I really like first meetings. When I meet somebody for the first time my mind zooms ahead several days, weeks and even years. I imagine how this new friend will be a part of my life in the future. At the time, most of us can never imagine these happen-chanced incidents to be life changing. But, oh so many times they are…
I first met Zhang Weiyin in May of 2016. She was in a class for which I was the guest speaker at the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies in Guangzhou, China. The class members were all called to this meeting to hear from me, the professor from Harding University, which they would all be transferring to later that summer. I was excited to meet them all. I knew that about half of these students would eventually end up in my Principles of Communication class. I spoke about the differences in going to a University in China and in America, specifically Harding. I always make this talk interactive, relaxed open, and FUN! I walk through the class taking selfies and trading WeChat addresses as I proceeded through my talk. Afterwards, I invite anybody to come up and meet me, “Let’s get our picture made together,” I asked? There is usually lots of introductions, both in Chinese and English, lots of laughing and smiling… and lots of selfies!
On this day, there was a quiet and pretty young lady patiently waiting for everybody else to have their turns with me so that she could walk up and say, with hand outstretched, “Hi, I’m Weny.” We had our picture made and she walked away. Little did I know at the time, that at this first meeting, Weny Zhang was walking into my life in a big way!
The next Fall, and the entire next year of university life at Harding, Weny would often wave at me as we passed each other on the sidewalks. I couldn’t remember her name, but I recognized her as one of the many Chinese students I had met in the process of my connections with the Chinese students at Harding University. It took me several weeks, maybe months to put two-and-two-together and remember when and where I had met Weny.
In late April of that school year (spring of ’17), Weny became ill. Very Ill! She was anemic and our school nurse sent her to the local doctor, who in turn admitted her to the hospital. I heard about this and went to see her. Weny was clearly agitated that she had to be there but was cheery and smiling as she always is. I prayed with her and promised her that I would talk to God about her situation. This could not have come at a worse time for a hard working student, as it was almost the end of the year and final exams were looming in her future.
Weny got out of the hospital to take her exams but then took a turn for the worse and she ended up back in the hospital. Weny was again anemic, and she messaged me that she was getting blood transfusions. I was about to head to China for a few weeks and I wanted to see her again before I left. I asked my wife Donna to go with me. I thought the presence of a “Nie-Nie” (grandmother), type figure might make her feel better. When we entered the room we were met by a Chinese man who didn’t speak any English. I knew at one glance that this had to be her father. It was. Weny introduced us, and I thought this is not good. If they called her parents in to travel from China, this wasn’t just a common illness. Again, we prayed with her. She sat up in bed and we took her hands to pray. As I prayed I could feel the strength in her grip as she held my hand. When I finished and started our goodbyes, I explained that I was going to China but I would see here when I returned. Then, I could feel Weny NOT letting go… so I reached out to hug her, and kissed her on the cheek. As I looked at her face she started to cry as we left. It was really, really hard for me to walk out of that room. As I left, I shook her father’s hand very warmly, looked at Weny and said, “Zaijian.” Chinese people don’t like to say goodbye. They say, "Zaijian," (see you later). Several weeks later, as soon as I returned from China, I wanted to see Weny, but she was feeling good enough to have gone home to Guangzhou.
Later that Summer, in July, she had a fever that the Chinese doctors couldn’t seem to find a reason for, or a treatment. The doctors in Guangzhou thought it best to send her back to America to see if the doctors that had been treating her here in Searcy could diagnose the problem.
As soon as I knew that she was back in Searcy, Donna and I went to see her again. She was now living off campus and her father was with her. The university had allowed her to move into a school owned apartment so that her parents could stay with her (instead of the dorm), and help her with her regiment of doctor visits, medicines, and special diet needs. I had bought some watermelons at a local farmer’s market so I took them one, knowing that Chinese people loved this fruit, (but who doesn’t?). Her Baba wanted to cut it up and share it with us right then, but we insisted that it was for them and that we had watermelon at home. He seemed to be very thankful for us looking in on Weny.
Weny had a long road to recovery, but the illness she had was recoverable. The university Chinese office helped her file an appeal with our government and her Student Visa so that she could take a medically approved lighter than normally academic load. The U.S. Government approved that. She now only had to take one class to satisfy her Student Visa, and she chose to take a Bible class! Praise God! She took much of this class on line and only showed up for class when she was feeling strong enough to do so.
Over the next four months Weny went through a painful recovery process. In January she was almost completely healed! There was no doubt in my mind that God healed her! Weny also recognized this miracle. She was a living, breathing answer to prayer. God is good all the time… and all the time God is good! In the Spring semester many of us took turns taking Weny to lunch or dinner to help her in any way we could. Weny always wanted to pay for our lunch, but I never would let her. I always jokingly said, she was a guest in my hometown, and that I would pay for both of us! And, that if I was ever a guest in her hometown then she could pay!
I had plans to return to China May of 2018. Weny wanted me come see her and her parent’s so that we could all go out to dinner together. We made plans to meet. On Saturday, May 26, I waited outside my hotel lobby in Guangzhou. As her Mama and Baba pulled up in their car I hopped in the front seat, met her father again, and for the first time met her mother sitting in the back seat with Weny. As much as I thought that Weny looked like her father, I now thought she looked even more like her mother. Her father’s name was Zhang Zhen, and her mother was named He. Neither of them had English nick names.
After the introductions and appropriate greetings Weny smiled and said to me, “Now you’re a guest in my hometown, so I’m paying for dinner tonight!” She had me! I couldn’t really argue with that logic, and off to dinner we went. Weny had asked me earlier where and what I had been eating while I was on my trip? She then offered a different food experience than I had previously eaten in China.
We drove for about an hour. It probably wasn’t that far away but the traffic in Guangzhou was just horrible! We finally arrived at the restaurant she had chosen. It was a small, almost hole-in-the-wall Japanese sushi place! I asked Weny if they ate here often and she said, “No, never. I’ve been searching for a good place to take you and I found this place on the Internet!”
The food was as good as advertised. It was the best sushi I’ve ever had. And as usual, my Chinese hosts ordered way too much food! They had a lot of unusual offerings and it was GREAT! I ate so much, we all did, but there was still a lot left over. As good as the food was the best part of the evening was sitting in a restaurant, in Guangzhou, China, with a healthy, happy, smiling Weny Zhang and her parents! I always thank God for times such as these. I thought about how blessed I was to even be a part of her story. As I thought back on the day we first met, I would never have imagined what part of my heart that Weny captured!
As we left and got back into the car for the return to my hotel, Weny’s Baba said he had a gift for me… It was a watermelon!
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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.