Articles From the November 1995 Unification News


My Experience in Beijing

by Janine Jessop

What would the forum be like? As we approached in the plane, my mind was a maze of questions. Who would the participants be? Would they be militant feminists determined to destroy the family and suffering women from forgotten countries here to bring their causes before a world audience?

And what of our hosts? My concept of China was of a regimented and spiritually dry place where we would be met by unimpressed and unsmiling youth afraid to express spontaneous friendship and conversation in front of the watchful eyes of their superiors. All I could pray, as I have on many occasions when the way ahead was unclear, was "Let me be in your will, Heavenly Father. I am here for you to guide and inspire."

Not everything went smoothly in the beginning. As we had imagined, there would be logistical hiccoughs and delays in providing accommodations for tens of thousands of visitors. Our young Chinese hosts, however, were smiling and helpful. We soon discovered that these teenaged "volunteers" knew very little English, but their eyes shone with the freshness of youth and the excitement of seeing representatives of every race and color streaming into their country. For whatever purpose these young ones were chosen, the experience they would have would be something no government could control.

As the days progressed we did see militant feminists and we did see women hardened by their resentment and grievances. What surprised me however was that they appeared to be on the fringes of a vast number of open-hearted and hopeful women. Most had not come in an angry and confrontational mood, but with a desire for bridge-building and mutual empowerment. We had come with our own agendas, but in a setting where all our sisters' concerns were brought before us, there was a natural prioritizing of issues of concern. Few were self-absorbed, while many were there to represent others.

Because there was openness, we could listen, and when we could listen, we could learn. One group I participated in described their workshops as "open space" and deep emotions were expressed with tears. "I came because all of humanity was here," one woman expressed, and another: "How beautiful we all are." Some of us found ourselves dancing together, breaking through physical barriers to express celebration, honor, power and joy. Someone described that even in our muscles we carry the pain or burden of long-gone memories which can be released in music and movement.

Cultural differences in each group were welcomed as enrichment and spontaneous circles of conversation formed naturally throughout each day. I will not easily forget the two Iranian ladies who sat side-by- side, the first introducing herself as a Christian and her friend as a Muslim. They were friends who had come to offer their input on their common concerns about women, the family and world peace. In many cases, we were coming from different places politically, but there was a willingness to put aside our preconceived ideas for a time, to listen and redefine our old views if necessary.

Knowing the sacrifices necessary and the obstacles to be surmounted to make such a trip, each woman could respect the others' seriousness and focus. It was a life-changing experience for many, a necessity for some, in the process of finding a voice, offering talents or making a contribution. Our minds and hearts were stretched beyond our own organizations and nations to the whole spectrum of issues and countries represented in Huairou. It is always a great feeling to find yourself in the right place at the right time, meeting whom you need to meet, learning what you need to learn, and finding what you were seeking. Some attributed that spiritual feeling to the prayers offered for Beijing, others to a feeling of destiny that the time of women has come. We all came expecting a political battle, but to our surprise found that the spirit of God had arrived before us!

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