Today, I flew with a group of new church pastors from Chicago to Shanghai — a 14.5-hour trip. We are in China for two weeks on a trip co-sponsored by New Church Ministries and Global Ministries to learn about Disciples’ heritage in China and about the unbelievable growth of the Christian Church in China — an average of two church starts every three days.

We are staying tonight at a nice little hotel right in the downtown of Shanghai. Shanghai is a mesmerising mix of gleaming new high-rises, miles and miles of apartment buildings (all with laundry lines stretched from the balconies), and then you turn the corner and it’s like stepping back in time. Little shops, street venders, and everywhere, EVERYWHERE people on bicycles.

The city is huge — 17 million people — and very crowded. And our little group stands out like … well, like Americans. But we are a great cross-section of Americans — black, white, Hatian, Hispanic, Korean, Puerto Rican, and even a couple of white-bread folks like me. Also a great representation of the new church movement among Disciples.

Tonight we took a walking tour of downtown Shanghai, heading for Nanjing Road — which is the place to be if you want to buy watches or roller skates or handbags or just about anything else.

Of course, you don’t really walk down Nanjing Road. You are swept along in the ever-flowing current of people. It’s like Times Square on steroids. Techno-music blasts from store fronts, smells of sesame and noodles and car exhaust mingle in the air, and the street is as bright as the noonday sun, even at 9 p.m. I’ve never seen so many neon lights.

And then, of course, there are the beggers. On every street, at every turn, women hold out paper cups. Usually, though, they are swept aside by the hawkers. We practiced a very useful Chinese phrase tonight — “boya.” It means, “No, I don’t need it.”

I’m exhausted and on overload, but I’m so excited to be here.

In the next two weeks we will travel from Shanhai to Nanjing to Heife to Chengdu to Xi’an to Beijing. We will meet with seminary professors and students, with local pastors, with people from the Amity Foundation, with government officials, and with some of our own Global Ministries personnel.

We hope to come home with a better understanding both of the Christian movement in China and of our own small place in its history.

For tonight and tomorrow, I have Internet. After that, I don’t know. But when I do, I’ll update you on what we are seeing and learning.