Traveling and experiencing new cultures is something I have always loved doing, spending time in different countries with my family and friends, immersing ourselves into different ways of living. However, I never realised how much my heart would be changed by going to China in the summer of 2014. The amazing opportunity arose earlier in that year to go to a village an hour outside Beijing, for a period of 6 weeks to volunteer with infants and children who were orphans with serious medical conditions. It felt like a dream come true. The decision to go definitely wasn’t easy or straight-forward, it felt like there were so many barriers… no.1: I had nowhere near enough money to afford plane tickets, the cost of the trip and to survive for 6 weeks; no.2: I was going on my own at the age of 18, which at the time, felt very scary and no.3: I did not speak a word of Mandarin. Nevertheless, I felt a true calling on my life to pursue this journey and I knew that God would provide if I was meant to go, therefore I trusted him with everything I had (which was by no way easy) and he provided in ways that I could not have imagined, which enabled me to go and experience a place I’ll always hold in my heart.
I arrived in Beijing airport only knowing how to say “hello” in Mandarin, which made communicating with the driver an experience to remember. I felt so naive and completely unaware of the culture… also, that wearing a seat-belt and road safety did not exist. I remember the drive from the airport to where I was volunteering as being one of the scariest moments- I was clinging onto the handle on the inside of the car, thinking that I was going to die. We made it though and I look back on that memory fondly, as it always makes me giggle now! The hardest thing about going to China was going through the culture shock- I went completely off my food and felt so strange for a period of about 1 and a half weeks. However, my heart began changing throughout the 6 weeks and I became accustomed to the culture, got stuck into the volunteering I was doing, I learnt more phrases in Mandarin and developed my relationships with the people I was working and living with.
Serving was so rewarding- I developed many amazing relationships and learnt a lot about the people I worked with. I discovered the power of non-verbal communication and how two people with completely different languages can understand, spread love and joy. I cared for, played with and developed a clearer understanding of what medical care the children and babies were receiving. I also worked alongside children from a senior school in China, aiding them to develop their English. I had many opportunities and learnt so much from everything I did. It was really challenging at points, but also so beautiful to see the growth, development and strength of these wonderful children!
On the weekends I had off, I did a lot of exploring of Beijing and sightseeing- made so many wonderful memories which I will treasure- such as exploring parts of The Great Wall of China, visiting Tienanmen Square, going tobogganing down the Great Wall, white water rafting, shopping at the Pearl Market, joining in and dancing traditional Chinese dances in the park with many others, eating at Pizza Hut when we were completely fed up of eating rice for 3 meals a day, every day and SO many more…
I think what captured my heart was this beautiful sense of community, a constant willingness to love and bring hope. The people who ran the foster home I volunteered in, the nannies who cared for these children, the extra activities that were started to help the community and this amazing joy everyone had for this place- it all captured me. I found myself falling for China and seeing that this was not just luck that I had ended up here. God had called me to spend my summer blessing and bringing as much joy and love as I could to others. I hope one day I can return and serve with joy again!
Serve the world with your joy!