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Thursday, March 13, 2014

God Can't Send Me To China

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I was hanging out with some of my students between classes, and one of them, Leo, was talking about how he had visited relatives and “sent” presents to his nieces and nephews. On hearing this, I highly suspected what he meant was he gave presents to them. This is a really common mistake for Chinese people studying English, probably because the verb 送 (sòng) doesn’t have an exact English equivalent.

So I asked the students, “Do you know the difference between ‘send’ and ‘give’?” No, they didn’t.

I handed my cell phone to Leo (it was the most readily available object) and said “I’m giving you my cell phone.”

Then I took the cell phone back, and walked to the opposite end of the room. “Raymond, can you come here?” I said, and Raymond, another student, came over to me. I handed my phone to him and said to give it to Leo. “Now I’m sending you my cell phone,” I said to Leo, from across the room.

After that exercise, I further explained that with “give” you should be right there together when they get the gift, but with “send” you are not together- maybe you mail it or you get another person to take it there.

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And then I realized, God can’t send me to China.

Long long ago, after my first trip to China, I prayed and prayed and prayed, “God, send me to China, send me to China.” (Because I thought I wasn’t allowed to go without a special invitation from God- we can discuss that in a different blog post.) But if we use the definition I gave my students, “God, send me to China” implies that God is not in China. He would be with me in America, and send me to another place where he is not.

Wow. Oops.

But wait, we believe God is everywhere, right? What does it mean for an omnipresent being to “send” someone somewhere? Normally when you “send” an object, it goes away from you. But surely that can never be the case with me and God. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 

Okay, what about if we use a company as an example. Big companies have branches all over the place, and sometimes they move their employees from one location to another. This is the closest thing we have to an omnipresent being sending someone somewhere.

Let’s say I worked for Microsoft, in New York City, maybe, and then they wanted me to move to the Beijing office. Yes, I would say, “Microsoft is sending me to Beijing.” But... Microsoft is also in Beijing.

Perhaps in this case we use “send” even though I’m not moving away from the one doing the sending.

Or maybe, the order for me to move to Beijing came from the headquarters of the company, in America. So I actually would be moving away from the one doing the sending.

Well what if I worked at the Beijing Microsoft and then they wanted me to come back to one of the US offices? Would I say, “Microsoft is sending me to the US?” Would I use the verb “send”? Maybe “moving me” or “bringing me” instead?

It’s a little bit unclear in this case. But usually, we use the word “send” when something is going away. And isn’t that how I pictured it, long ago, when I prayed for God to “send me to China”? 

Image source.

Maybe instead, I should say God invited me to China. God brought me to China. God introduced me to China.

Maybe instead of praying “God, send me to China,” I should have prayed, “God, I want to be with you in China.”

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