Tag Archives: Chinese

The Embodiment of Hope

Today I’m over at Grace and Hope for Children’s blog, writing about my experiences working alongside their organization in China and the hope that their staff and the foster parents they support bring to children, their communities, China, and abroad.

I’ve written a fair bit about my research with foster parents on this blog, but without the support from folks at Grace and Hope none of it would have been possible!  They’re a great organization that are supporting the work of foster care in China, which is so important.  You can learn more about their organization via their website, or you can read the post below and click over to the blog to finish.  If you’re joining us from Grace and Hope today, thanks for your support of foster families, and I hope you’ll enjoy browsing the blog for other posts about China, foster families, and faith.

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Nanning
Farmers on the outskirts of Nanning’s modern skyscrapers in the Guangxi Autonomous Region. All photos by Evan Schneider.

Nearly three and a half years ago I came to China hoping to do dissertation research with foster families.  I remember vividly the first few moments in the Nanning airport, where my halting Mandarin got a pungent taste of Southwest Guangxi’s linguistic plurality and thick Southern accents (yep, there are Southern accents in China, too!).  I remember not only this cacophony of languages upon touching down in Nanning, but also the pervasive smell of mildew, the sea of e-bikes stretching across the broad avenues, and my first forays through neighborhood markets searching for foster mothers alongside a friend who swore they could be found.

I met not a single foster mother that first summer.  Instead, I met many people, all Chinese, who told me, emphatically, that they did not exist.  Our research design is open-ended in anthropology, meaning that we spend a lot of time in the places where we study and live, and we often expect even the topic of our research to change along the way.  People who I met in Guangxi apologized obsessively for the “backwardness” of their region, and urged me to go somewhere of real importance in China.  Chinese professors of anthropology wondered why I wanted to study foster mothers, rather than the Zhuang minority culture, for which Guangxi is famous.

But oddly, for some reason, it never occurred to me to abandon the project.  I had this strange, absurd, yet resilient hope that foster mothers were out there somewhere, and that they were worth studying and worth knowing.  So my husband and I moved to Nanning the following summer, on a wing and a prayer.  And then finally, in March of 2011 in an unassuming concrete office, buried in the middle of the city, and through a roundabout network of friends and acquaintances, I was introduced to a small NGO staff who told me they supported hundreds of families in Nanning and thousands outside of the province who took orphaned and abandoned children into their homes.

Their name was Grace and Hope.  That April, in a nearby city orphanage, an elderly woman with a kind smile told me how she’d started foster care projects in Guangxi in the early 1990s out of necessity, poverty, and concern.  Guangxi, it turned out, despite the naysayers, and in no small part due to Grace and Hope, was at the center of a disperse, yet expansive foster care movement.

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The author with members of the staff of Grace and Hope for Children in China.

Keep reading at Grace and Hope for Children

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Virtual Coffee Date

There’s a blogger I read and like who does an occasional, reoccurring post entitled Virtual Coffee Date.  She borrowed the idea from another blogger, and I, who love coffee, also love the idea of pretending we’re sitting down here for a sacred cup and gabbing like old friends.

I admit, in the same breath, that I’m kind of intimidated about a post whose very premise seems to suggest that I have this busy, interesting, important life to keep up with, but then I’m reminded how instrumental this blog has been to process this (and many of life’s) transition(s), and I’m thankful for a space to spew some of these fears, hopes, and prayer requests, and especially humbled by readers who attend to them!

A typical morning scene for this gal.

So if we were sitting down to coffee I would tell you all about the dissertation, how much it strikes fear into my heart when anyone mistakenly asks if I’m done yet (I’ve hardly just begun), and how paralyzing it is to think of synthesizing a life–anyone else’s or the one that I had in China–into a word document.  It’s mostly difficult for good reasons: my life in China taught me so much, not just about culture and childrearing, but about God and humility and faith everyday.  So I’m a ball of nervous energy and excitement when it comes to this daunting project!

I’d tell you how much I’m looking forward to fall here in Princeton, how welcome the crisper, cooler mornings are to a girl who was previously living in the tropics, and how I can’t wait to bring on the pumpkin spice, the leaves on the tow path, chunky sweaters, my October birthday, and getting cozy with warm coffee.  I love and have missed all of that!

A foster mother and her daughter in Guangxi, Nanning.

I’d tell you about my friends in China, and my best girlfriend who is in crisis and constantly on my mind, and how hard it is to be away.  Please pray that she feels closer to God and God’s peace and also pray for the mothers, fathers, children, and orphanage workers there.  Pray especially for a twelve year-old girl who will be adopted in the coming weeks to a loving family in the states and for the joy-filled foster mom who has raised this soulful, mature young woman.

I’d tell you (and thanks in advance for listening) all about this course I’m excited to take at Princeton on modern Chinese intellectual history in Chinese that I’ll use to work out my Chinese and my mind this semester.  Feeling pretty blessed to be at one of the best Chinese language program’s in the country and looking forward to speaking and writing more competently about my research in Chinese through this course.

And finally, I’d tell you about the brokenness in my home church, where huge changes are stretching everyone’s patience and faith.  I grew up there and out of that wonderful place of diverse thought and acceptance sensed my own call.  And my deepest prayer is that those in the church find a way to love one another and be one in Christ despite the hurt and the pain.  Healing takes time, and as a child of the church, those suffering are ever in my thoughts and prayers.

My lunch view here on Princeton’s campus. Gorgeous!

And I’d ask you to praise God for finding me here in New Jersey, for God’s persistent call on my life, for the depth and the breadth of experiences these past few years, and the possibilities that remain. 

Pinching myself

A couple of months ago a good friend who was visiting asked me as we sat out on our balcony, enjoying our coffee, and overlooking this city of nearly 7 million Chinese, whether I ever pinch myself and say, wow, I’m in China.

The view from Green Mountain, with Nanning’s skyscrapers in the distance.

I can’t say that I’ve done much of that over the past two years.  

Sure, there’s the occasional marveling that whole segments of my life have been conducted in another language, or the sense of feeling so close, yet so far away from Chinese friends and Chinese culture.  But for the most part I like to think that living life here has been so challenging, consuming, and rewarding that I hadn’t gotten to that kind of contemplation.

Now that we’re leaving, though, I pinch myself every two seconds.

A view of the Yong River in Guangxi, Nanning.

On my couch the other day, my breath caught in my throat when it hit me that at the rate China’s changing, even if I return one short year from now, I’ll hardly know it, I’ll hardly know anything.  Today, on the bus, between foster visits I caught myself musing in Chinese, and realized how lonely it will feel when I return to the US and am expected to speak (and only understood, in) English.  Or today when I had the honor of consoling a foster mom whose first foster child left and was adopted, I wondered whether this was the last time I’d do that.

Those are the hardest driving-it-home-that-we’re-really leaving moments.  

Minority villagers visit in Yunnan province.

The having to say no–no, I can’t go out to the countryside this month, no I can’t visit next month with your family, and no, I don’t know when I’ll return either.  Gulp.

And I’m often tempted and guilty of letting the worries in.  I worry about each no, each goodbye, about the ones I’ve said and the ones I won’t have time to say.  We just bought our tickets home today, so it’s only natural to begin sensing the finality of it all.

The forest surrounding Green Mountain, Nanning. All photos by Evan Schneider.

So my new mantra is to embrace the imperfection, to expect and allow things to happen, and not be foolish enough to try to control it all or miss the trees for the forest.  

So many things unfolded with such surprising timing and fortune for us here in since we’ve gotten to China and that’s no fluke.  I just have to trust God that the transatlantic, bumpy road ahead of us is already in place no matter what comes…that, and maybe pinch myself a couple hundred of times everyday until the end of July.