It was Sunday, May 20, 2018, and everybody needed to be out the door by 9:00 a.m. to attend worship. Gian and Mandy Bell and family were going to attend the Foreign Fellowship near Jian Han Da Xue.
I was headed to meet some Harding graduates that were having a family meeting in the apartment of one of their co-workers/teachers at a different university across Wuhan. As I was leaving I wanted to tell them of my admiration and love for them and what they are doing. But, there was a torrential downpour. We were in the doorway of their apartment building about to make a run for it and I had to tell them very quickly even though I wanted to put more heartfelt words in my goodbye, I just had to hurry. The Didi, (China’s version of Uber), car was waiting for us. It was going to drop me on a street corner where there were lots of taxi’s, then it was going to take the seven Bell’s on to the foreign worship. Did I say it was raining? It was a torrential, flooding rainfall. Gian gave me an umbrella and we said our goodbyes.
I stood on the corner with my backpack and large suitcase and tried several times to flag down a taxi. I got soaked…and so did my bags! The taxi drivers often pass on a fare when a foreigner that looks as if they don’t speak Chinese is flagging them down. I think that this may have been happening to me, but after several drive-bye’s, a brave driver finally picked me up. I explained as best I could in Chinese where I was going and even showed him my destination map on my phone that Allie Cook had sent me. He smiled and said, “Hao de,” (OK), and I loaded my wet bags and me in his back seat.
Thirty minutes later he was pointing to the front gate of the Wuhan Polytechnic Institute. All the universities in China have a wall around their entire campuses with gates and guards to pass through for entry. Unless you lived on campus or had business their you could not go through the gate in a car without paying a fee, so taxi’s will drop you at the gate and not any further.
I had sent a WeChat to Allie Cook arranging for our meeting for family worship for this first day of the week. She was a former Harding student that I had previously invited to take a few Chinese language lessons with me in my office the year before she came to Wuhan. I had some pretty explicit instructions from Emmy Burton to find Allie and give her a big hug. Emmy also gave me a list of other names for which to greet properly. Allie has a big personality and an even bigger heart for the Chinese work. Here is a previous email that I had received from her last Fall.
I have called China my home for just over two months. I teach 123 English majors for whom I am very thankful because they show me a lot of love and grace as being a college professor is a new experience for me. Every week is trial and error as I discover what works, what does not seem to cross the culture barrier, etc. I have been very hard on myself because I feel as if I am not living up to the standards ingrained in the minds of educators; however, I am constantly striving to be content with who I am because no one becomes a veteran at anything overnight. Experience is earned. Right now I am not experienced. I am a 22-year-old healthy woman who is trying her best. And that is OK.
My love for China continues to grow. The people are different, the food is different, the language is (very) different, the clothing is different, the social customs are different, THE LEARNING STYLE IS DIFFERENT. Different is not tantamount to bad. The people are kind, the food is scrumptious, the language is beautiful, the clothing is edgy, the social customs are formal, the learning style is rigid.
The everyday walk of life in China showcases God's love through the thoughtfulness and uniqueness of this culture. The display of His beauty is evident even in crowded streets and dusty classrooms. These crowded streets and dusty classrooms are bursting with beautiful people walking all sorts of unique paths. I am thankful to share a path with Garrett Bender, Zee Rock, Abigail Adkins and Wyatt Palmer I am thankful for their personalities, their steadfast love for the Lord and their encouragement. We live in China. What a time to be alive!
Knowing that she was entrenched into this good work I was now waiting at the front gate for her. On any other day she might have come to meet me, but it was still raining…and raining harder now. On this day she sent me an APP and instructions for walking toward her while she walked toward me. The I-Phone app was pretty cool… As I started walking on the campus it gave me a map and turn-by-turn directions to where her phone was located. A few minutes later we were waiving at each other followed by big hugs and hello’s! Come this way she motioned so we could get out of the rain. It was just a few more meters to her apartment building and where we were going to be gathering for the Family meeting. It was one of the other team members apt. His name is Tom. I don’t remember his last name, but Tom welcomed me warmly. Tom also lead the devotional worship time we had that morning. He seemed to be a bit older, admired and trusted member of their team. We weren’t the first to show up for this but almost. When I arrived I met a Chinese woman and her 6-ish year old daughter. It was the little girl’s birthday, so after a few more people arrived we sang happy birthday and cut up some cake.
As the rest of the group started slowly rolling in (nothing happens quickly or on time in China), I met more of the team, many of whom I had seen or heard about when they were Harding students. There was Zee Rock, another American teacher that looked closer to my age, Wyatt Palmer, a female student from LCU, A young African female student. I was particularly excited to see Abigail Pratt, one of my former advertising class members! Abigail brought her American friend, and her name was also Abigail!
We had a wonderful time of worship and prayer. Tom had a compelling message about the relevance of what we were doing in China. After worship time we visited some more while we ate the rest of the birthday cake! Dinner plans were previously made and I had been invited. After I discussed what I needed to do and where I needed to go they decided that I probably didn’t have time to eat with them but that the subway/metro station that I needed was very near where they were going to eat so I should just go with them until we needed to go different directions. We had group photos made. I was really feeling encumbered with my back pack and my HEAVY suitcase being pulled behind me but it was what it was… I was on my way to Xinhua to take pictures of the Rice Terraces!
Before we parted we ran into Garrett Bender and Abigail Adkins, (yes, I know yet another Abigail in the group)! Garrett was also on the list for whom Emmy Burton told me to make sure I saw and hugged for her. When I informed him of Emmy’s desire we all agreed that Emmy gave good hugs and we would never want to disappoint Emmy Burton!
I needed to get to the metro and onto the High Speed train station. Zee Rock seemed to be most familiar with where I needed to go so he gave me very detailed instructions about where to find the ticket window and which metro line to get on and off. So, off I went feeling pretty smug about my ability to travel alone in China! Every time I feel that way something is about to happen that humbles me and makes me know that I am not as cool as I think I am.
Then the adventure began… I made my way to the ticket counter but it was a lot farther and a lot harder to get to than I was led to believe. Lots of stairs and up and down with my heavy suitcase. When I got to the ticket counter I had a more than usual hard time communicating. I simply needed one ticket that would take me to the Fast Train station that could get me to Xinhua. ¥50 she said. Wow, I thought that was a lot but paid it anyway. I later found out that what she was sold me a multi-use pass and that only ¥6 of that ¥50 was used for this trip.
However, when I got my ticket I took a hold of my bags and turned towards the stairs down to the subway. I didn’t realize until about an hour later that I left my wallet with my credit cards and Passport on the counter where I bought my ticket! I waited patiently for my train, boarded and traveled for about 30 minutes to the other end… got off the subway car and reached for my wallet. It was GONE!!! No, It can’t be I thought? Where is it? I searched all my pockets of my clothing and my bags. It was NOT with me! AAAAGGGHH! No! I lost my wallet the previous year while traveling in China and it was one of the worst days of my life. Was I living the next worst day of my life? I sat down on the floor in the platform area and bemoaned my fate. I thought, “This couldn’t be happening to me… AGAIN!?”
As I cried and moaned, I tried to pull myself together to tackle this issue. I knew that if the wallet had been stolen then it was gone, but if I just left it somewhere there was hope. I was somewhat consoled from my experience last year that this was something for which I would recover, and that I knew just what to do if my wallet and passport were indeed gone. I ran through in my mind the last time I used it… yes, I had it when I bought my ticket. I surmised that I must have left it at the ticket counter. I knew it was a long shot but maybe it was still there? I called Zee Rock, because he was the one who told me where to buy the ticket, so I knew he would know exactly where the ticket counter was located. I couldn’t reach him. I knew that the group was out to lunch so I called Allie, and asked if Zee was still with her? He was, and Allie handed him the phone. I quickly explained to Zee what happened and asked him if he would be willing to go to the ticket counter and ask if they had my wallet. He must have sensed the despair in my voice because he immediately said yes, and that he and Allie would go there right away to see if they could locate it!
While I was waiting, I received a WeChat message from somebody I didn’t know. The message had a photo attached to it and it was a picture of my wallet, passport and other contents. It was a good Samaritan informing me that he found my wallet. I had some business cards in the wallet that had my WeChat address and the finder sent me a message! I had no idea where he was so I asked him if he could bring me my wallet and that I would reward him with some cash. I asked him to do this because I thought it would be easier for him to find me than for me to find him. I guess I was thinking about myself. I’m sure he was busy going about his business for the day because he said, “Come get it yourself.” I was a bit taken back by his bluntness, but I thought this was probably a translation issue, besides I would gladly go get it if I could find him. I suspected that I would miss my train to Xinhua but it was a lesser of a problem than not having my Passport.
As I was contemplating my trip back to where my passport was I thought I would check in with Zee and Allie. Where were they now? Were they close to the ticket window? Were they close to my wallet? Right about then I got a message from the ticket desk from which I had left my wallet. They reported a man turned in my wallet, intact with all my contents, and that I could come to their station and retrieve it! I quickly sent Zee and Allie a message and told them about this message and asked them to go there and get my wallet. Of course, they said, “Yes!” I also sent the ticket window a message that my friends would pick it up along with a photo of my friends that would do so. It was the group photo I had taken just about an hour previous! I wanted the ticket office to know that I did indeed know the people that were coming to get my wallet.
Allie and Zee got the wallet. They even texted me a photo of them receiving the hand off so that I could relax. They were on their way to where I was. Soon I heard, “Steve,” were over here.” I turned and saw Allie waiving and walking toward me, wallet held high in the air! It was a glorious day of relief! I have maybe never felt so relived about anything. I hugged them both. Somebody, may have been crying tears of joy!
After thanking Zee and Allie profusely, I turned to try to get to my train to Xinhua. When I arrived at the fast train station I checked the board and the train had departed without me. I missed my train to Xinhua! I tried to buy the next train to Xinhua but there were no more tonight, and they were all sold out for Monday! I contemplated for about a Nano-second before I decided to switch my days around. I had planned on going to Xinhua for two days and then Hengyang for two days. If I could change my two hotel reservations to reflect my new plan, I would buy a ticket to Hengyang, and it would be a done deal.
I called Leo for whom was arranging my pick-up, transportation and lodging in Xinhua. I explained my adventure and asked him kindly to inform his Uncle of my new plans and that I would see him on Tuesday instead of later tonight, he said, mei wenti, (no problem), I’ll call my uncle and tell him. Then I called the Joy of Hengyang and asked if she could change my Hengyang hotel reservations? She did so immediately. Then Joy Zhang said that she and her daughter would pick me up at the Hengyang train station and drive me back to the hotel.
As I waited for my train to Hengyang, I felt very thankful for God's care he provided me, from my young Harding alumni friends, to a new Chinese friend that I never met, the man who turned in my wallet. I thought the best way I could thank God was to We Chat a grateful message of appreciation to the unknown Chinese man who found my wallet. I did so and thanked him for his sincere effort to help me get my wallet. I thanked him again and again. He simply replied, "Welcome to China!"
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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.