Do you speak much Mandarin?
When we first moved here, we didn't speak any at all. Now we speak enough to basically get by and have simple conversations with people. Or maybe we just know enough to be dangerous and get ourselves in over our head. At work, everyone speaks English, so it hasn't been good for our language acquisition skills. We find we understand more than we speak -- evidently that's normal when you are learning a language, but it's a bit weird to experience... hearing something, knowing exactly what they're saying, and not having a clue how to respond. We don't read at all. I can pick out the women's restroom from the men's, but that's about it. I really think that spending some dedicated language-study time would be the way to go, but we didn't do that.
Do you have a favorite place you have visited in China, and what makes it a favorite? Any destination you want to visit in the future?
Hmmm... not really. To be honest, most of our travel in China has been to orphanages, and while it is interesting, it isn't necessarily a fun trip. We do have some places we really do want to go for "pleasure" -- Guilin, Tibet, and Yunnan being the top three, but we'd also like to spend some time in southern China exploring the old villages and seeing tea plantations and that sort of thing. We also really want to make the most of this season of our life that we're in Asia... knowing that if we were to move home, we probably wouldn't have time or money for a lot of Asian exploration. On that note, we'd love to visit some other countries... topping our list includes: Cambodia, Nepal, and Thailand. We'd also love to go to Bhutan, but they don't let many people in. We'd go to other places too, like Vietnam or Burma, but the top three would be the other ones.
What, if anything, just blew away your preconceived notions from before you arrived- about life in China, your work...
Oh wow... where to begin. A lot, but a couple of things stick out. We really thought we could cut it living like "locals." We weren't going to eat western food, and we weren't going to indulge in any comforts from home that weren't standard for the average Chinese person in our village. (Keep in mind we don't live in Beijing, which is very westernized. We live in a small village where 90 percent of the people don't have bathrooms in their homes.) That didn't last a week, and we've grown more gracious with ourselves--understanding that to live here, there are some sacrifices that we must make... but then there are others that are purely optional, and we don't have to be martyrs. (i.e. - If we want to buy cheese in Beijing, it's OK! Even if it is a little more expensive than what food in the village costs. We're really happier if we get to eat cheese!). We also came with a strong desire to "make a difference." I see the attitude in most of the Americans who come here -- even those who only come for a week or so -- I think it is culturally rooted. We have a strong desire to be significant. The reality is, we've been changed and impacted far more than we change and impact. That's really humbling, but it is reality.
Is there anything uniquely Chinese that you two think you'll continue to make a part of your lives when you return to living stateside?
I want to keep up my chopstick skills! I've mastered the chopsticks. :) Seriously, though... I think to a degree, it would take leaving to fully appreciate the things we've left behind and to understand the cultural values we want to maintain. I do hope that if we were to leave, we would want to continue to live simply and to live in community. For the most part (again, except for in urban/westernized Beijing), the Chinese don't think they *need* a lot of stuff. And, they really value family and community... they don't try to do life alone. It was hard for these 2 independent westerners at first, but now we've really come to appreciate that.
Is there something about your lives and work currently that you wish your friends and family could 'just get' but is difficult to communicate without walking in your shoes?
Our close friends and family are really understanding about our lives and our work. They are incredibly supportive, and almost all of them have been to China and understand first-hand what it is we do. But, if I were to pick something, I would say that most people (not necessarily talking about close friends/family) don't understand what working so closely to deep suffering, loss, and injustice does to a person. Experiencing this reality has really changed the way we think about God. Our faith is less black and white than it used to be. We're more comfortable with unanswered questions and ambiguity than most people. Sometimes when we share something we've seen and experienced (like grappling with a child's death), people try to respond with things that they think will make us feel better -- like "Well, God needed another angel!" I used to think that way, but I don't really anymore... without getting into a big theological discussion, I'll just say that we've learned nothing is simple and black and white. We can't easily explain-away the pain and suffering we see in the world with some discussion about "God's will." At one time we thought we could, but that was before pain and suffering was something we personally saw on a daily basis. So, it is hard when people don't understand what it's like to live with that reality on a daily basis and think that it helps to try to just "make it go away" by saying platitudes. Also, sometimes (when I'm in the USA), I find myself in conversations where people are talking about things that I don't really care about anymore... I'm not judging them; it's just that I realize there's a giant gulf between who I was and who I am now. And in some ways, I haven't changed at all.
How does your Christianity fit where you are?
One of the primary reasons we're here is because we believe that fighting suffering in practical ways expands the Kingdom. Now, we don't wave a banner saying "Look at us, we're Christians!" In fact, we don't talk about that except with people who know us well. (To do so would be a good way to get a quick ticket home.) But, another thing we've learned through all of this is that you don't have to SAY anything to reflect His love. People see what you're doing, ask why, and invite you into their lives to have a meaningful conversation if needed.
Are you free to worship as you like?
As foreigners, yes we can. We go to church every week at an International Christian Fellowship in Beijing. You have to show a foreign passport to get in. We really love the church because it is so diverse. There are people from all over the world, and it brings a really unique perspective to our times together. We don't attend local fellowships because we wouldn't want to draw attention to them. It would bring nothing but trouble to the locals.
The place where you are serving, do they allow Christian teaching with the children?
No. It is against the law here, and we don't want to jeopardize our ability to do this work.
Are there very many other Americans that you can get together with to pray, vent, bounce ideas off of each other?
Besides our church, we work with a community of about 20 foreigners. Some of them are teachers in our organization's English language school, some work for the Volunteer Services department, and some work for the factory. We're all like-minded. (But not all American!) They've become our family in every sense of the word. We've actually never been in such a supportive community before, and it is one of the things we love most about this place. We live together, work together, go to church together, celebrate holidays together, share transportation together, etc. I used to joke that I wanted to live in a commune (I aspire to be a hippy), and in some ways, I got it! Also, we have a wonderful community of Chinese friends that are equally important to us. It is a beautiful thing! We're NEVER lonely.
How long have you guys been married?
4 years in August... Our anniversary is August 6.
How did you meet?
High school sweethearts. (Awwwww... how sweet... I know.) You can read more about our story in the "About Us" post at the top.
Via Email: How can we as fellow bloggers truly pray for you and your husband?
If you'd asked me a few months ago, I'd have probably asked you to pray for perseverance. Now, we start every morning asking God to help us with the following things: Give us clear minds to focus on things only of You. Give us pure hearts and steadfast and willing spirits. Teach us to love everyone the way you love us. Give us servant-hearts. Fill us with your joy. I guess you can pray for the same things on our behalf!
Via Email: Do you really have to squat on the floor to go?
When we're at home, we have a western style toilet. At work there are a few western-style. Everywhere else, most public restrooms are squatties. If they are clean, I don't mind at all. In fact, sometimes I even choose a squatty over a western toilet when I have the option!