When my wife and I returned to the US in March 2020, we only expected to be here for several weeks helping to facilitate work groups for a conference. We had return tickets to China for late April and multiple-entry R (foreign expert) and S2 (spousal) China visas in our passports. Even with the outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan (nearly 600 miles away from our China home)—we didn’t have any concerns about our short trip back to the States.
Little did we know that on March 26 all China visas for anyone not physically present in China would be suspended. And who, at that point in time, would have predicted how quickly and invasively the pandemic would spread globally—and linger? Or that 20 months later, China’s borders would, for all practical purposes, remain closed and we’d still be here in Colorado with no way to get China visas reinstated or to return to our home in China—to our work, our co-workers, and many local friends, all whom we love in Shanxi? Even now, it looks like travel to China may be difficult well into 2022 or even later.
Of course, we’re just two of many facing this dilemma—including many Chinese nationals who are also “stuck” with no reasonable way to return to their homeland.
The one thing we haven’t lost, however, is Christ’s heart of compassion and love for China and its more than 1.44 billion people.
But why have our hearts—especially during this past month—been aching for Shanxi in particular?
Why We Grieve
Heavy rains that began just before the October 1st National Day holiday caused the Yellow River—infamously known as “China’s Sorrow”—to flood for the third time since July. This time, massive flooding in Shanxi wiped out pieces of infrastructure, including bridges, train tracks, and even a portion of the ancient wall of Pingyao. Cave homes provide surprisingly comfortable shelter to millions across several of China’s northern provinces and allow for more of the limited level land in Shanxi to be utilized for agriculture. Many of these homes—cool in the summer and warm in the winter—have crumbled as portions of the loamy mountainsides have literally washed away from consecutive days of unrelenting rain.
Overall, from October 2–8, massive flooding in Shanxi directly affected more than 1.76 million people with more than 120,000 people physically displaced from their homes; 17,000 homes collapsed; landslides triggered in more than 70 districts and cities; economic activity suspended at more than 60 mines; and caused at least 15 deaths.
Apart from flooding, other sorrows have affected our team that remain living and working in the area. A dear Chinese coworker and organizational leader passed away from cancer in October. And another much-loved Chinese leader and coworker in our organization underwent her second cancer surgery in less than two years.
More COVID-Related Restrictions
Most recently, on October 29, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in our Chinese city has once again indefinitely “put on hold” many public gatherings and events due to new COVID outbreaks in 11 different parts of China.
And yet, alongside these hard situations that call our hearts to prayer, there are many new opportunities and openings—especially for our Chinese brothers and sisters—that give our souls reasons to rejoice.
Why We Rejoice
Assisting a Local NPO
When looking for a way to respond to the early October flooding in Shanxi, our organization discovered that one of our former Chinese employees had already mobilized her non-profit social service organization to provide material assistance in a small remote village where 700 people had lost their homes. Our organization purchased additional goods requested by the village leaders which the NPO then distributed on our behalf. We are thrilled that this local sister, profoundly shaped by the Lord, took the lead in this effort.
During 2020—because of the pandemic and its effects—this same NPO was able to sign a long-term lease for a visible, easily-accessible, street-front location at significantly below-market rates to begin serving children with disabilities and their families. Now, one year after establishing the center, they have launched a great new idea—a small business that will provide wholesome, meaningful employment to young adults with disabilities—a flower shop! The new training area really takes advantage of their street-level windows and, last month, several of these young people began vocational training to become florists.
Flexing towards New Opportunities
Recently announced aggressive reforms to the education sector in China, have created havoc across a society which, in recent years, has pressed for after-school and online tutoring to keep children educationally competitive with their peers. Overnight elimination of this US $70 billion industry has essentially eliminated the after-school tutoring market, shutting down countless large and previously successful businesses.
A newly registered Chinese company our organization helped incubate, set to serve this sector, was blindsided along with everyone else. Its small size and good local connections, however, have made it possible for this young company to flex towards youth sports, adult education, and study abroad support.
Expanding through Partnership
With in-China sales pretty much non-existent since early 2020, global shipping times nearly doubling, and huge international shipping cost increases, a small, hand-cut greeting card company in Shanxi has continued to navigate these challenges in creative ways and thrive.
Started in 2004 to bring hope and employment opportunities to poor families in the small villages of Yangqu County, Evergreen Cards and Bookmarks teaches women from families in difficult situations the skill of hand-cutting beautiful greeting cards. This year, it was able to develop a new vocational training partnership with another Shanxi-based NPO that focuses on assessment, rehabilitation, education, pre-employment training, and career development for young people with intellectual disabilities.
Be encouraged! The God we serve is still at work during these challenging times and in mysterious ways. But do keep praying!
If you live in the US and would like to play a practical part in supporting the card company mentioned above, Evergreen Cards, you can do that by purchasing and using their lovely hand-cut cards or bookmarks—including several dozen beautiful Christmas card designs (many that include Scripture). Go to Evergreen Cards for more information.
For those of you who live outside the US (or who are blessed to still be resident in China), you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org to place an order.
Images courtesy of the author.
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