My Story

How did a girl from Kalamazoo wind up in China, with no intention of ever setting foot in Asia, let alone the PRC?  Well, it was a long journey:

Growing up, I always loved other countries and cultures.  I started playing with maps and atlases when I was about three; by the time I was seven I would look up a country on my flag chart, then spend days researching it in our set of Funk and Wagnall encyclopedias.  Gosh, how I loved those reference books!  I would memorize all the facts that I could about a country, then pretend that I was either from there or planning a journey through there.  My bed often transformed into a ship that could take me anywhere; I even made postcards and "mailed" them to my dolls and stuffed animals.

When I was eight and we got our first computer, Encarta was one of the first programs my father bought for me.  I spent hours upon hours looking up everything imaginable!  My favorite things, though, were the charts about different countries, telling me the language, currency, population, GDP, etc. (okay, so I was a complete nerd as a child . . . actually, I still am).  But in all of those imaginary travels, I never set foot in Asia.  I made it to all of the other continents; in fact, with Teddy (my bear) as first mate, there was even one voyage to Africa (the other continent I had no interest in).  But Asia held no lure for me.  When I became a Christian at almost 15, one of my very first prayers was "Please, God, never send me to China!"

In middle school and high school, I dreamed of living abroad.  My fantasies centered around Europe mostly, particularly Switzerland, although during my "Crocodile Hunter phase" I desired more than anything to be a herpetologist living in Australia (I eventually realized that my hatred of science made that particular goal quite impractical).  In college, I yearned to become a great historian who would travel the world on lecture tours.

However, I lost my motivation for a short time after college.  A cruel graduate school professor played off of deep-rooted insecurities and convinced me that I had nothing worthwhile to offer the world, and that the best I could ever do was to settle for whatever menial task I could find.  One day, browsing the internet during a break at my meaningless office job, I saw a friend's pictures of her life in South Korea.

"I want that," I said to myself.  "I want more; I want adventure, color, experiences, and pagodas."  And just like that, an interest in Asia suddenly sparked.

I spent a pivotal year in Gyeongju, South Korea.  Looking back, it was the most influential year of my life.  Suddenly, I learned to stand again, to live, to make the most of God-given opportunities.  I learned to be open and to ask questions, to show respect for differing cultures by trying things and by observing.  It changed me forever.  Although I went back to America at the end of the year, my heart stayed in Asia.

So how did China happen?  Why not Korea again?

For the next two years after leaving Korea, I dreamed regularly of returning.  I would awaken with an almost unbearable pang of longing.  I was home, but I wasn't actually home.  I fought the idea of returning to Asia -- it wasn't practical, after all.  I was an American woman in my mid-twenties:  it was time to settle into a career stateside, just like everyone else I knew.  It was time to put down roots and build a permanent life.  It was time to be stationary . . . or so I thought.

Near the end of graduate school, I realized that I had an undeniable calling to Asia that simply could not be ignored.  It was like Lot's situation in Genesis 19 -- I knew that God would let me go my own way if I insisted, but sooner or later He would get me exactly where He wanted me in the first place.  Why not just give in to begin with and accept happiness and fulfillment, even if it came with a few side dishes like uncertainty and separation from friends and family?

"I'll go anywhere in the world, but honestly, Korea would be perfect," I confidently told God.  He didn't seem to answer immediately.  I fought the urge to take this silence as a yes.

I found terrific looking schools in Indonesia and Bangladesh.  Still, God seemed to say nothing.

Two job offers came.  One was for a school in Cambodia, the other school in China.

"Not China," I told God.  "Remember, I don't want to go there.  It's Communist."  God already knew that, so He didn't bother to respond.

There was no peace about either job offer, although I prayed and prayed.  "Where do you want me?"  I asked God.  No answer.  So, I waited.

Finally, there came another offer, from a different school in China.  And with it, certainty.  Perfect peace, peace that passed all understanding.

"You do realize that China is Communist, right?"  I reminded God.
"I still love China," He reminded me.  "You should, too."

And so I came.  It was terrifying, but I never had any doubts that I was making the right decision.  I live here now, teaching in a wonderful school and falling in love daily with my surroundings.  Life is difficult; I won't lie.  I go without some things I was accustomed to having, I spend seven times as long doing other things as I used to spend, and I shrug my shoulders at the occasional cold showers and frequent internet problems.  I laugh when situations arise that ought to make me crazy.  I smile when I want to cry.  And, I have the rare and wonderful privilege of knowing some of the loveliest, kindest, most generous people in the world.  I spend hours upon hours studying a language that suddenly enchants me (and sometimes frustrates me).  I learn daily lessons about love, endurance, and compassion.

I may still be an American on the outside, but my heart is rapidly becoming Chinese.

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"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"