels like weaving–encouraging people to continue reaching out across those national and cultural divides, gradually knitting a net of mutual understanding and caring relationships between whatever people I have the opportunity to know.
The thing about ambassadors is that they aren’t telegrams or tweets. Granted, they do convey messages, but they do so by being there in person–as the Master Teacher was with us–and everything they do either reinforces whatever messages they convey or detracts from those messages. Each day, as we go about those little tasks of lubricating and weaving, in a small way we plant and cultivate Yahweh’s gift of peace, and incarnate at least a bit of His hopes for the world.
Don Snow has an MA in English (TESOL) from Michigan State University, and a PhD in East Asian language and culture from Indiana University. He has taught language, culture, and linguistics for over two decades in various parts of China, as well as in the United States, and currently teaches at Duke Kunshan University. He is the author of several books, including More Than a Native Speaker (TESOL Publications).