A Coconut Thanksgiving
Americans aren’t the only ones hitting walls with their Thanksgiving plans this year. Families from one small church in southern China took a drive through surrounding villages this week in search of a place to celebrate their own Thanksgiving together but faced some major opposition. Our friend Rhonda shares the details.
The kids were getting thirsty in the back of the car, so when Dad saw some coconut trees along the road, he saw this an opportunity not only to satiate the kids, but also to show off his cool new tree-climbing tools. After clumsily wiggling up the tree, he finally managed to saw off a branch holding three ripe coconuts.
As the fruit fell to the ground to the cheers of the children, we also heard a yell from behind us. A local man on a motorcycle had stopped and was angrily barking at us for stealing his coconuts. He made a phone call, and within minutes, a crowd of angry villagers had surrounded us, taking videos of us and screaming at us “thieves.” Soon the village leaders arrived, including the village chief, who asked us gruffly, “Why are you stealing from us again?”
We tried to explain that we hadn’t intended to steal anything, yet despite our pleas of innocence, they continued to harangue as thieves who had come deliberately to steal their crops, and this time with tools no less! Soon they got personal, cursing us as “Northerners”—foreigner invaders, essentially—and drumming up a chorus that “Winter is coming again!”
“You Northerners,” they screamed, “stealing again! Stealing our beans, stealing our vegetables, stealing our coconuts! Getting in your fancy cars to invade our villages and steal our crops!”
The more we tried to explain, the angrier they became. Clearly these poor people had experienced hard times in the past, wealthy visitors from Beijing and other northern cities coming down for vacation and stealing their livelihood without a second thought. With rising prices and lowering standards of living for the locals, their lives have only gotten worse in recent years, and today they found a vent to their emotions: Us!
With all the cameras surrounding us and the screams against our character, I initially felt anger bubbling up inside of me. Yet I knew who we were, God’s Church, and I knew that we had offended these people, even if unintentionally. I quieted my anger and I prayed silently, seeking God’s help to resolve this conflict according to His will.
During a pause in the screaming, I asked the village leader what they intended to do with us. After consulting with others for a moment, he told us, “You must pay us 400 yuan.” This is about $60 U.S., while the normal price for a single coconut is just 7 yuan, or $1.
I was initially shocked at this, but something clicked inside of me. “We want to give you 500 yuan,” I said. “We must give you 400 yuan for the coconuts that we stole from you, plus an extra 100 yuan to express our apologies. We are so sorry for invading your territory, and we apologize for offending you. It is true that we are outsiders, but we did not come here intending to steal from you. I hope you can forgive us and that you don’t hold this against us only because we are outsiders.”
The villagers began to calm down at this, and soon we found ourselves actually talking with them, no longer defending ourselves against them. In fact, as I began speaking with one of the village leaders, he asked if we could exchange WeChat information, because he would like to invite us back to his village, next time on better terms. He then admitted, “I charged you several hundred yuan for those coconuts, which I think it probably a little too much.” I told him the we were happy to pay.
The people eventually dispersed, and we got back in the cars to return home. As we drove, I reflected on the previous hour with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I still felt riled up, because I had never in my life been so scolded and humiliated as that, and it left a spot of grief in my heart. On the other hand, I realized that we really were at fault, taking coconuts from trees that weren’t ours, even if they didn’t appear to be part of anyone’s private land.
My heart is still swimming with these emotions of anger and guilt, yet as I reflect on it all, I can see that God had prepared grace for me through this unintentional “accident,” grace that helped us make friends with “enemies” and give us an open door for the Gospel in the future. I know that more “accidents” like this will happen in the future, so I just want to pray for God’s grace again and again to trump my anger with calm, and to turn my argumentative nature into one that seeks peace, even when it hurts.