"Wait! Did I miss something?" I can hear your gasp and I see the puzzled expression on your face.
If you've followed Embrace the Grace for very long, you know I love to travel. But you also know that the planning and anticipating are half the fun for me. You've heard NOTHING about me visiting China before now.
Well, as with most stories, there is one small puzzle piece missing. I actually visited China by way of a lovely teacher from Shanghai who lived with us for three weeks.
Ah, now you understand.
Her name is Barbara and she came to live with us through an organization called Education First. This language learning program (based in Switzerland) facilitates world travel for students wanting to experience different cultures.
My friend became involved with EF at the beginning of this year and asked if we would consider hosting a child for three weeks. "It would be a wonderful opportunity to impact their life. Besides, you have so much travel experience." she said.
I knew the answer to her question before I even consulted Frank. July, 2018 was going to be packed for us with one new grandbaby and another on the way. Not to mention, Vacation Bible School and a missions group of 20 young people coming to our church to help with outreach.
"Thanks but No, Thanks!" I figured this was a cultural experience someone else might want to enjoy. No sense keeping all the fun to myself, right?
But then my friend came back with a request for us to host a course leader.
- "A young lady," she said.
- "Most likely 30 years old. Just like one of your girls," she said.
- "It's an opportunity to share your faith in Christ," she said.
So it was decided.
At the very last minute, the young lady we were to host became ill and couldn't travel. The organization tapped "Barbara" to take her place. The program was new to her. She only had four days to prepare. And she had never met the seventeen children that would be her charges for this trip halfway around the world.
But she had a passport and visa from a previous trip. And (we came to learn) Barbara is fearless!
Not gonna lie, we were all three a bit nervous at first. But we warmed up to one another quickly. Fortunately, Barbara speaks English well. And Frank's visit to China almost 30 years ago, gave us much to talk about. By the end of the first weekend, I knew Barbara and I would be friends.
She was unfamiliar with our faith and had never attended a church nor read a Bible. But being the fearless person she is and wanting to be gracious, she came right along with us.....to everything. She even accepted the invitation to join Frank and me for evening devotions and prayer.
We never pushed. We didn't have to. Christ makes room for Himself in every searching heart. We simply lived our normal lives. Invited her to join us when she wanted and made time for her to ask questions about it all.
The grand babies loved her immediately and she them. Madi summed up the situation first (hand on hip), "Noni, is Ms. Barbawah you new verwy bestest fwiend?" We all looked at one another with big eyes while stifling laughter, "Why yes, Madi. Ms. Barbawah is my new friend!"
Responsibilities kept Barbara occupied each day from 7:30AM until 5:30PM. After our dinner, she spent long hours on the phone with the parents in China, responding to questions from the students, or facilitating understanding for the host families. I marveled at her adeptness.
Because I was the transportation for Barbara, I spent the most time with her. We did indeed become friends and talked easily about so many different things. Culture. Weddings. Faith. Children. Shopping. Family. Food.
One of my favorite lines came when several host families gathered for a picnic. One of the "dads" was talking with Barbara. He learned that her parents are owners of a family restaurant they have managed for decades.
"What type of food do they serve?" he leaned in to be sure to catch her response.
Barbara hesitated for a split second then answered, "Chinese."
Everyone at their table burst out laughing! Can't make up those kind of cultural exchanges.
The richest memory I'll rehearse from our "visit to China" was when we all tried to say good-bye. Barbara and I both wept openly. Frank had to swipe at tears and wait for his voice to get stable. We hugged one another multiple times while whispering our farewells.
How is it that your heart can become so entangled with other people in such a short amount of time? Why even make the effort to connect with someone you may never see again? I guess the answer is this: you have to be open and you have to believe Every Connection Matters.
Many people live with closed hearts. They don't want to risk being hurt or misunderstood or offended or rejected. But my friend, the line from our childhood is still true..... Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Yes, it was awkward inviting a stranger to live with us for almost three weeks. Yes, there were odd moments when we didn't understand one another. Yes, it required time and energy during a month when both were in precious little supply.
But I'm so glad we chose to be open to this experience.
I will long remember Barbara's beautiful face, covered with tears as she leaned in one final time and whispered, "Thank you. I will remember you always."
Our trip to China was wonderful!
How about you? What was your favorite travel experience this summer? Take a moment to leave a comment and let's see where all we've been.