Flower Showers

Imagine four boys, ages eight to thirteen, coming up to you with their shirts holding something, and their shirts are full. That’s what happened two weeks ago on one of my first days on camp. There are quite a few stray animals as well as some dead dogs or cats due to lack of food, so my immediate thought was that this was some dead animal they’re going to show us.

Cut to tiny flowers being thrown in the air like confetti and masking the odor of the dead dog twenty feet away. The boys looked so joyful to make us so happy! The whole scene was filled with glee.

That’s when the phrase that I’ve seen on so many bulletin boards popped into my head: throw kindness around like confetti.

Are these boys kind and joyful all the time? Far from it, and for good reason. But they saw an opportunity to make someone’s heart full of joy and they went for it.

We’ve gotten many more flower showers since then and it still creates a sense of pure joy and excitement that it did the first time. Be praying for these moments to continue and for these children to be filled with that joy and excitement for life as well.

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Another Adventure!

Dear friends and family,

Tim and I are headed on another adventure this summer! As many of you already know, we will be working in Greece at a refugee camp for four weeks as the main portion of a trip to Europe. We also plan to visit Iceland, Prague, Italy, and Spain before and after our time at the refugee camp.

We wanted to address some questions we’ve gotten while sharing about our trip so that those that are closest to us (you!) can help support us!

Where will you be? With what organization will you be working?

We will be working at a refugee camp in the northwest of Greece, near a town called Kyllini and we will be working with an organization called The Schoolbox Project. This is a worldwide organization that provides trauma-sensitive education and art therapy to children and adults who are displaced. They are stationed in Greece and Bangladesh, and have provided education for those affected by the wildfires and flooding in California and Texas this past year.

Who will you be serving?

We will be working mainly with Syrians. Our duties will include teaching, playing with the students, organizing movie nights, and providing structured activities to combat the boredom and frustration that exists in refugee camps.

Why work in a refugee camp?

We have a lot of reasons for the thought behind this. I have been heartbroken over the refugee crisis for the last three years and have struggled with finding what to do about it. I have felt really helpless about an enormous global issue, and we have the skills to teach English. In some small way, this is a way for us to help and to take an active and productive role in aiding the refugee crisis. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a lot, but it’s something.

In addition to that, Tim and I both work with refugees either in our schools or through volunteer work. By working at a refugee camp, we will have a better understanding about part of their journeys to the United States.

The most prominent reason is because our goal in our marriage is to reflect the love of Christ. We believe that by serving the least of these, the stranger in a foreign land, the widow and the orphans, we are reflecting the light of Christ to those we are serving, but also to those who see what we are doing.

What can we be praying about in regards to your trip?

Please pray that we can find way to handle what we will see in the camp. We both were required to complete training related to serving traumatized individuals and there were times where we both became very emotional. The reality is that this is going to be hard, and we need strength – physically, emotionally, and mentally.

What’s the best way to stay in contact with you?

We will have some access to cell phone service, but we will mostly be using WhatsApp Messenger to communicate with family and friends. We will also be able to check email while we are in Europe, so if you want to check in on us, feel free to send us emails at sharro1024@gmail.com or tharro91@gmail.com.

How can we get updates on your work?

I will be resurrecting the blog address that we used while we were in China two years ago, so please be checking that. My goal is to write a blog post once a week during our summer, so it will be a mix of refugee camp and vacation updates, but I’m hoping to include pictures as well! As always, you can always check my instagram to view all our meals…and the landscapes that we will be taking in.

Thank you for supporting us and praying for us!

Love, Tim and Sarah Harro

 

Fellow Americans!

Today is our last day to spend with an American family until we return to America. We met them when they were visiting Boston almost two years ago, and we have become much closer friends with them this week. It is so refreshing to talk with American believers after a month of isolation in Wenzhou!

We have had a lot of fun with their kids. We went on a bike ride to see their local school. Sarah is reading with the girls for home school, and I am doing an intensive drum camp for their eight year old boy. Tonight, we will be taking care of them for date night.

The adult conversation has given us a window into a model lifestyle fifteen years ahead of us. We have learned about transitioning from America to overseas. We have learned some details about literacy development for minority groups. We have learned about specific challenges and advantages for families overseas and the value of teamwork. It’s been nice to process these topics, our experience in Wenzhou, and other questions with such great people.

From here our Asian adventure becomes a bit more touristy on this final week before flying home. We plan to hike in Tiger Leaping Gorge and the Stone Forest before flying northeast to Beijing for a tour of the Great Wall!

Homesickness

So today you get the opportunity to hear from both of us! The earlier post was Tim’s experiences, and this is mainly mine (although Tim has similar sentiments, maybe not to the same extent).

It’s been a long time since I’ve been really truly homesick, probably since one of my first years at college. I felt it last week and it turned me emotional very quickly. As I was getting ready for work, I broke down into tears at the thought of working in an office where the primary language spoken is not my own and where in my teaching the target is always changing. Thankfully I have a husband who is a great listener.

See, although I am an introvert I love having friendly office banter and passing the long hours at a computer (when that’s my day, which it usually isn’t) by getting to know my coworkers and joking with them. That happens here,  and I so long to be a part of it, but my Chinese is no good. Like, really bad – I tried to say that I don’t speak Chinese to one of the parents today and they didn’t understand me. Plus listening to another language all day without understanding anything is exhausting. (I will go back to school this year being able to empathize with my newcomers. Now I just have to learn how to say all of this in Spanish!)

That was one portion of my frustration. The other part stemmed from the type of students I’m teaching. They’re all really rich. For a lot of people this wouldn’t be too much of an issue because that’s how I get to spend a summer abroad breaking even financially, but I miss my poor immigrants. These kids are memorizing poems written by Robert Louis Stevenson and they’re anywhere from 6 to 12. How is that useful?  It’s only useful because their parents can say that they were in this class and they can do it. I get it – this is how they make the connections that will give them opportunities that they can’t buy, but I think these kids should be playing outside and getting dirty, not sitting in endless conference rooms taking enrichment courses so their parents can brag about their children’s accomplishments. I feel so much more useful in my school, even in the moments when I don’t feel effective.

I’m learning important truths about myself this summer. I have a heart for the disadvantaged, and no amount of money being offered to me could take that away. That’s when I feel useful, when I feel needed, when I feel like I’m doing what God had created me to do.

Sharing the Gospel

Ruby is one of our friendly coworkers who recently completed her degree in English and we often ride the same bus home. So we have lots of time to talk about work, tourism, relationships, Confucianism, aspirations, and God. One conversation led her to ask me, “What is real freedom?”

“Fake freedom is when we do whatever we want for ourselves because we are prisoners to our own selfishness and we can’t see the true freedom waiting outside the walls we’ve built for ourselves. It’s like when I was younger and I used my fake freedom to try to make myself happy by looking at pornography, but I was really a prisoner of shame. Real freedom is when God’s love sets us free from shame and gives us joy to function in our true purpose.”

“What is our true purpose?”

“Our purpose is to follow the plan that our Creator has for us. Basically his plan is for us to love Him and love others the same way He loves us. The Bible has more details about that and each person does it a little differently. One way that I am doing that now is in my marriage with Sarah. God tells me to serve her and be faithful only to her for the rest of my life. Looking at pornography would have been easier, but it would have left me empty and miserable in the prison of shame. God’s love gives me strength to work hard on my relationship with Sarah and He gives me joy in the true freedom of following His purpose for my life.”

“My English professor told me to read the Bible. I think it’s a little bit boring and confusing. But I want to read it more. I think many Chinese people are lost inside.”

“Sometimes the Bible is boring and confusing, and I still have more and more questions. But I have found many of the most important answers in life from reading the Bible, and it is an incredibly beautiful book. It’s helpful to pray and talk about the questions and answers at church. You should go to church with Candy.”

“Maybe.” she said, and then changed the subject.

My closest Chinese friend here is my teaching partner, Jessica, who’s the same age as me, lived in England for a year, and also recently got married. She suggested to a group of 5 at lunch one day that we should pray because, “Tim is a Christian. He must pray or God will punish him!” I did my best to recite the Lord’s prayer in Mandarin since our other friends didn’the have great  English. They had a lot of questions after that because it was the first time they had ever prayed!

Jessica also wanted to read the Bible for the first time, so I showed her my two favorite chapters in my bilingual Bible. After reading Job 38 she declared, “Ego! Why does God have so much ego?” Then I showed her John 13, and she was really surprised that Jesus washed Judas’s feat. I love these two chapters because no matter what questions or pain I face, I know that the God who laid the foundations of the earth and who designed the human brain is infinitely wiser and more powerful than I can imagine. Yet he cares for us enough to stoop down and wash our feet. Even though we all betray him by following the fake freedom of shortsighted selfishness, He still loves us and invites us to follow Him to true freedom. He is the one and only God who holds the stars and holds our feet.

Yandang Mountain

Last week, we had our first real day off from work. Since we are who we are, Tim looked up the most famous mountain near us, Yandang Shan, and concocted a plan to have us climb it! Little did we know that our adventure would turn out to be quite unpredictable.

Since our Chinese is not good (especially mine!), we decided not to try to take the bus because of the transfers that had to be made. Instead, we tried our luck and took a taxi all the way there – about one hour. We lucked out with our taxi driver, as you’ll see later on in the story. He only spoke Chinese – well he did know “hello” and “okay” in English. Tim was able to communicate with him most of the time, talking about the scenery we were passing though and learning a little bit about him. He was incredible nice and drove us to Yandang with no issues.

When we finally got there, an old woman spotted us and jumped into the taxi, saying she would be our tour guide for the day if we paid her in the afternoon. The taxi driver haggled with her a little bit for us because she spoke Wenzhou-hua, a dialect that is super hard to understand. At that point, he suddenly became our fun uncle, taking care of us and making sure we didn’t get ripped off.

The first sight we saw was the Big Dragon Waterfall, which was beautiful! Our tour guide elaborated upon the signs in her Wenzhou-hua, with our taxi driver translating for us onto Chinese, and Tim translating for me into English (this is how most of the interactions went). At this point, our taxi driver stopped charging us and enjoyed being at Yandang with us. It was a neat experience.

It was evident that he became our adoptive uncle at the next attraction because he was haggling with the woman to make sure we saw what we wanted to. He made sure that we got to hike up the mountain to the highest point that we could and enjoy the view.

Hiking in China is nothing like hiking in America. We were walking along nice paths and tons of steps. The views, however, were like nothing we had ever seen before – lots of fog and beautiful rock formations and waterfalls. We were able to enjoy the quiet of the mountains and soak in nature after a week of work in the city, which definitely helped us to recharge for our next work week.

After we hiked Yandang, the woman tried to get us to go rafting, but at that point we had seen what we had come to see and felt ready to go home. Our taxi driver, on the way home, stopped along the highway and went on a mini-hike with us up these steps in a mountain that obviously had not been used for awhile.

It was so fun to have that kind of day with a new friend,  especially one we met by chance. We were able to learn about his family and his life and enjoy some adventures with him along the way.

First Week

We’ve been in China for about a week now, and we’ve been settling in pretty well. Our first two days were pretty relaxing. We were met at the airport by one of our supervisors who took us to our apartment! It’s nice, complete with a kitchen and a living room, much different than we expected. On the 4th of July we managed to do something very American while in China – go to WalMart! Our co-worker Rita helped us navigate the WalMart near our house to buy some essentials. It seemed super Chinese that day, with all different vegetables and dried…things. Even how they sell the meat is different – it’s in open ice bins and you put it in a produce bag! For dinner we found a restaurant along the river which has quickly become one of our favorites. There are two girls that work there that were eager to practice their English with us, and Tim was able to practice quite a bit of Chinese with them. We had the next day off as well, so we spent time exploring our neighborhood and going back to the restaurant to talk to the two girls. While we’re in Wenzhou, one of our goals is to have good conversation with the local people, so we’re trying to be consistent in going to the restaurant to build relationships as well as talking with our co-workers.

On Wednesday we started work. Tim is working with 4-6 year olds mostly, and I am working with groups with anywhere from 6-14 so far. Tim works with the set curriculum at one of the schools and is so fun to watch when he is teaching! It involves a lot of singing and dancing and jumping around, and the kids really enjoy his enthusiasm. I am working for a school that hasn’t opened yet, so my assignments have been scattered so far. Last week I worked with a group of eight students who were going to L.A. this week for a spelling bee, so I got to use my phonics knowledge as well as ESL to give them a crash course in spelling words they haven’t memorized. This week I’ll be working with mostly 2nd and 3rd graders on poetry as well as running an English camp for 8-12 year olds.

We’ve also been able to get into a rhythm between home and work. Most mornings we go to the market near our house and buy mangos (and other fruit, but the mangos here are especially amazing) from an old lady and bao zi (stuffed steamed bun) from another woman down the street. It’s nice to be centered in one place and able to create some routines to look forward to in an unfamiliar place.

We’ve also been able to get to know our co-workers through our conversations with them this past week. It’s interesting how easy is it here to get involved in topics that seem taboo to talk about in the United States without having a deep relationship with them; things like spirituality and politics seem to come up quite a bit. We’re hoping to encourage these conversations and have answers ready when questions are asked.