It's been almost 10 years since I spent a summer with the Sayres at the Home of Hope Orphanage in XuZhou. My first trip to China started in San Antonio, Texas. I met the Sayres while attending International Bible College. My roommate was Rachel Smeja, Cindy Sayre's niece. As Rachel's roommate, the Sayres would invite me to hang out at their house on the weekends.
On Saturday nights, we would all stay up late watching TV and having fun. Sundays after church, Bob & Cindy would take us out to lunch and pay for everyone's meal. To a poor, college student living in a dorm, this was a huge blessing. I wasn't even family! My relationship with the Sayres continued to flourish. In 2004, The Sayres moved to China to start an orphanage. A year after I graduated, the Sayres invited me to spend the summer with them in XuZhou and help out at the Home of Hope.
Bobby was there in China that summer, but since he's a few years younger than me, there wasn't any interest between us yet! But I did have fun with the whole family, even though Bobby and Ethan often did their own thing. Christi and I went all over town together most days.
China is a dark country spiritually, but XuZhou seemed to be filled with light. Hope was in the air. Walking down the streets of XuZhou, EVERYONE WOULD STARE. Most of them had never seen a white person before. People would clamour around us, trying to speak English, touching our skin. Chinese learn English starting in kindergarten so many of the young people can speak English. This makes communication much easier! They want to talk to Americans and learn about our culture. What a platform to share Jesus!
We would also hold English Corners where people could come and practice their English in a conversational setting. This allowed people to ask questions about "life" and American culture. I remember one girl asking me about something that was strange and foreign to her...Christmas. She didn't know anything about it! She had never heard about the virgin birth, the Cross or the Resurrection. This still amazes me. I don't know that I've ever met anyone in Canada, the U.S. or Mexico who hadn't at least heard the basic Gospel story.
I had a blast with the kids in the orphanage. They would teach me to say things in Chinese and wanted to play "thumb wars" over and over. The orphanage also had a nursery with many small babies. It was so fun to hold them and love on them. These children had been thrown away, but the Sayres were giving them new life - kind of like Jesus does for us. These children aren't just being rescued, they are being fed the Word of God. My greatest memories are spending time with the kids and seeing them grow into healthy young followers of Christ. They are very much a family.
Not everything was easy. One of the hardest things for me was the spicy food. Thankfully white rice was readily available at each meal. There are always challenges to overcome, but being uncomfortable doesn't feel like much of a sacrifice when most of the people have never heard the name of Jesus. Christianity isn't a white religion - it's a "people of the world" religion. God doesn't play favorites. In His mercy, God drew each of us to Himself. People everywhere need rescued. Whether in America or China, our mission is to shine the light of Jesus to as many people as we can.