How can I put the last four weeks into words? I am overwhelmed at the thought. I have experienced blessings beyond anything I expected, grace unending, faithfulness that fills me. I have a Best Friend whose love will never, ever fail. If all this trip had helped me do was understand that truth, it would have been so worth it. But it taught me that, and so much more.
I'll just do a REALLY brief, detail-less schedule of the trip, and try to stick in some of the memories along the way.
Friday/Saturday (Nov. 2nd-3rd) - flew to China! I met Henry (the teacher of the course, a Chinese native) and Ralph (Henry's assistant from Guatemala) at the airport. We took the subway, and then dragged all my luggage at a crazy speed through the hectic and crowded streets in the pouring rain. We ended at the apartment, which I completely loved, and I met James and Jessica, my "flatmates" and classmates from the UK.
Sunday (Nov. 4th) - met a friend from the trip in July, Vicki, who took me to a state-approved church. Also, my other classmate/apartment-mate arrived: Lina from Northern China! (now my chinese mom.)
Week 1 (5th-9th) - Classes started! I met my classmates: Luis (Colombian), Igor (Serbian), Andrew (American -WA), Katt (Chinese), and of course James, Jessica, and Lina. We learned about alllllll sorts of things regarding the English language, like Phonetics. Crazy stuff, but fun! I also started a lot of routines that week which stayed with me the whole trip. For example, getting up at 7:00 every morning for a beautiful, refreshing, refocusing, and rejuvenating time with my Best Friend. As the label on my alarm reminded me each day, "Your True Love is waiting for you." Another routine event was buying two little sweet buns every night to eat for breakfast in the morning. By about the third day, the young guy selling the buns knew what I wanted as soon as I walked in. I love being a "regular."
One particularly memorable day for me was Wednesday, when I did an hour-long class presentation (kind of a teaching warm-up) on "something I was familiar with." I chose the topic of wilderness survival skills, and not until afterward did I truly grasp the poignancy of that. I met Jimmy and Survival a year and a half ago, and he was God's main tool in bringing me to China at all. Now in China, I'm teaching them about that time at Survival. It's amazing how He works!
Sunday (11th) - I found my way to church at BICF, Beijing International Christian Fellowship. Walking inside the sanctuary for the first time, I felt like bursting into tears because my spirit felt so at home. When the worship started, I did cry. Never again will I take the community of believers so for granted. To be able to worship God when lost among others who are doing the same, that is what we were made for.
On the way to church, I felt like God wanted me to speak to another foreigner on the subway. After about a 10 minute conversation, Olga and I decided to meet for coffee, which we did twice on the trip, as well as meeting for dinner. And we're hoping to skype often now that I'm home. And if I ever want to go to Russia, her mom is ready to host me. Oh, the crazy things that happen when you just say "yes."
Week 2 (12th-16th) - More studying! But this week, we began our TP's (Teaching Practices), where once or twice a week, we would each present a one-hour lesson to a few volunteer, adult students. My first lesson was on the idea of "Achieving Your Dreams," which allowed me to really see the heart of my students, and my second lesson was a reading lesson on poetry, and on an essay I wrote comparing Mexico and China.
This week, we started to really use the subway. Wow. Talk about an adventure! Some people hated it, but I loved it. It was just so different! Line 1, the line that goes directly through the city, is absolutely literally cram-packed at rush hour. I was laughing most of the time we rode that line. However, when things were less hectic, the subway was a great place to talk and get to know each other even better. And I truly had an incredible group of friends.
Saturday (17th) - I woke up thinking that I had nothing to do but study. God had other plans. I spent the entire day with Wei, our exchange student for 3 weeks (seven years ago!), as we did some errands I needed, got amazing food for lunch, did some shopping, saw some traditional chinese markets, met friends for Hot Pot, and went home. Never a dull moment!
Sunday (18th) - I went to BICF again, and the pastor mentioned in the sermon that he had attended seminary in Oregon. I asked him about it afterward, and found out that he used to live in the Salem area. Crazier still, he knew the street I live on. Just think about that for a minute.
On the way home from church, a shy Chinese guy asked for my number. That's a first for me. Praise the Lord that my subway stop came at that very moment...
Week 3 (19th-23rd) - Another week of TP's, lectures with Henry, getting food at the chinese food court for lunch, and subway rides. Jessica and I, feeling depressed by the lack a piano, went to a piano store in the mall to play our hearts out. I taught a lesson on "thanksgiving," which was so much fun. I had my first Thanksgiving away from home, which consisted of a bowl of noodles with James and Jessica. Not much traditional food, but OH-so-much to be thankful for!
Saturday (24th) - Jess, James, and I met Luis and his son, Sebastian, for lunch at a pretty authentic TexMex restaurant! We had coffee afterwards, got to see old pictures of when Luis was in the Colombian military, and he drove us home through the unbelievable Beijing traffic. Great day!
Sunday (25th) - I went to BICF for the last time, this time with one of my classmates. I studied in the afternoon, and then met Olga, her mom who was visiting from Russia, and one of her friends for dinner at a Taiwanese restaurant (tasted Chinese to me...).
Week 4 (26th-30th) - The last week! Monday, I taught my final group lesson on "Christmas," and got to have some cool conversations. Tuesday, I had the afternoon off, and I finally got to go to the place that had been on my heart since before I arrived: Dandelion School. Following Marcus' subway/bus instructions, I made it all by myself. ::so proud:: Walking in, I felt a mixture of incredible joy to be back in this amazing place, but also missing my China team, and the one who came here before all of us. But to be back was wonderful, and the wonderful moments were too many to write here. Go read the trip log (www.shelbysadventuring.tumblr.com).
Wednesday, I taught a one-on-one tutoring lesson. My topic was "legacy." It was supposed to be about 50 min., but two hours later we decided we really should be done. I was blessed to be able to talk with this student about the truly important things in life, and share about how I was brought to China. My student, Peter, was impacted by Jimmy's legacy a year and a half later, and that is so exciting to me.
Friday, I packed, said goodbye to my Chinese mom as she headed home, met Olga for coffee one last time until I return, and met with Vicki and Eric, two of my Christian family members, for a wonderful dinner, debrief, and send-off back to the US.
Saturday (Dec. 1st) - Final preparations, saying farewell to James and Jessica, having lunch with Wei and her friend, and taking the subway to the airport. As the plane took off, God gave me a great passenger friend to converse with. After we talked about nearly everything, we were only 1/4 of the way home. A few hours later, the gray skies of Seattle came in view. And not long after, we touched down in Portland.
"I wanna live like there's no tomorrow,
Love like I'm on borrowed time,
It's good to be alive."
~Jason Gray, Good To Be Alive