Ever since 1994 when I left China, so sad that health made long-term work there too difficult, I have wanted to return. That summer, I came home with two suitcases, wishing life could always remain so uncluttered (and simple) and that my sense of purpose could remain so clear. I still remember the joy I discovered when I first arrived in China. I found out that teaching full-time was a tremendous joy for me. I loved the students, and they loved me in a very pure way. I don’t think I’d ever known such joy before life in Nanchang. Perhaps in some ways joy was inspired by a new adventure, but my love for the people of China and teaching has never dimmed. I loved living in a place far from home, a place where I was known simply for who I was and the gifts God had given me.
Sure, I missed home in some ways. Just the crush of the crowds when I’d leave the north campus would give me a headache at first. Crossing the street required excellent reflexes and courage in this wild traffic. But I’d never felt such a sense of belonging and peace as I felt there on the campus of Jiangxi Medical College. My students were bright and eager–and many of them came to the city from the countryside. Many of them had little in the way of material resources. Once I talked about how Americans love desserts and foods that are not so healthy–in fact those foods might just make a person fat. Many of them were so thin their belts literally reached around a few times. One very thin fellow raised his hand and wistfully said, “Miss Susan, I would love to be fat just once.” Some of the girls told me that on their birthday, they would buy an egg or two to add to their noodles as a special celebration. One of them wrote me a letter saying she hoped I’d have “something special for my dishes.” For entrance exams, one farm family saved diligently to provide their daughter with milk, fresh fruit and some more protein so she could study better. She always remembered their sacrifice. This same girl touched my heart when she told of planting rice with leaches stuck to her legs, and then she smiled and said, “it wasn’t so bad.” On Thanksgiving, I asked my students what they were thankful for, and a young man held up his ballpoint pen. “My pen,” he proudly said, “I’m thankful for this pen–it’s been a good one.” Many times I fought back tears of admiration and love as I heard them express their hearts. Those same hearts held such beautiful appreciation and promise…and I quickly grew to love my students and colleagues. So naturally, I was heartbroken when I left for home, not yet knowing that multiple sclerosis was causing the problems, though it had been suspected earlier.
Today something magical happened by God’s grace. I have saved air miles for several years. I have hoped for adequate health to travel so far again, and seldom has it looked feasible. But today, I felt excitement and great hope when I called to book a ticket to China. At last, I’ll set foot on Chinese soil again. I’ll see dear friends in Hong Kong, south China, and central China. For $300 and some patience, I was able to purchase the remaining air miles needed, pay the taxes, and the wonderful rewards desk woman helped me for a good long while as we searched for a ticket I could reserve. I prayed it would happen, and somehow I knew it would. Guess what, I am going back to the land I love! I thought it would be fun to share the journey through this blog…and recount some of the memories formed long ago in a time I treasured.