Evan's visit to China

International travel had never been part of my vocabulary. As the youngest of five children to a high school educator we spent our vacations camping in California every year (which I loved). When I graduated from High School and awaited my mission call, people asked me where I wanted to go. I didn't say foreign but expressed how I wanted to serve among "a people".  While standing high on a cliff side overlooking Lake Sakakawea in North Dakota as missionary, I listened as the wind blew and my American Indian family rubbed sage on themselves and sang at a wake (funeral) for a loved one who passed. It was at this moment that I closed my eyes and came to a sudden realization.

I love people.

I love their stories. I love their beliefs. I love their culture. I love their families their appearance their homes. I want to know what they find beautiful etc. In summary, I love their experiences. As humans we are constructivist learners. Our understanding of life comes from our constructed experience and those we choose to share with and gain from.  Every time I meet someone I say in one way or another "tell me your story".  We have so much to learn from each other. I feel here in the United States we have been brought up to sometimes feel the world revolves around us. Well newsflash:

God is not an American.

The creator of all things loves all his kids. We are brothers and sisters. So what does this have to do with China? Fast forward to beginning my time as a doctoral student at Purdue University. One of my first experiences as a doctoral student was at a conference in Las Vegas where I found myself in the middle of fellow students who were from China, South Korea, India, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and more. I was in heaven. I wanted to go around to every individual and say tell me everything about your life! It happened to be that one of my first conversations was with a young man named Mohan and later we came to share an office. He spoke of a young woman he loved and was going to buy her perfume. We talked about families and girls etc. We had so many questions for each other about our life experiences. Well, Mohan and I quickly became great friends and we proceeded to spend the next couple years talking about China and possibly visiting. Well guess what...?

Mohan got engaged.

He was getting married in China. And it just "happened to be" that one of my childhood brothers/best friends was working and traveling in China. Coincidence? I think not! I didn't know how to make it happen, but my wife convinced me it was worth it and we made some sacrifices. I hopped on a plane and made it to Beijing where I met up with my Bro Brent. China's planes definitely more clearly define why all US planes hold onto their one star ratings.

Brent and I then proceeded to backpack all over mainland China for the next two weeks. That included Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Zhangjiajie (Avatar Mountains), Yangshuo, Yellow Mountains, Great Wall, and ultimately Henan Province for Mohan's wedding. We soaked it in. The people. The culture. We laughed and I cried. Just imagine the culture we have here in the United States and we are only a few hundred years old. Take thousands of years and a billion people. So many stories. So many beliefs. We met two brothers from Jordan who seemed to be traveling everywhere that we were. We had a couple meals and their experiences were amazing. I learned that I could eat some things and had to refrain from others (e.g. scorpion still moving on a stick?). I got food poisoning while hopping on the flight to go home and 14 hours of that was H**l.

But lets talk about my experience with people. Mohan's wedding was perfect. I loved showing up to his village and seeing where my brother from China grew up. Its incredible that from that humble village we met all the way in West Lafayette, Indiana. When Brent and I arrived on scene we were instantly like celebrities and the rest of China was the paparazzi. Mohan said that many people in his village had never seen a "foreigner" before. Hence why their were hundreds of cameras out and everyone wanted a shot with us.  We got to sit down see the room where Mohan grew up for a short minute and then we as the groomsmen hopped in a car with an incredibly loud gun shooting noise contraption taped to the top. We took off across the countryside in a caravan on our way to go "steal the bride". We go to the hotel where Lu was staying and upon arriving at the room Mohan had to do a series of obstacles to prove that he could enter in. He danced, he sang, we had to find a shoe (which ended up being hidden in the ceiling) to show love for his future wife. Mohan took her from the room and we headed back to his home in the village for the wedding and celebration. There was also some sort of bag pipe accordion musical instrument playing everywhere we went too. Brent and I were having a blast. At the wedding we sat quietly in the back while everyone took pictures of us. They were so kind I loved it. As the wedding ceremony proceeded something happened.

A speech.

Mohan looked at me and said that I needed to give a speech to the hundred Chinese family members and friends standing in front of me. WHAT!? I have never been more terrified even when all the phones all the sudden came out. I cant remember what I said exactly but essentially I said that I had just traveled all over China to some of the most beautiful landscapes you can ever see, but none of those was as pretty as the sight that was happen then and there. My words were translated by one of Mohans friends. And then we had the flower bouquet toss and guess who nailed it....Brent! Victorious. We then had like a 20 course family style meal where they just kept bringing plate after plate to the table where we were sitting with all of Mohans young friends. Mohan knew that I don't drink so he wanted to make sure I didn't come across anything. I told him I was nervous about offending family members or ancestors or something! But it was all good. This roundtable dinner discussion was a riot as we got to hear where everyone was from and their experiences.

Most importantly the piece of heaven I got to experience was when I looked at Mohan and Lu getting married and how happy they were and how happy their families were. It was during this time that I thought to myself how we really are not that different. We all care about family and friends. It is these things we all find beautiful. I was so happy for him. We had began talking about this day years before I and in every conversation I wanted to make sure he knew how wonderful marriage and family were.

I have a long way to go to increase in my global competence. This is NOT synonomous with being a world traveler. This means starting in our homes. We need to be able to understand issues of global significance that impact all of us. It means listening to the viewpoints of others and understanding why they believe the way that they do and being okay and not offended! Then we learn to communicate effectively with each other so that we can work together to solve global problems and not fight about them.

I loved China. Was it different than the United States? Uh yes. But truthfully, behind it all, the people are the same as us and everywhere else in the world. I look forward to returning with my family and helping my children come to better understand

People are amazing.
People are good.
People are beautiful.