Less than a month remains before we arrive in the sweltering low country of the Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport.  Even July’s oppressive heat and humidity, and the relentless sand gnats won’t mute our joy for being reunited with friends and family that we left behind.  And yet, as excited as we are about catching up with loved ones and dropping in at old favorite establishments, we are more assured than ever that Shanghai is where we belong.

We always expected to return to China from the moment we boarded our respective flights back to the States in 2008.  And no matter how hard we tried, we always felt a little out of place back home.  That is not to say that we didn’t have strong relationships in the US, and in fact, all of my closest friends are still stateside.  But we felt a bit like fish out of water.  And after three years of major life changes and spiritual trials, we finally found our way back to the Middle Kingdom.  And as I have posted before, as soon as we got here (though not without some challenges) we began swimming: we’d made it back to the water.

The diversity here is great; we have loved getting to know all of the people with vastly different backgrounds and life experiences all converging in this one place.  In that sense, it is reminiscent of our college years.  I have fond memories of the dinner/movie nights at which friends from the US, Taiwan, China, Korea, Japan, Sweden, Germany, Mexico, Zimbabwe, and the Czech Republic all exchanged ideas, learned from each other, and just enjoyed one another’s company.  As with them, I find that with most people with whom I come into contact on a daily basis, there is always something interesting to talk about.

Christian fellowship, however, did not come quite as easily.  At least it didn’t for me, anyway. I did meet many people who love God deeply, and I had good chemistry with most of them right away.  But for whatever reason, conversation didn’t easily turn to the things of God.  I’m happy to report, however, that with most of the school year behind us, this is no longer the case.   This is largely because of the relationships I’ve developed through KG (Knowing God), the youth group for which I am one of the leaders.

It’s become evident to me that my joining this effort was part of God’s sovereign plan, as I have really built a connection with my small group.  These are truly exceptional tenth graders, and I love the unique attributes that each of them brings to the group during our meetings.  I have sometimes wondered if I was doing any good at all.  But, although I’ve been discouraged at times, and I haven’t always been as diligent as I should as a leader, I can see how God has placed me in this role at this particular time for so many reasons.

And over the last ten months, I have built a relationship with the fellow KG leaders.  I think we work quite well together, and we’ve developed the comfortability to discuss potentially contentious issues with a level of candor that says “I know that this is a safe environment.”  We’ve debated various controversial subjects at leadership meetings, and I’m moved to Godward gratitude for the atmosphere of grace that has permeated each discussion.  And it isn’t a false graciousness, that walking on egg shells, the being sure not to step on anyone’s toes.  People explain their positions, and they debate each angle, and in the end, there is this Spirit-unity that transcends having identical doctrinal standpoints.  At the very least, we are iron sharpening iron, and I’m excited to see how God will continue to develop us and what He will allow us to be a part of.

Anna has also found good fellowship with coworkers and ladies around the community.  And as hard as it was for her to be away from Eden every day this year, we can see God in this situation as well.  The relationships that she’s made, the people who are in our lives precisely because of her job, people who have provided priceless wisdom to us, the ways that we were able to be used by God in the lives of students and teachers all point to God’s hand in this whole thing.  It is so satisfying to see clearly the bigger picture that God was painting when developments in early 2011 had us confused and frustrated.

And now, with our first year in Shanghai approaching its end, we are anticipating a much different scenario for next year.  Anna will finally be home again, as God has blessed me with a full-time job at the school.  My upcoming position is ideal for someone who is juggling family life and ministry, and this never would have happened if things had worked out according to our plan.  God is so gracious!  He really does know what we need before we ever ask or think it!  I am so grateful that he is both sovereign and good!

As the flight to Georgia draws near, we look forward to late nights with family, southern cuisine made with love, sharing stories with friends, and a romantic getaway in Savannah’s beautiful historic downtown.  And the whole experience will be made all the sweeter by the fact that life finally seems to make a little bit of sense again.  And after a month-long hiatus, we’ll be ready to begin the next chapter of our Adventure in Shanghai.