Friday, May 20, 2011

Thoughts on Closing Qufu

Sometime in the last year, probably nine or ten months ago, a group of leaders sat in a meeting in Beijing and made the final decision close Qufu.

"Yes, we've been at Qufu for twenty-five years," I imagine them saying, "but what about the new vision?"

Ah, the vision.  

The organization made a definitive decision about two years ago to change momentum and start moving most teaching teams to urban locations.  My town?  Not so urban.  There are probably around 100,000 people but it feels small and it is small for China.  I've heard students call it "backward," which it's not, really, but it's certainly not "urban."

So there the leaders sat (in my imagination), butting their heads up against the vision for perhaps the hundredth time.  And they came to the conclusion that this campus and this city simply cannot fit into the new vision, no matter how much anyone wants them to.  I trust that these leaders know what they are doing, so I don't plan to debate whether they should have closed Qufu, but I wonder... If they were on the ground here, living this life and loving these people... could they have?  

I couldn't.  

This week I've enjoyed some especially warm times with people here.  Yesterday we had a potluck with some of the brothers and sisters from the student group.  We don't know them that well, but our time was filled with stories and laughter, and they were genuinely sad to hear that we are all four leaving in less than two months.  Tonight I had some senior students over for dinner, along with one of their mothers who is visiting from southern China.  I've been friends with these girls for almost two years; I love the long, relaxed conversations we have around the dinner table.  Another senior stopped by to tell me she's going home for good in a few days and she will miss me.  

I'm reminded of what a special place I've been privileged to live in these last two years.

It may have been organizational decisions that rolled down the line to close Qufu, but we are the ones snipping the heartstrings.  We four, with our collective seven years total in Qufu, are the ones with the bittersweet task of packing up twenty-five years of life on this campus.  We are the ones who will box up the English lending library and send it off to another school.  We are the ones who will walk out of our classrooms knowing that the quality of teaching from the foreign teaching staff will take a big hit with our organization's exit.  We are the ones who will pack up apartments that have been painstakingly furnished with years of trips to IKEA, suitcases from home, and packages from America.  We are the ones who will walk away from literally hundreds of students clamoring for our attention, our time, our help with oral English, and (of course) pictures with our foreign faces.  We are the ones who will walk away from promising opportunities to offer hope and real friendship to hurting and empty students.

In spite of my melodramatics, this change isn't a tragedy, and it isn't even necessarily bad -- it's just life.  I believe that God can take care of this campus without us.  We have been blessed to be here, but we are not irreplaceable, and I think there are many wonderful things to come for our students, our department, and our city.  As for me, I am not just walking away from precious people; I am going to another campus where my students, colleagues, and neighbors will be equally precious.  

But it's still sad.  There's no other word for it.


  1. Just throwing it out there. As someone who sits in many meetings where leaders at ELIC make tough decisions: it was hard for them too. Maybe not the same kind of hard. But definitely hard.

    And in case anyone ever doubted it - they are all amazing men and women who have huge hearts for the Father to lead the vision of every step of this organization.

    I know you know that, or at least guess it. I just wanted to affirm it.

    I'm excited you're staying in China. :)

  2. After spending a week in Qufu this year, I agree that the people there are fantastic. As a group, I think that they are the friendliest and most hospitable people that I have met anywhere. And they never stop smiling. I think you have had a great impact on them!

    Best wishes from us to all your students.

  3. I second the positive remarks about Qufu. China's major cities may be more prestigious, but when it comes to reaching students, and for teacher quality of life, they have nothing on Qufu.

    Sometimes organizations lose sight of Eccesiastes 7:18, "It is good that you grasp one thing and not let go of the other, for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them."

    So I know you can't say it, but I will state the obvious-- ELIC managing policies through the tunnelvision of a "new vision statement," and closing the established progam Qufu -- when there is progress being made and people willing to serve there-- is a travesty and an outrage!

    Nevertheless, I'm sure when you move your wigwam up to Rizhou, you will come to understand why you were called there.

  4. Thanks for the comments. The perspective I was trying to convey wasn't complaining about the decision to close Qufu, but just pointing out that the people who made the decision are naturally more removed from the process than we are. I would compare it to a general sitting in a board room making the decision to send more men to the front lines -- an easier decision to make than if he was physically on the ground and friends with all the people whose lives would be changed by that decision.

    I do think organizations need to have some vision by which they organize their people. China is big and we could never be everywhere, so we have to be in the places we can be most effective. It's true that Qufu is fertile soil right now, but also true that even our own students from here are flocking to the big cities for grad school. If we want to do long-term follow-up with new brothers and sisters, it's harder to do in a city they leave the minute the ink is dry on the diploma.

    So this post isn't a general comment on the decision to close Qufu but just a description of its specific effects on me, my teammates, our students, our department, and our friends.