Doreen and Michael McFarlane at the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary in Jiangsu province. Xie Fang
In 2005, eager for a change, Michael McFarlane, 72, and his wife Doreen, 62, set off for China, a country they had never before visited. Now, the couple have made China their new home, working as visiting professors at the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary (NJUTS) in Jiangsu province. Michael teaches Western music, while Doreen specializes in Hebrew and the Old Testament.
Although Michael speaks just a little Mandarin and often has to communicate in sign language, he manages to sing in Chinese with his students.
"I think the only way people will learn to sing is by imitating sounds. In order to learn Chinese songs, I record them first, and then write them down in my own pinyin that sounds exactly as in English," he says.
The couple have been in Nanjing in East China for just two years, but have a wealth of experience that they are eager to share. Once professional classical singers, they performed on a round-the-world cruise that touched many countries except China.
Doreen went to a seminary in Chicago in 1987, and earned a PhD in Bible studies. A decade later, Michael was ordained into the ministry. They have served as pastors in local churches in Florida and Connecticut.
In 2005, Doreen made a phone call to the Global Mission Board asking if there were any opportunities to work overseas.
"When it was suggested that we go to China, I didn't know how to reply because I had never dreamed of working in China. I asked Michael and he said 'sure'."
Doreen visited the seminary in April that year, and then sold their property in the United States to come to China.
They both take three classes, lasting two hours each, every week. Doreen notes that there are differences between Chinese and American seminary students.
"Chinese students are quite young, usually under 30. They are selected after highly competitive examinations and are grateful to study at the seminary. They live on campus, and are very religious," says the mother of three.
"In America, my students can be anywhere from right out of college to people in their 60s and even 70s. Some live at home and have part-time jobs as they have children to raise. And they don't know the Bible as well as the Chinese students do, before entering a seminary."
She also points out that it is very difficult to get Chinese students to ask questions in class, as they are trained to respect others and not challenge their teachers and classmates. "I try to encourage them to think critically," she says.
Michael also faces some challenges in his music classes. "In the United States, choirs sing in four-part harmony, while Chinese ones often sing in unison, so it is sometimes hard to teach."
But this has not turned him off.
"If the students have a musical talent, it should be encouraged, along with their theological studies, to give them an extra skill to make them better pastors," he says.
The couple live on campus. In their spare time, they love to take a stroll to explore the city. They are fascinated with Chinese babies, who they think, are the most adorable children in the world.
"But surprisingly, only Western-style dolls are available in Chinese shops, this is something we cannot understand," Doreen says.
They also believe the Chinese are quite emotional, going by what they see on TV. Whichever channel they tune into, they always see people crying in the dramas, they say.
The couple love Chinese food, especially Michael, who used to worry about starving before he came to China. Once, he walked into a Chinese restaurant and told the waitress he wanted something without bones, fat or skin. The waitress appeared with a bowl of noodles. Noodles with soup is now his favorite Chinese food, says Michael.
(China Daily April 14, 2008)