Professor reflects on years in China

“I was walking up the mountain and I remember a donkey carrying my stuff, thinking where are they going to put us?” said Aminta Arrington, professor of intercultural studies.

Arrington just moved back to the States with her family after dissertation fieldwork with a small minority group in Southwest China to begin her new job here at John Brown University.

Arrington has spent the last eight years with her family in China and is a few weeks away from receiving her PhD from Biola University.

Arrington is the mother of five kids alongside her husband Chris. She explained that being in Siloam Springs is the first time her three youngest children have experienced American schools and English as their primary language.

For the last eight years Arrington spent her time working for Chinese universities in Tai’an (Shandong Province) and Beijing teaching English and other subjects. During her last year in China Arrington began working and doing research, all done in Chinese, for her dissertation on the Lisu people, who live in a steep valley in the mountains of Yunnan province.

“The valley has one way in and one way out,” Arrington said. The villages are small with a population between 40- 800 people.

According to Arrington, the Lisu people were first evangelized in 1916, and in 1917 they began to accept Christ.

Arrington clarified that there are 55 minority groups in China and that the Lisu, approximately 700,000 people, are one of those 55.

Arrington said the Lisu people have church five days a week and are known for singing Christian hymns in four-part a capella harmony.

“Everything is done in a group,” Arrington said. “When the Lisu first started to become Christian it started at the family level. Becoming Christian, to the Lisu mind, was a change in allegiance from demons to Jesus.”

“While the Lisu evangelized themselves, missionaries helped by teaching Bible schools,” Arrington said. “The Bible and the Christian hymnal were translated and are really the only two books in the Lisu language.”

The Lisu people are a singing people. There is a story from missionary times about two Lisu men who were held at arrow-point during war time and the only way that they survived was because they proved to be Lisu Christians by singing.

“Today the Lisu sing a hymn to start every hour of class at the Bible school,” Arrington said.

Most Lisu villagers grow corn in terraces, because there is no flat land. “The room my daughter and I stayed in had corn hanging from the rafters,” Arrington said.

The Lisu people harvest rice, beans, peas and other vegetables, and their main sources of meat are pork and chicken.

“I can remember waking up to the sound of a pig squealing, knowing that meant a pig was being led to slaughter,” Arrington said. “They used every part of the animals that they ate.”

Arrington said it is her calling to serve as a cross-cultural bridge here at JBU.

“I want to teach students, equipping them to impact the world through the gospel,” Arrington said.

Shannon Griggs, a sophomore intercultural studies major, values Arrigton’s experience.

“Hearing her stories of adaptation from Beijing to working in the villages with the Lisu is so inspiring,” Griggs said.

Griggs likes that the struggles of the mission field are still fresh on Professor Arrington’s mind.

“The thing that I like about her most is that she is vulnerable and opens up to us, which encourages us, as a class, to open up as well,” Griggs said.

During her time here at JBU, Arrington hopes to set up post-graduation connections for intercultural studies majors in the near future.