A Reunion in Coffeyville

With plans set to drive with my sister and mom to Wichita, Kansas for the weekend, I checked out my trusty Rand McNally Road Atlas, which I never go anywhere without, to see how far it would be to make a side trip over to Coffeyville, KS. For those of you who have read my book, you will remember that the first bell I found hanging in a church in China has an inscription saying that it was cast for the First Baptist Church in Coffeyville, KS. I figured if it was close enough, we could make a slight detour on our weekend road trip so I could give the pastor a copy of my book.

While not particularly close, it seemed doable. So, on Thursday night I sent a message to the church via their Facebook page, introducing myself and saying that I had information on their old bell. I asked if the pastor would be at their Sunday night service and if so, I’d like to visit and give him a book.

On Friday morning, the pastor wrote back that yes, he would be at the Sunday evening service, and not only could I give him a book; he wanted to turn his time over to me so I could share the story with the congregation.

And so it was that on Sunday evening, I (along with my sister, mom, and a friend who drove over from Arkansas) had the privilege of facilitating a sweet reunion; not between relatives or long lost friends, but between a church family and its history.

Since the bell had been shipped to China in 1911, it was a piece of history that had been lost to them. They have a photo of the old church in which the bell had been, as well as the cornerstone of the church, but they knew nothing about the bell or its new life in China.

When I showed them the photo of the bell and read the inscription, “Presented to the First Baptist Church of Coffeyville, Kansas by W.S. Upham, Praise Ye the Lord,” there were audible gasps and not a few tears. I told them that the story of their bell is also a story of God’s faithfulness to the church in China and to their church. They were excited to hear of what God is doing in China and to realize that this bell connects them to that work in a way that had been unknown to them.

After the service, we all gathered for a photo in front of the picture of their bell. Then we lingered as they showed me various historical artifacts from their church: an old photograph of the first church building, erected in 1886 (the bell’s original home); the cornerstone from the 1907 church building; an old photograph of Mrs. Upham.

As we said good-bye to our new friends, they were already making plans to reinstitute the ringing of their church bell on Sunday mornings.

To Pastor Dean and the people of the First Baptist Church in Coffeyville, KS, I say thank you. Thanks for welcoming this crazy lady from Minnesota into your home to tell you “an old, old story.” Thanks for an evening of sweet fellowship; it was a taste of heaven. But most of all, thanks for sending your bell to China, where it continues to herald the preaching of the Gospel on Sunday mornings in Yibin, Sichuan Province!

First Baptist Church, Coffeyville, KS 1886

The first church building, erected in 1886, the same year the bell was cast. Perhaps it is in this photo, unseen.

Emma Upham, the wife of W.S. Upham, who donated the bell to the church in 1886.

Related Posts:

A Tale of Two Bells

1907 – The Bell Begins Its Journey 

Mr. Upham and the Bell


Who Was Liu Xiaobo?

You may have seen on the news on Thursday that imprisoned Chinese dissident and Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo passed away from liver cancer in a hospital in northeast China. He had been sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009 for his part in the writing of “Charter 08,” a document calling for political reform in China.

In case you are wondering who he is and the significance of his life and work, I recommend reading these two articles, both in the New York Review of Books:

The Passion of Liu Xiaobo, by Perry Link

After his release from Qincheng Prison in 1991, Liu was banned from publishing in China and fired from his teaching post at Beijing Normal University—even though students there had always loved his lectures. He began to support himself by writing for magazines in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and overseas. The rise of the Internet in China in the early 2000s gave a huge boost to circulation of his essays, not only outside China but inside, too, as overseas friends found ways to skirt the government’s Great Firewall and send them back into China. Before 1989, his essays had been mostly on contemporary Chinese literature, but now he addressed topics in history, politics, and society, revealing a rich erudition.

China’s ‘Fault Lines’: Yu Jie on His New Biography of Liu Xiaobo, by Ian Johnson

In 2003, Yu converted to Christianity and increasingly complemented his provocative writing with political activism of his own. He was an early signer of Charter 08, the landmark human rights manifesto, and in 2010 cemented his position as a leading political critic by writing a biography of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in which he refers to his subject as “China’s best actor.” Last year, Yu completed a rough draft of his biography of Liu Xiaobo, who is now serving an eleven-year prison sentence. Authorities warned Yu that he too would be jailed if the book was published and put him under house arrest for several months. In January, he fled China with his wife and son for the United States, where he now resides.

I spoke to Mr. Yu at a church in the Washington area.

It is a sad day for China.

Recommended Reading: Non-fiction

I recently saw someone on Twitter ask for non-fiction book recommendations. I promptly made a list of some of my favorite non-fiction books; however, since I’m generally hesitant to jump into Twitter conversations, I decided to share my list here.
Bottom line: I love reading non-fiction, and as you will see from this list, I gravitate towards history and travel writing!
So if you’re looking for some non-fiction books to read, why not consider one (or all) of these. They are in no particular order other than the order in which they popped into my mind! And keep in mind that there are just a few of my favorites.
Balkan Ghosts A Journey Through History
Part travel writing, part historical-political analysis, this book takes a look at the Balkan states in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union.

Earning the Rockies: How Geography Shapes America's Role in the World

Learn why it matters that so many of our major river systems flow diagonally across the continent! Note: if you like geo-political analysis, read anything by Kaplan. As you can tell, I am a big fan!

Shantung Compound: The Story of Men and Women Under Pressure

In 1943 the author, along with most other foreigners in northern China (including Beijing and Tianjin) were rounded up by the Japanese and sent to a prison camp in Shandong Province (Shantung). The guards, in essence, said to the prisoners: “we will manage the walls and gates, but you have to organize yourselves into a functioning society.” It should be required reading as a history textbook, and political science textbook, a sociology textbook, and anthropology text book, and a psychology textbook.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration

This book recounts the story of the migration of African-Americans from the south to the north between 1915 and 1970, as told from the perspective of 3 different families. How is it possible that this wasn’t taught in school? I hope it is now.

Thunder out of China, by Theadore White

Thunder out of China

Teddy White reports from China during the Civil War (1940’s), during the time the Communists and Nationalists had formed a tenuous alliance to fight off the Japanese. The first time I read this book I was living in the Chinese city of Zhengzhou, so was particularly gripped by his vivid description of a famine that had taken place there in the 1940’s.

China Road: A Journey into the Future of a Rising Power, by Rob Gifford

China Road: A Journey into the Future of a Rising Power

NPR Correspondent  Rob Gifford hitch-hiked across China from Shanghai to the border with Kazakhstan, talking to people along the way. The stories he tells reveal some serious social, economic, and political fault lines. Even though the book is now more than ten years old, the fault lines are all still present, and perhaps in even more danger of slipping.  You can read my review of this book here.

Freedom at Midnight, by Larry Collins and Dominque Lapierre

Freedom at Midnight

In August of 1947, the Union Jack was lowered in British India. But rather than leave behind an independent India, a line was drawn on the map and two new independent nations were created: India (predominately Hindu) and Pakistan (predominately Muslim). As the day of independence approached Hindus and Muslims on the “wrong” side of the new border tried to get to there “right” side. The bloodshed was horrific.

Nicholas and Alexandra, by Robert K. Massie

Nicholas and Alexandra

This is the story of the last Romanov Czar of Russia and his family. Since we know how the story ends, it’s like watching a slow-motion train wreck.

In Xanadu: A Quest, by Willam Dalrymple

In Xanadu: A Quest

Dalrymple hitch-hiked from Jerusalem to Xanadu, Kublai Khan’s ancient capital (near Duolun, Inner Mongolia) in the 1980’s. This book inspired my own quest to find the city. You can read about that here.

Tent Life in Siberia: An Incredible Account of Siberian Adventure, Travel, and Survival, by George Kennan

Tent Life in Siberia: An Incredible Account of Siberian Adventure, Travel, and Survival

Imagine it is 1865 and you have been dropped off on the frozen coastline of the Kamchatka Peninsula on the east coast of Siberia. Your mission: find a route across Russia to string a telephone line. And you live to tell about it. One of my all time favorite books, hand’s down!


Best Reads of 2011

Books: The Last Five and the Next Five

Four Days, Four Books

My Favorite China History Books

Shanghai Books

Road Trip Reading List

Road Trip Reading


Independence Day Viewing

Today is Independence Day in the United States, sometimes known simply as “The Fourth of July,” or simply “The Fourth.” With apologies to my British readers (not really), it is the day we commemorate telling the King of England to “scram!” Or, as the Chinese might say, “Liberation!”

american flags

I know that most July Fourth activities are best done outside — grilling, picnicking, boating, blowing things up — but if you should find your celebrations rained out and are looking for something to do inside, I’d like to recommend this fantastic PBS series called Liberty! The American Revolution. Here’s the blurb:

LIBERTY! The American Revolution is a dramatic documentary about the birth of the American Republic and the struggle of a loosely connected group of states to become a nation. The George Foster Peabody award-winning series brings the people, events, and ideas of the revolution to life through dramatic reenactments performed by a distinguished cast. LIBERTY! is hosted by ABC news anchor Forrest Sawyer and narrated by Edward Herrmann.

Liberty! The American Revolution

On July 3, John Adams, who of course features prominently in the documentary, wrote to his wife Abigail describing his thoughts and emotions following the Continental Congress’ approval of the resolution calling for independence from Great Britain the day before:

The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.—I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more. (source: Founders Online, National Archives)

May you have a wonderful day of Pomp, Parades, Shows, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires ,and Illuminations.

Related Posts:

8 Things I Love About the USA

Honoring a Family Hero on Memorial Day

All the Tea in China

Last week, the Boston Globe’s photography platform The Big Picture featured a collection of photos highlighting tea culture and production in China. Here’s the description:

According to a legend, tea was first discovered by the legendary Chinese emperor Shennong in 2737 BC. Today, China is the world’s biggest tea producer, selling many varieties of tea leaves such as green tea, black tea, oolong tea, white tea and yellow tea. It is the most highly consumed beverage in the world. China still boasts many teahouses, particularly in cities with a strong teahouse culture such as Hangzhou, Suzhou, and Chengdu. Different regions are famous for growing different types of tea. Hangzhou is famous for producing a type of green tea called Longjing or the Dragon Well tea. Tea tastes also vary regionally. Drinkers in Beijing tend to prefer jasmine tea while in Shanghai prefer green tea. Processing raw tea leaves for consumption is a time and labor-intensive activity and still done by hand in many areas in China. The Chinese tea industry employs around 80 million people as farmers, pickers and sales people. Tea pickers tend to be seasonal workers who migrate from all parts of the country during harvest time. The pickers work from early morning until evening for an average wage of around 120 RMB (around 16 euros) a day. Tea can be sold from around 80 RMB (around 11 euros) to over 4,000 RMB (around 525 euro) per kilogram. In 2016, China produced 2.43 million tons of tea. Chinese people believe that the practice of brewing and drinking tea can bring the spirit and wisdom of human beings to a higher level.

And here’s just ONE of the numerous photos:

You can check out all the great photos here.

If you’re a tea lover, and interested in the history of tea in China, I highly recommend the China History Podcast 10-part series, The History of Tea. You can find links to all 10 podcasts on this page (start at the bottom).

Related Posts:

Stealing Tea and Saving Face

Sipping Tea from a Magazine

Tea and Games

Cultural Revolution Tea

Image credit: The Boston Globe