Receiving Yang Xu’s invitation to a Friday evening meal in mid-February brought a smile to my face. As I noticed during my occasional visits to that part of China, Yang Xu was again showing the confidence to reach out to various people as he announced that he would be hosting a meal at a restaurant near his home.
Since his birth in the mid-1980s, Yang Xu has lived with severe cerebral palsy. About 15 years ago he met one of the religious sisters from the newly established rehabilitation centre close to his home in the town of Gaoyi in Hebei province. This eventually led to an invitation to visit their centre. Gradually the sisters taught him how to use a computer, a short stick held in one hand allowing him to use the keyboard.
The recent invitation to a meal was greeted with appreciation by all who received it. From previous experience, we all understood that we would be the guests. Yang Xu would be the host. As on previous occasions, he would choose the restaurant. Anticipation grew as we wondered where he would take us this time. He arrived at the rehabilitation centre and following some initial conversation, he led us to the restaurant.
The food was ordered, conversations began and stories were told. As we ate, we recalled the ways in which each of us had come to know Yang Xu, he delighting in the stories and the laughter, each story being affirmed by someone as being part of God’s plan for us all.
As someone helped Yang Xu with his food and as he drank with the aid of a straw, his long journey to baptism was also recalled. In a setting where his family had no previous experience of Church, patience was needed each step of the way. Initial questions were asked by his parents as to why the religious sisters were becoming friendly with him. As Yang Xu began to attend Sunday Mass at the local church, bigger questions were asked when he expressed a desire to be baptised. Three years of patient waiting eventually led to a softening of their position, leading to the day when they were willing to accept that Yang Xu would become a Catholic at the 2019 Easter celebration.
As we enjoyed our lively Friday evening meal, I sat back and admired how culture and faith seemed to be combined in so many ways. The centuries-old Chinese tradition of celebrating with good food was once again meeting with discussions about God’s mysterious ways in our lives. In churches we gather regularly to celebrate the Eucharist, a time to be nourished by God’s word and the spiritual food prepared on the table of the Lord. With China’s pandemic restrictions recently put aside, and with Yang Xu once again able to invite his friends to a meal, perhaps we were witnesses on that night to how God finds many ways to nourish those who gather at the same table.