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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Picnic

Some days are just simply beautiful. Here are some photos from our recent picnic with 30 families affected by disabilities. These families have been a part of family retreats, autism day camps and/or Saturday morning English classes. The volunteers got as much joy from the event as the families.
~ Kevin

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Swim Class

If you ever have the chance to ask Molly what she misses most about America, you will hear "swimming!" Even though we've lived in China for more than two years now, it wasn't until this month that we went swimming for the first time. 
Sweet friends from our international fellowship invited us to join them at one of the local colleges for an afternoon of swimming, and it was great fun. Two days later, as the kids and I were at the playground with a neighbor, we learned he was signed up for swimming lessons -- a 12-day program that began the very next day. Molly jumped at the chance to join him, and I was thankful for how his mom drove us there each day and helped me navigate the unfamiliar gym.
The photo above is from the first day of class -- the only time the kids were in the shallow pool. Molly is standing between our neighbor friend Henry and her former kindergarten classmate Wendy. We hadn't seen Wendy in a year, and it was such a wonderful surprise to see Molly's good friend as the only other girl in class. Unfortunately, Wendy didn't enjoy the class and never made it back after the first day.
Here is Molly on Day 12 with her teacher Mr. Wang. He was so friendly and kind, but Molly was super shy with him and gave him the impression she couldn't speak Chinese. She understood all of his instructions, but she would never answer his questions with more than a nod. (We're working on this… she'll get there!)
The lessons were long -- 5:30-6:45 pm every day -- and I felt like it consumed our lives. Kevin made special efforts to leave work a little early so he could stay at home with Hudson. (Swim students had to be 6 years old.) Molly's biggest complaint was that the water was very cold. It was too long and tiring for her to stay in the water for more than an hour.
Most lessons she stopped early and sat by the side of the pool until I came in at the end, but she was always very excited to go back again the next day. She never expressed any fear of the water, just how she wished it could be warmer.
There wasn't any seating around the pool, so the parents would walk the kids through the locker room and into the pool area and then head back downstairs to wait in the lobby. This was such an interesting facility. The upper levels house a really nice gym (treadmills, exercise equipment, aerobics room, spin bikes, ping pong tables) and clubhouse-type restaurant while the first floor is a fancy store for liquor and cigarettes with a small marine aquarium in the back.
So proud of my brave girl!
~Dayna

Friday, August 8, 2014

Family visits

It's always a privilege to visit our friends in their homes or workplaces. Here are glimpses of our visits.











Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Conference

I (Kevin) was privileged to speak at a conference for foreigners, which largely consisted of medical students from African nations and India. My message focused on freedom -- how we can find freedom from sin and how we can practically live as a river of life, receiving and giving, receiving and giving ...
~ Kevin

Friday, July 25, 2014

Sunshine

A day after returning from the Family Retreat, I (Kevin) had the opportunity to visit the Sunshine school. This program serves about 16 individuals with mental disabilities. The students learn basic living skills, and they enjoy friendships as they cook, make crafts and perform.




No matter the opportunity, it's always such a privilege to work with people affected by disabilities.
~ Kevin

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Family Retreat 2014

Our retreat for 29 children with disabilities and their parents (and grandparents) concluded yesterday, and we are still catching our breath from the weekend. What a whirlwind of fun activities, meaningful discussions and educational opportunities for all of us.
Kevin, our organization's staff, volunteers and the Joni and Friends International team from California headed to the hotel Thursday morning for training and team bonding. They had a short commissioning ceremony where they poured water on everyone's hands as a way of blessing them to serve in the days to come.
The kids and I rode on the bus with all the families on Friday morning. When the busses arrived at the hotel, all the volunteers were lined up in their matching shirts, cheering and waving personalized signs for each attendee. Molly and Hudson were completely overwhelmed!
Let's contrast these two photos. Above: In the lobby shortly after our arrival when our friend Leo (who we know from our Saturday English classes) wanted to take a picture together. Hudson has a death grip on my leg. And below: In the lobby shortly before our departure on Monday with Nathaniel, the leader of the California team and our children's new best friend since he spent considerable time with them discussing VeggieTales. (This is Hudson's love language.) We all loved Nathaniel's enthusiasm!
Clearly, our kids warmed up and had a great time. This is the third Family Retreat that Kevin has led since we've moved to China, but the first one the kids and I joined from start to finish. It was such a memorable and meaningful experience! The whole weekend had a close-knit feel, and joy was evident on faces all around. Children's activities were planned for each morning and afternoon while the parents/grandparents were attending health and wellness seminars, having one-on-one therapy consultations and discussion/support groups for encouragement.
 
There was an island theme for the children's activities and songs. Even the adults learned the motions to  two songs and had fun dancing around between seminars.
The kids decorated beach balls and many volunteers worked to fill more water balloons than you can imagine for some outside fun.
The crafts included making necklaces out of candy and beaded bracelets.
Since I knew the kids were well taken care of and having so much fun, it was easy to focus on my role as leader of one of the women's groups. From the very first session, I clearly saw how important this weekend was to the families involved. As the women met one another and simply began introducing themselves, you could sense their burdens lifting as they were finally around others who understood their daily challenges. 
Each night after dinner, there was a special group activity. Friday night was the carnival, and it was a hit! Kids received stamps after playing each game (everything from bowling to bean bag toss to kicking a goal with a soccer ball) and could redeem them for a present from the prize table at the end. This isn't as common in Chinese culture as it is in America and everyone had such fun. Hudson woke up Saturday morning asking to do it all over again. (For their prizes, Hudson chose the monkey and Molly picked Snoopy.)
Saturday night featured four skits by the volunteers, plus Kevin had the chance to share about his personal story of hope. (Hope Rising was the overall theme for the retreat.) Sunday night was the big talent show and nearly all of the children participated by sharing a song. Leo sang and also played "Auld Lang Syne" on a type of Chinese flute, and another boy stood a coin on its edge and balanced a toothpick on top. A few of the kids worked together in a skit. Everyone felt like a star.
On Monday morning, we had a special closing ceremony. The volunteers made a "blessing tunnel" for each family to walk through one-by-one. We encouraged them along the way, and they received a gift at the end -- a decorated bag filled with notebooks, crayons, warm hats, balls. noisemakers, the Chinese version of Joni's book, and a photo and letter from the child in Texas who made the bag. It was a wonderful send-off, and there were more than a few tears from everyone involved.
It is such an honor to be part of this work in China, and we appreciate the immeasurable support of people across the world who have joined us.
~Dayna