In May of 2020, as I posted the grades for my last Chinese Communication Principles class, I paused for a moment of reflection… I took some time to thank God for allowing me 12 great years for the amazing opportunity to teach our Chinese students! It has been a challenge, a stretch, and an exercise of my heart.
I loved these Chinese students so passionately, and differently, from any other group of students that I’ve ever been able to mentor.
I tried to teach them to be quick to listen and slow to speak.
I wanted them to stand up and speak up, and do so confidently, because they had something to say.
I told them that they are uniquely and wonderfully made by THE God of the universe.
I taught them to know they were loved unconditionally by God.
I wanted them to see Jesus.
I want them to know that I loved being their “Xie Yeye,” an affectionate name they gave me!
It is my prayer that they will always know how much I loved them!
I was never sent to China by Harding University, but because I taught these students here, it opened the door for me to do so in China through visiting professor programs. While in China, I met the parents of my students in their hometowns, went out to dinner with them, stayed in their homes overnight, and was lavished with gifts of thanks for teaching their children. I even baptized one of them here in Searcy.
I became proficient at riding the high-speed railway system, traveling with my students and even by myself from city to city all over China. These Chinese students became my sons and daughters. I now even have Chinese grandchildren!
In 2016, while in the hometown of a former Harding student, I called her knowing she recently had given birth to her firstborn. I wanted to see if I could come and visit her, her family, and her then five-week old son? She and her family welcomed me so graciously into their home. Soon after I got seated they handed me the baby boy to hold. While doing so I asked the baby’s name? I was reminded that in China they don’t name their babies for one hundred days. On this day, this child was 35 days old. So, I then asked if they had picked out an American nick-name? They all looked at each other and smiled and clapped, and said, “We knew you were coming, we waited for you so that you could give him his American name!” (GASP)
In 2018, one of my Harding students, who stayed in Searcy for the summer, arranged for me to meet up with his Uncle, (he spoke NO English but we fun communicating anyway), My student asked his uncle to take me to one of the most beautiful sights in the world, a place where I always wanted to see but never could fit into my agenda, The Rice Terraces of Xinhua, in the mountains of western Hunan province. He met me at the train station one evening, paid for my hotel room, and came back early the next morning to pick me up. We then drove for two hours to the mountains and the valleys where the rice and tea grew, stopping along the way to take photographs because my student back at Harding told him I was a photographer. At lunch time he had arranged with a local friend, who lived as remotely as I have ever been away from home, to go to the house of his family for a meal. It was singularly one of the best experiences I've ever lived in China, or in my life!
That same year one of my Harding students invited me to come visit her in her small hometown of Lingbao (only 720,000) and wanted to take me to a very historical site, not just in China but in the world. She took me to the birthplace to Laozi, the founder of Daoism. As we sat on a stone bench in the garden of his childhood home, she paused and asked, “Xie Yeye, would you tell me how to find God?” I was in awe, because I knew right then why God had placed me in the home Laozi at that moment.
I have hundreds of stories like these that I will be telling for years to come. I’m not done going to China, but I will never go back again without looking up my former students and enjoying the cacophony of the Chinese culture and cuisine! The people, the students, the university’s, the markets, the food, the pictures with strangers, the broken English that children would run up to me to speak because they had learned it in school that week, was all such a gift from an entire nation.
I thank God for these opportunities. I feel so blessed and fortunate to have been a small part of these student’s lives. Teaching these students about life has truly been a gift from God!
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Steve Shaner, also known as Xie Yeye, is a professional story teller that delights in traveling to meet new and old friends. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.