The vast majority of the daily news—whether disseminated from the U.S., China, Europe, or [insert name of just about any country or place in the world]—is filled with provocative, reactive, and many times heart-wrenching stories about trade wars, tariffs, and economic unfairness; worsening global relations between countries; political upheaval, corruption, and espionage; hurricanes, typhoons, earthquakes, and other natural calamities; and nearly every kind of mistreatment or abuse known to man.
But, in the midst of this never-ending flow of bad news, there are other narratives and very real stories of people and organizations unselfishly reaching out, genuinely trying to love their neighbors as themselves, and committed to bringing hope to seemingly forgotten lives and hopeless situations.
Here’s one of those stories that will never make the top-of-the page headlines but is a wonderful example of how by being observant—with open eyes—and proactive—with compassionate hearts—individual lives, families, and communities can be transformed both now and also for eternity.
Our story is about a woman named Li Mei who grew up in an extremely poor, agricultural- and mining-reliant area of north-central China.
Li Mei, the oldest of two children, grew up in an impoverished farming family whose situation was made worse by her father’s alcohol addiction and corresponding abuse.
Despite her hard family life, Li Mei was an extremely bright and gifted student. She loved attending her small, rural school. And, she excelled academically through primary school and into middle school. That is, until the end of her 8th grade year, when her family’s worsening economic circumstances led her parents to demand that she quit wasting her time going to school and instead spend her time helping at home and farming. Li Mei was crushed but had no choice. She stopped going to school and accepted her fate.
For the next six years—though beaten down in spirit and with increasingly lower levels of self-esteem–Li Mei diligently toiled at home. Her situation, however, became more and more unbearable. Every day she endured the angry shouting matches between her parents. She watched as her younger sibling became more-and-more troubled and detached. She, personally, felt the wrath and abuse from a father consumed by his demons of drink. And, as the oldest child, the responsibility and stress of trying to hold a fraying family together completely wore her down.
Finally, at the time when many of her previous classmates were sitting for their college-entrance exams, Li Mei made one of the hardest decisions of her young life. She would leave home, move to a large city, several hundred kilometers away, and find work and a place to live by herself.
Of course, with her lack of education and connections, the opportunities she found in this new place upon her arrival were few and far between. But finally, she was able to secure a job working in a small “convenience store” which had a small room in the back (with a coal-burning stove and heater) where she could live. Though not ideal, Li Mei was determined to make a new life for herself—even with the continued heavy burden of financially helping her family back home.
The hours were long; the work less than inspiring, but Li Mei thrived. She had always had the ability to interact with others in a friendly manner, and she found that she had a natural talent and inclination for business. She enjoyed putting out the stock, helping people find what they needed, developing good relations with her customers, and personally being responsible for the shop’s income and expenditures.
And, there was another benefit. One of her nearby neighbors and frequent customers was a foreign lady who seemed to be filled with joy, and who would come by often just to stop and chat. Over time, not only did they become friends, but Li Mei’s long-held-at-bay academic desires once again surfaced. “Could you come by more often and help teach me English?” she asked. Those new study sessions soon led to deeper discussions, and before too long a life transformed by a previously non-existent hope in things eternal.
Things were going well. Li Mei’s life wasn’t great, but it was getting better. That is, until one night when the flue to Li Mei’s coal-fueled heater backed up while she slept. Nearly asphyxiated, she spent weeks in the hospital before she could breathe well enough to return home and to work. (Even now, many years later she still has respiratory issues from this event.) Ultimately, she knew that she couldn’t keep working or living at this shop, but where could she go and what could she do?
Once again, her foreign friend helped with an idea. “Our company is starting a small hand-cut greeting card company in a little town about an hour north of here. Would you be willing to move there and be one of our office helpers?” Li Mei had never done work like this before, but it seemed like a good opportunity. After some thought, she agreed.
That was 15 years ago. The small company—later registered as Evergreen Cards Ltd.—was an economic development start-up project begun in one of Shanxi, China’s poorest counties. It was started with the express purpose of teaching women from families in hard situations how to hand-cut beautiful greeting cards and bookmarks. And, through this work, be provided with a tangible expression of God’s love coupled with dignity and respect.
In the past decade-and-a-half more than 100 ladies have been trained to cut cards. Currently, there are 30+ families whose daily sustenance is in large part provided through their work of hand-cutting more than 130 different, exquisitely-designed greeting cards and laminated bookmarks.
You can play a part in creating and sustaining stories like Li Mei’s. In the U.S. or Canada, you can see and purchase Evergreen Cards (including choosing from 26 different Christmas card designs) at www.evergreencard.com. In China, or from anywhere else in the world, you can contact Evergreen Cards directly by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
P.S. Today, Li Mei still works for Evergreen Cards. She is happily married; has children of her own; recently received an Associate’s Degree from college; and is currently doing coursework to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration.
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