The growing tension in Xinjiang, between the Han Chinese and the local Uighur people – a Muslim people of Turkic descent – has broken into widening violence. Stories from Urumqi, the capital of this western province of China, report protests by both ethnic groups, resulting in riots with over 150 deaths.
The Uighurs fear the loss of their status and culture under massive inbound Han migration, which has made Urumqi an overwhelmingly Han city in Xinjiang. And the Chinese believe the province to be an integral part of China from imperial times. The conflict has been compared with the violence in Tibet that occurred in the spring of 2008.
Last year, I made my third visit to the region. I've walked the streets and bazaars of Urumqi, Kashgar, and other towns in Xinjiang. I was able to visit the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar – one of the largest in China – when prayers were not in session, and found it to be one of the most peaceful places in that bustling country.
Loving the province and its people, I felt drawn to pray in support of peace in the area. I'm struck by the desire of both sides for respect – the Uighur desire for respect for their culture, especially their religion; the Chinese desire for international respect for China and Chinese culture.
I immediately thought of what Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, wrote in her spiritual interpretation of the Lord's Prayer. For the statement, "Give us this day our daily bread," she wrote, "Give us grace for to-day; feed the famished affections" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 17 ).
One definition of "affection" is "a settled good-will." It is obvious that people are famished for "settled good-will" in Urumqi, Kashgar, and other towns of Xinjiang Province.
A subsequent definition of "affection" was also helpful: "Desire; inclination; propensity; good or evil; as, virtuous or vile affections." The Daily Prayer, written by Mary Baker Eddy, reads, in part: "may Thy Word enrich the affections of all mankind, and govern them!" ("Manual of The Mother Church," p. 41).
I have witnessed the change of hardened hearts, through what I believe to be the very enrichment of affections this prayer describes. On an earlier trip through Tibet, I traveled with a Chinese friend of many years, a member of the Chinese Communist Party, and a Tibetan acquaintance, who had deep commitments to the Tibetan cause.
My Chinese friend looked down on Tibetans as a superstitious and backward people. At the same time, my Tibetan friend was so angry with the Chinese that he refused to speak Mandarin, insisting on only Tibetan or English. I realized that the success of my visit to Tibet was dependent on both of my friends. It was natural for me to embrace both Chinese and Tibetan in "all mankind" as I prayed daily for the Word of God to enrich goodwill toward one another and to govern our every action.
During the trip, the two conversed in Mandarin. While it appeared they were arguing with great fervor, my Chinese friend admitted to me in confidence how enjoyable their conversations were, and how complex the Tibetan situation was. And the Tibetan confided that my Chinese friend asked insightful questions and revealed a sincere appreciation for the situation in Tibet.
On a subsequent visit, I found that their friendship was continuing. It was melting the Tibetan's animosity toward the Chinese people and nurturing my Chinese friend's respect for the Tibetan people and their culture.
According to Mrs. Eddy, "The human affections need to be changed from self to benevolence and love for God and man; changed to having but one God and loving Him supremely, and helping our brother man" ("Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896," p. 50). As the friendship between my Chinese and Tibetan friends developed, I felt I witnessed growth in their mutual and settled goodwill.
The protests, riots, and ensuing violence in Xinjiang are evidence of famished affections hungering for "daily bread" – for mutual respect and settled goodwill. Our daily prayer can include this region with a growing understanding that God's Word does indeed enrich the affections – the desires, inclinations, and propensities – of all mankind for benevolence and love. And we can expect our prayers to make a difference.