Oooh…and I was doing so well at keeping in touch. So let’s try again.
One of the oddities of living in China is the state controlled heating. Yes, that’s a thing. And if you are a chronically cold person like me, it’s a big thing. When I first heard about it back in 2008, I laughed. I thought it was a joke. Uh…no joke. Central heating is provided via those old fashioned radiant heat radiators like my grandparents had in their house. They do work surprisingly well, although the bigger the room the more difficult it is to get it warm: our bedrooms are usually comfortable, but our living/dining room gets a bit chilly on cold nights.
None of that is too strange, although radiators are a bit old fashioned in much of the US. What is strange is that the government controls when the heat gets turned on -- November 15-- and off – March 15. The end of October and beginning of November can be quite cold in much of China so those last few weeks before the heat comes on are not so comfortable. Then, before spring has really arrived (as those who just got hit by a March blizzard know!) it can be pretty cold as well. So last week I was counting down – and not in a good way – the days until our heat went off. We did notice that the radiators were not very warm during the day for several days before the 15th, but they warmed up nicely in the evening and kept us toasty while we slept – right up until midnight on the 15th. Yup, I woke up around 2:30 or 3 in the morning and ,just out of curiosity, reached my hand out and touched the radiator – the icy cold radiator. When China says March 15th, it means March 15 and not a minute longer! So we have been bundling up in the evenings, adding another blanket to the beds and doubling down on the hot tea. (Sadly both our hot chocolate and hot apple cider stocks are now depleted, so tea is our only option.)
As sad as it is to have our radiators go cold, we do have some supplemental heat in the form of portable and wall mounted electric heaters. We rarely use the wall ones because they are 1) expensive to run and 2) incredibly inefficient since they are up near the ceiling and as we all learned in 5th grade, hot air rises, so they don’t help very much. (They also accumulate a lot of dust and dirt and smell terrible when turned on if the filters are not cleaned first. That’s a dirty job and getting to the filters isn’t easy so definitely a last resort.) Our portable heater works great and can fairly quickly warm up a small bedroom. It takes two to get our living room comfortable, and since our second heater self-immolated on Christmas morning, well, we are making do with one. (We will likely buy another one sometime after we move.) This week has been particularly cold and damp (sleeting when I left home this morning) so the portable is in my room, and we eat, study, watch TV, etc in that one room. Right now it is warming the kitchen so I can go do the dishes, and a bit later I will move it into the bathroom so I can take a shower without turning into a popsicle.
So some of you are saying, why not move somewhere in southern China where the climate is milder. Well, yes, I would be in favor of that. So far I have not found any programs in the south with a strong focus on independence and enrichment programs for older kids, so I don’t see that happening. But let me also mention that the government mandate on heating is not limited to when it goes on and off. It also restricts where in the country central heating is allowed. Yes, that’s right, where you live determines whether you can have heating at all (other than the electric units, of course). The really “interesting” thing is that the line for heating is drawn at the Yellow River. South of the river heating, at least central heating, is not a thing. In the US that would be basically anyone south of Kansas City. I would not want to be in a Georgia ice storm with no central heat!
As for packing, it is coming along though a bit slower this week due to a heavier teaching schedule and an appalling lack of motivation due to being so cold -indoors- in the evenings. This weekend Kristen and I are heading off to visit another city and explore another program. We appreciate your prayers for our trip and discernment about this opportunity. More soon!
Oh, and 62 days until we leave for the US.
Moving really is the best, isn't it? New places, new people, a fresh start with everything neat and organized in a new home.
Ah, but somehow we seem to forget about what it takes to get out of the old place. And the way that the amount of stuff you have multiplies exponentially as you take it out of closets (as if we have any of those over here -- we don't), wardrobes (those we have) and drawers. But starting early is always a good idea, and to that end...I have begun!
Now, I can already hear you saying...but where??? So here is the next installment in that story (but a bit maddeningly for me even more than for you, not quite the final chapter).
When I last wrote I told you about my visits to "Big NGO" and "The Farm." Both were wonderful options and very different....very, very different. Sadly, and I do mean sadly, by the time I left The Farm, I was pretty sure that that option was not going to be the one. So many great things there and just overflowing with potential, but it was pretty clear that the previous program managers were going to choose to stay heavily involved --from a distance. Under the best of circumstances that is a challenging situation, and as much as I admired and respected all the work they had done, I also felt that our different perspectives on orphan care could make collaborating just too difficult. (Btdt as a good - and honest- friend pointed out.) Instead, they have asked the terrific young couple I met there to manage the program under their direction. I wish them all the best as they forge forward with this great work, as I still think a bit longingly of the beauty and opportunities of that lovely place. Awww...I can hear the sighs as I know several of you were really cheering for this option. Me, too.
So where are we in the decision process? Well, the Big NGO from the previous trip continues to be a strong option, but. During our time in Thailand I met a woman who serves under an NGO program in an orphanage in another province. When I mentioned my desire to work with older orphans she shared what they are doing in that place and the great need for more help to meet the needs of the kids. I have been in touch with that program and hope to be traveling there for a visit/interview in the next few weeks. So stay tuned!
In the meantime you can find me sorting, tossing, giving away and packing with a growing sense of anticipation and excitement. Oh, and 76 days until we leave for Chicago, but who's counting?
I know I owe you all a bit more of a post now that my keyboard has arrived,
but you have to admit that these two little pumpkins are pretty hard to beat.
I know that soe of you are waiting for a post about where we are oing and what we are going to be doing Well you are going to hae to wait just a bit longer for that but I do proise that I will get bak to the story soon soonish If you are wondering why y typing is so bad I a haing soe probles with y laptop (For the less adentuous a ersion of this post using the onsreen keyboard is below)
Today I a just going to gie you a little slie of life story so you an feel like you are sitting right here beside e you know liing the life ause its pretty aazing Really It goes like this:
Yesterday whih was Sunday I was aking dinner as I tend to do ost-eery-night (!) and when I went to hek on the potatoes I had boiling I disoered that the gas was out Well that sared the **** out of e for a seond beause a gas burner that is ON without any flae an be a diey situation I uikly realized that we were not in danger of blowing up beause in fat there was no gas going through the line While this was a less atastrophi situation it still wasn’t optial Why you ask Well here in our part of hina all utilities work on a pay-in-adane plan So you load up a sart ard with oney and slide the ard into the eter and then oila – power or water or gas Its not a bad syste eept when you run out at an inopportune tie Like 7p on Sunday night Why is this an inopportune tie you ay ask Well that would be beause the gas ard (for soe opletely unknown reason) an only be refilled on Sunday! So it will be another week before we an fill the gas ard and turn the gas bak on Joy
In the eantie we do hae a irowae and an oen so we are not opletely without ooking options What we are also without at least for the tie being is eat Our eat an has been losed for the last week for no apparent reason unless he took a late New Year holiday I don’t know of another soure for eat in our illage so until he oes bak we are egetarians egetarians without a stoe
Tonights gouret eal was supposed to be aaroni and heese (Don’t roll your eyes at y aroni and heese This is a speial treat oer here at $350 a bo -- haha sounds really epensie with no periods!)There used to be a reioe on the bo for aking it in the irowae but not anyore apparently But google is y bestest friend so off I went to find the diretions (I a also thankful for y pn sine google is banned in hina) I a also thankful that google is so sart and an figure out what I want een with soe pretty ritial letters issing So there I a searhing google through y pn so I an ake $350 aaroni and heese in the irowae beause y gas ard ant be refilled for a week and just giggling at the absurdity of our lies Writing about it on a keyboard that is issing nearly the whole botto row of letters and ost of the punctuation just adds to the fun Soeday if I hae the energy Ill write about the eletriity
A final note: I hae been thinking for seeral days that it would be nie to ake pudding Alas no pudding with no stoe (I a not trying THAT in the irowae!) Then Kristen reinded e that I ery niely bought an instant pudding i sine she doesn’t like to ake it on the stovetop So happily we WILL hae soe pudding for dessert!
Here's the version with the 'c' , 'm' and 'v' and punctuation.
I know that some of you are waiting for a post about where we are going and what we are going to be doing. Well you are going to have to wait just a bit longer for that but I do promise that I will get back to the story soon. Soonish. Today I am just going to give you a little slice of life story so you can feel like you are sitting right here beside me, you know living the life, because it’s pretty amazing. Really. It goes like this:
Yesterday which was Sunday I was making dinner as I tend to do most-every-night (!) and when I went to check on the potatoes I had boiling I discovered that the gas was out. Well that scared the **** out of me for a second because a gas burner that is ON without any flame can be a dicey situation. I quickly realized that we were not in danger of blowing up because in fact there was no gas going through the line. While that was some relief, it still wasn’t optimal. Why you ask? Well here in our part of China all utilities work on a pay-in-advance plan. So you load up a smart card with money and slide the card into the meter and then, voila!, power or water or gas. It’s not a bad system except when you run out at an inopportune time. Like 7pm on Sunday night. Why is this an inopportune time you may ask? Well, that would be because the gas card (for some completely unknown reason) can only be refilled on … Sunday! So it will be another week before we can fill the gas card and turn the gas back on. Joy.
In the meantime we do have a microwave and an oven so we are not completely without cooking options. What we are also without at least for the time being is meat. Our meat man has been closed for the last week for no apparent reason. Maybe he took a late New Year holiday? I don’t know of another source for meat in our village so until he comes back we are vegetarians. Vegetarians without a stove.
Tonight’s gourmet meal was supposed to be macaroni and cheese. (Don’t roll your eyes at my macaroni and cheese! This is a special treat over here, primarily for emergencies at $3.50 a box -- still sounds expensive even with the periods!)There used to be a recipe on the box for making it in the microwave but not anymore apparently. But google is my bestest friend so off I went to find the directions. (I am also thankful for my vpn since google is banned in China.) I am also thankful that google is so smart and can figure out what I want even with some pretty critical letters missing. So there I am searching google through my vpn so I can make $3.50 macaroni and cheese in the microwave because my gas card can’t be refilled for a week and just giggling at the absurdity of our lives. Writing about it on a keyboard that is missing nearly the whole bottom row of letters and most of the punctuation just adds to the fun. Someday if I have the energy I’ll write about the electricity.
A final note: I have been thinking for several days that it would be nice to make pudding. Alas no pudding with no stove (I am not trying THAT in the microwave!) Then Kristen reminded me that I very nicely bought an instant pudding mix since she doesn’t like to make it on the stovetop. So happily we WILL have some pudding for dessert!
Whether coincidence of God-incidence, even before the plans for my program "tour" came together, I had registered for a conference/retreat at the end of January. So just five days after I returned from Henan/Hunan/Yunnan, Kristen and I were off to Bangkok. Previously Lindsay was the only one of our family who had had the privilege of visiting Thailand, during a missions trip in 2015. She loved it, and now Kristen and I know why. (Marissa is not amused!)
Our first week in Thailand was simply vacation, well at least for me, Kristen still had to keep up with her online classes, which she did reasonably well given the many lovely distractions. While we have enjoyed our few trips to the US to visit family and friends and have made the most of our many visa runs in our early years in China, we have not had a week just for the purpose of relaxation in ten years. It was HEAVEN! I am so very thankful for the lovely retreat facility our friends recommended. It is just for ministry workers in Asia; the accommodations and services are basic, but clean and friendly and very, very low cost. And perfection. I can’t remember the last time I was so relaxed and felt so free of responsibility. All meals were prepared onsite, so I never even had to think about where we would eat. (Did I mention perfection?) Walks on the beach, great food, mealtime conversations with fellow mission workers from Thailand, China, Cambodia, Bhutan, and lots of kids for fun times in the pool and evenings playing “capture the flag” for Kristen. I’ll let the photos tell the rest of the story.
Our second week in Thailand was the working part of the trip, although the best possible kind of work. We were able to attend a conference for an organization of independent Christian workers who are serving in a large number of ministry areas. The reason for going was to get to know the people and the organization to see whether this is something I would be interested in joining in the future. But my real objective for the week was to take some time to think and pray and maybe discuss the options before me with others who are doing similar work and have wrestled with similar decisions. It delivered far more than that. The energy generated when 100 people are gathered together who are passionate about the work they do, who care deeply about the people they serve, and who are committed to being agents of positive change in the world is electrifying. It was exactly what I needed to relight my spark, restart my engine and refuel my tank. Can you tell?! I am so very, very thankful for this opportunity. It was exactly what I needed to help me take the next step.
So what is that next step? Stay tuned.
Day 5 of my whirlwind trip started with time spent with the kids at the Hunan program and ended with a flight 780 miles further south to central Yunnan province (no fast trains to that city, and the idea of 20+ hours on the train was not so appealing). I had never been to Yunnan before and had only heard the very best things, so I was excited to see this new-to-me area of China. In addition, the program I went to visit was totally different from the one the day before, and in fact totally different from anything I had considered previously. A couple had hoped to develop a vocational and life skills program for orphaned teen girls on a small farm in the foothills, but after renovating the facility they decided to return to the US and turn the property over to someone else to develop the program. Wow! Rather than fitting into an existing program with a team in place, this was a blank canvas. So much opportunity, but building a program from scratch is a big task. I planned to spend three days in the area so I could get as many questions answered as possible.
The time spent at the farm was a roller coaster of thoughts and emotions. From “this will never work” to “what an amazing opportunity” and everything in between.
From my journal:
I spent time walking throughout the property, investigating all the rooms in the main buildings (24 bedrooms!), and doing a lot of thinking, journaling and praying over the possibilities. The opportunity to create a foster home program for orphaned teens, to model family life, life skills and develop work skills to give them hope for a healthy and productive future would be a dream come true. On the other hand, finding staff, particularly foster parents, and developing the entire program on my own is pretty overwhelming. Again and again I found myself thinking, “I can’t do this.” But then I heard, “No, you can’t but God can.” So I persevered with my fact finding … and my dreaming.
Interestingly, the highlight of this part of the trip was the connections that I made with both Chinese and expats. I had some wonderful talks with a Chinese couple and their friend who had also come to the farm for the week. We hit it off immediately, and soon found ourselves sharing our hearts and praying together. On Sunday I visited the international fellowship to get a sense of the expat community in the area as well. It was fantastic! The music and sermon both spoke to me, and there is a good youth program as well. Afterwards I was able to have lunch with a friend of a friend, who is also one of the worship leaders for the fellowship. Again, an amazing time of deep conversation: I was so encouraged.
Part 2 of the journey took me 600 miles south on a 4 hour train trip into Hunan province where I would be spending two days visiting an AMAZING NGO* program. Have I said how much I love traveling by train in China? Much better than flying. The newer fast trains make travel really convenient, although ticket prices have increased along with speed. Watching the countryside fly by is fascinating: haphazard farm plots, crumbling villages, rows of vacant apartment buildings, pens of pigs and chickens, hillsides and valleys, men fishing on small ponds. Inside the train can be just as interesting, though the slower trains generally provide more colorful people watching.
I arrived in Hunan in the evening, met the driver (being the only waiguoren – foreigner – on the train made it pretty easy for him to find me) and in about half an hour I was ensconced in the NGO’s visitor apartment where I would be spending two nights. Alone. In a very large four bedroom apartment. It was well furnished and reasonably comfortable (if you don’t count the squatty potty) but I’ll admit a little bit creepy being in such a large apartment all by myself. I was wishing that Kristen was with me, but the busy itinerary would have not allowed her to keep up with her school work, so she was staying with Abby, New Day’s preschool teacher for the week. (Thanks, Abby!)
Wednesday was…cold and wet and … awe-inspiring. The program is a large one, probably the largest that I know of among foreign NGOs in China. There are over 150 children in their excellent care, from infants up to (amazingly!) one young lady in her 60s! While the latter is clearly an exception, the majority of those in care are school aged children and young adults. As is typical in the Chinese welfare system these days, virtually all the children have some type of special needs, with many children having developmental delays and cognitive challenges. The program managers would like to have additional help in developing the vocational and independent living program for the older teens and young adults. Which is, of course, exactly what I feel called to and why I was there to visit. I was treated to a thorough tour of the entire program, and I do mean treated because the staff guard the children’s privacy very carefully. It was a true privilege to see the variety of care models tailored to a wide range of physical, social and cognitive abilities.
In respect for the children's privacy, I took no photos inside the program's facilities. Due to the unceasing rain and inescapable mud, I took no photos outside either! The photo to the left is of some cards I purchased that were made by the young people in the vocational program. Pretty!
That evening I was able to meet the other foreign members of the staff for dinner and a time of worship and fellowship. Although brief it was helpful to see their out-of-the-office relationships and get a sense of the type of community there would be for Kristen and me.
The next morning started bright, well actually rainy, and early with “dancing,” basically aerobics to music, in the courtyard of the main building. While trying to follow along with the leader as best I could, one young man took my hand and tried to help me keep up with the moves. I wasn’t very good at it, but it did get the heart pumping and kept the chill weather at bay, and I felt my first connection. Next was a return visit to the vocational crafts room. The previous day I had just had time to look around, but now I could sit and join in. A young man patiently showed me how to make flowers on stems using wire and beads. He helped me count the correct number of beads, handed me the petals and leaves in the proper order to put on the stem, and corrected my mistakes. I watched a young lady next to me very capably thread teeny, tiny beads on thin string to make a very lovely necklace. That was way out of my league! Besides the jewelry and bead crafts, the other main project in the vocational area is card making using artwork done by the young people (see photo above). Some of the girls have also started to learn to sew, and there is an interest in further developing that area for training and for vocational projects. Soon it was time to move to the art room where those with a bit less dexterity do a variety of art activities throughout the week. These activities are primarily therapeutic and entertaining, though some of their work is used for making the cards in the vocational program. That particular day they were taking the leftover paper scraps from other projects and cutting them into smaller pieces to be used in – get this – making paper! They recycle the unused bits and make their own paper for the cards. I spent an enjoyable half hour or so helping cut bits of paper and sharing some smiles with the young people working alongside me. If the first day felt like a marathon seeing all the homes and services that the program provides, a blur of rooms and kids and needs, the second day felt like, I can’t even find the word…peace, hope, joy, connection…home? This. This is what grabs my heart and squeezes it.
*NGO: a not-for-profit organization that is independent from states and international governmental organizations. They are usually funded by donations and are run primarily by volunteers. In this case, a foreign funded and foreign run organization which operates in cooperation with the local children's welfare institute.
It will take several installments to bring you up to date on all that has happened over the last month. It hardly seems possible that only a month has passed.
On January 8th I departed for Zhengzhou for the long-awaited and greatly anticipated adoption of our sweet Wen Fei. This is a little girl whom I have known for eight years…since she was just four years old. Sweet and funny, smart, observant and full of sunshine, she has waited so very long for a family -- she was the last of her group of friends to be adopted. Her new parents are friends I have known for about 14 years. By chance (or by clever ticket buying), I joined them on the train from Beijing to Zhengzhou to share in their special day.
I am not sure I am competent to fully communicate the anticipation of adoption day; only those who have experienced it themselves can really know the butterflies in the stomach, the little pangs of uncertainty, the catch in the throat each time a group of children come into the room, the tears that well up as mothers and fathers look into their child’s face for the very first time. Even as a bystander in the process this time I was not unaffected. I felt all those feelings again, and perhaps a little envy that this time I would be leaving with empty arms. As luck would have it, WenFei was the last to arrive, so her parents and I were able to enjoy, over and over, the moment when 16 children left their orphan label behind. And then she arrived, climbing the steps with a bit of help from the adoption worker from her orphanage. I get goosebumps again remembering the moment she saw me standing in the hallway and with a big smile flew into my arms. We hugged and laughed and hugged again. I am so thankful to her parents for allowing us this moment to say hello and in some sense to say good-bye before I introduced her to the people who will be her mom and dad forever.
For the rest of that day and part of the next we laughed and talked about her other friends already in America, and what would come next. Wen Fei, now Julie, meshed seamlessly into her family and quickly began the process of capturing their hearts. Her trademark smile never faltered, despite this total upheaval of her life, going from the known, the expected, the routine to the unknown, the unexpected, the ever changing, her happiness and absolute trust in this new future was evident.
Too soon it was time for me to go. That brought a few tears to both of us, but I assured Julie I would visit her in America in just a few months. Before catching my train for parts further south, I spent a few hours visiting Swallows Nest, a small foster home program which has been operating in Zhengzhou for more than ten years. Pam Williams, the founder, is a good friend who mentored me in my early years of managing a foster home, for which I am so so grateful. Pam recently asked me to serve on the board of Swallows Nest, and I gladly accepted. (For more about Swallows Nest: www.swallowsnestzz.org) It was great being in the foster homes again, interacting with children and watching how the caregivers respond to them. At lunch time I was handed a bowl and spoon and put to work -- exactly what I love to do! This was the perfect confirmation that it is time for me to be back in a direct care role, even though the children I believe I am to help are older than the babies and toddlers at Swallows Nest.
Come back tomorrow for more about the journey.
Photo by Shelli Craig Photography.
"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." This quote seems appropriate tonight as I am preparing to start on my own journey tomorrow morning... a journey not just of miles, 1600 in fact, but also of discovery.
It has become clear to me that our time at New Day has been winding down for awhile. It was always meant as an "interim" stop to recharge and regroup after an incredibly intense three years at Eagles Wings. Although this interim stretched longer than I had expected, it has been a worthwhile time for learning and growing, enjoying and appreciating a wonderful though ever-changing community of volunteers and watching so many little ones heal, thrive and move on to their new families. New Day is an exceptional place with some of the best care for special needs children that I have seen. It has been a privilege to be a part of the work here, but it is also a continual reminder of the many, many children who do not have the kind of care, medical and emotional, that they need. And so, the time has come to use all I have learned to make a difference for other children in another place.
As for what, where and when...at this point I don't have any details. I have been exploring options with several orphan care programs around the country, several of which I will be visiting over the next week. I am excited and a little nervous about where this single step will take us next, but I know that the Lord has ordered every one of those steps, and I will be sure to keep you updated. A very heartfelt thank you to everyone who has supported us through prayer, encouragement and financially on the journey thus far. You are our partners in every sense of the word as we seek to care for China's orphans wherever this journey takes us. Please continue to pray for guidance and clarity and purpose in every step we take.
I am just going to apologize for not keeping up to date enough, and for the brevity of this post as well. I could plead busyness, and that would be at least partly true. Since July I have been teaching English to a small group of college age students who are preparing to go to the US for college. In order to do that they need to achieve an acceptable score on the TOEFL exam (Test Of English as a Foreign Language). New Day Language Institute, one aspect of the New Day family of organizations, was a thriving English training school several years ago and is in the process of being revived. Several of the long term volunteers have been *recruited* for this project. While it isn't my primary focus, I said when I came to New Day that I would be happy to use my skills wherever they are needed. That commitment has been tested and challenged in many ways, and I believe it has been a good thing. While I believe most people come to do great things, in fact, it's the ability to work together as a team, seamlessly flowing from leadership to support roles that leads to the greatest impact. So, when I was tapped for the English training center in early July, I really didn't hesitate. I have very much enjoyed getting to know my five students as we frantically work together to improve their reading and writing skills as their test date looms in mid-November. An added blessing has been that this role comes with a small stipend...quite unexpected, but appreciated. This has helped immensely with keeping up with our expenses. This will end in the next month, and finding additional support will again become a significant issue.
In other news, Luke was able to come visit just before he left for university in early September, and again during the week-long October holiday. This will likely be our last visit until the lunar New Year in February as China does not take any days off for Christmas.
The weather is getting colder, and as a Floridian I am not too fond of that. It's actually my least favorite time of year because the central hot water heating is not turned on until November 15, but we have fairly cool weather for about six weeks before that. Brr! Once the heat comes on our apartment is generally very pleasant, so I am certainly counting the days. However, we are also enjoying beautiful sunshine and clear skies...something I never take for granted.
About This Blog
Welcome to my very full life! I can't really predict what will show up here on a daily basis, but I can tell you it will be part documentary, part family chronicle and part personal reflection as I try to sort through the ups and downs, the joys, heartaches and surprises of our very interesting life as we follow the path that God has set for us here in China!
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