The ticket has been purchased. It’s official. I am leaving China the evening of July 30th.
My last night’s sleep in China will be on the night of July 29th, and today is April 28th, which means I have approximately three months left living on this continent in this country.
I have three more blog posts, five more English corner meetings in Kunshan, about nine more lessons at Soochow University, the End Term event in Cambodia next month, thirteen weeks and three days until this whole incredible chapter comes to a close; this step out into a life I always felt called to seek. A life where what’s important and what’s familiar get rip apart.
These months, over a year here, have absolutely flown by. Several of my friends from church and the broader expat community are also leaving this summer or soon after.
We’re all reacting in different ways, but in this brief moment I have left here I want to try new things and keep meeting new people for as long as I can.
An amazing group of diverse women who are starting the first female soccer team in Suzhou have recently come into my life, and we keep saying that we met each other with only a few more months left because we didn’t need more time than that to become close friends.
I tear up thinking about the scattering of these empowering communities I’ve found in China. People who believe in Education and Feminism and Multiculturalism. It’s like a whole not-so-secret society of people who either look nothing like me, talk nothing like me, have never been outside of China, have never lived anywhere besides their home country and China, are staying in China indefinitely, or leave China before I do. (One common thread could be that many of these people are educators, but even then some are only educators for the moment while others are taking strides in their careers.)
In the same way that, even if I did stay, I would not be able to teach the same students for another semester, I keep telling myself that staying in China or even coming back at some point will not give me more of this same experience I’ve had here and so enjoyed. Other people are moving on from and in to this place, even if I were staying it would not be the same. And if I did come back, there’s no telling how changed I would find it all.
My weekly small group has also begun to change. Maybe this is a good thing, so leaving it will not hit me as hard. An influx of foreign exchange students have tipped the balance from what used to be a “young professionals” group to a more “college kids” vibe and, because he is also leaving China this summer, the pastor of the church who used to lead the group has been rotating among the different meetings cultivating small group leaders with his last few months, so the depth of conversation and shared knowledge of theology I’d so reveled in is no longer at the forefront.
Is this what growing up is like? Is this what being grown up is? Making a home somewhere the best you can and then keep moving on as God beckons to deeper depths and higher heights of kingdom-building service? I know that, for other people, the physical location may not change as dramatically as it has for me, but the longer I spend out here in this territory of travellers and multi-lingual professionals, the more normal this all seems.
Maybe it doesn’t click for everyone the same way, but serving here in China showed me so much more than I’d ever dreamed about “the world” – this not-remote-but real, international, diverse body that I can only engage with through English fluently and Spanish conversationally. But there is so much more/else out there/here.
My literal worldview, the daily reality I watch unfolding around me in Suzhou, has been skewed from absorbing so many multicultural and cross-cultural interactions. I hear myself recounting work sites where I’ve helped, churches where I’ve worshipped, cities I’ve travelled to alone. And this is exactly what I hoped I would be doing at 25.
This is the realization of the dream God put in my heart and nurtured through so many short-term mission trips, Sunday schools and classrooms I taught in, foreigners with thick accents who were always welcomed into my parent’s churches and into our home growing up. I am only the product of these blessings I did not even ask for and did nothing to deserve.
God is faithful to bring these impossible, miraculous, extraordinary opportunities to serve, to challenge myself and the corrupt systems that shape the world and have a hand in shaping all of our lives and all of our worldviews; keeping them narrow and only in English and where power is not pushed towards justice.
I’ve decided to share some pictures from this past week. Spring is in full swing here, just that perfect pause before the mosquitoes and humidity come out, when it is still perfect to sit outside in the shade all day.
On the main campus of Soochow University, we had our classes outside to soak in the good weather.
This picture is from the other campus of Soochow University, which does not have as much green space and has almost double the number of students in class. Though I could not take them outside, I took this picture after asking them to swap a poem from the three they’ve chosen to review for their first major grade of the semester. The question they were to discuss was, “How does the poem make you feel?” I wanted to capture this moment that they were all loudly and passionately discussing their feelings about the living poets’ works they’d selected. The rest of these are just from my walk home from class. It has been an honor to serve here.
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