A godchild's gift

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Publication: Canadian Mennonite
Author: Bender, Philip
Date published: May 14, 2012

One of our greatest joys in China has been acquiring several "godchildren," especially Kent.

Kent, 24, is in his sixth year of medical studies, and was Julie's oral English student at Chongqing Medical University in 2007.

An eager learner, Kent would sit in the front row and actively participate in class. He also organized the weekly campus "English corner," an event at which our students had the opportunity to practise their growing English language skills.

At Chinese New Year in 2008, Kent invited us to his family's rural Sichuan home. Just three months later, that home was destroyed in a devastating earthquake. He invited us to his family's new home for New Year celebrations in 2010, 2011 and again this past January.

As our relationship grew, Kent began signing his e-mails "godson." Then he started calling us "godmother" and "godfather." And he meant it.

In Chinese culture, godparents play a vital role. They model good character, mentor the growing child and are believed to bring good luck. According to Kent, godparents must be "rich in love, and maybe have good guanxi [connections]."

He said that most Chinese children have at least one godparent. He is already a godfather to a young boy in his village. Usually the child's parents choose the godparents, although in the past a respected person from the village might make the selection. In our case, Kent chose us. When we asked him why, he said, "Because you teach me good things." And then he added another reason: "I want to take care of you."

And he has. During Julie's recent sixweek convalescence from a fractured knee, Kent twice made the three-hour trip from Chongqing to Dazhou to check up on her. Her injury was of special interest to him because he is specializing in orthopedics. He relished poring over the X-rays, giving Julie advice, even phoning her local doctor with questions.

We've had many serious discussions with Kent, including about some of the ethical dilemmas he faces. As a doctor, he knows he will be pressured to make various compromises in order to manage in the Chinese medical system. Doctors are often expected to prescribe expensive, sometimes unnecessary, medications and tests for their patients, since hospitals rely on them for much of their income. But Kent wants to be a person of integrity and put his patients first.

Kent reminds us of the "god-fearers" in the New Testament, such as Cornelius in Acts 10, people formally outside of the faith community who were drawn to the Jewish synagogue and early church because of the moral values they observed among believers.

We feel humbled and honoured to have been chosen by Kent for this special role in his life. We also feel a responsibility to live up to his trust.

He has been God's gift to us.

Author affiliation:

Story and Photo by Philip Bender

Mennonite Church Canada

Philip and Julie Bender are Mennonite Church Canada Witness workers in China, where they teach English at the Sichuan University of Arts and Science and engage students in matters of the Christian faith.

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