Ever since I turned 18 and moved to a college town, I’ve lived in transient communities. It’s funny how in environments like that, people you didn’t even know existed can so quickly become integral parts of your life. And then, one day, they move on to somewhere and something else and become little more than memories and Facebook status updates. It’s really a special thing when you find relationships that defy this cycle, and I’m blessed with a few. And with the inevitable changes of life here in Shanghai, I’m especially grateful for them.

While in the States over the last month, I took a short trip to St. Louis where I met up with a dear friend who, although he’s lived far from me for years, has remained a constant in my life via frequent Skype conversations and yearly summer visits. While I was there, I met some great people he counts as good friends, and I reconnected with old friends I haven’t seen in six years, one of whom is enduring some unthinkable hardships at the moment. And in between, we did as much quintessential St. Louis stuff as we possibly could in the time allotted. The whole experience was rich, full, wonderful, and at times heavy and heart wrenching. And as I boarded the plane to fly out of the world that my friends were part of, I thought about how different things would be once I returned to Shanghai.

A little over a month ago, we said goodbye once again, to many good friends and coworkers who were repatriating or moving on to some other country on another adventure as foreigners. And perhaps some of the most significant goodbyes for me were to the graduating seniors in the KG small group that I mentored. I’ve followed these guys through high school as they wrestled with the bible and Christian ethics and what it means in their lives. I’ve seen them share struggles and victories, and display worship of Jesus and their burden for their classmates. Some of the best memories I have of Shanghai took place in my living room as a lively group of high schoolers devoured multiple bags of kimchi flavored potato chips and debated about biblical interpretation and how to apply certain truths to their lives and in their context. And now, most of them are dispersing to various parts of the US, and one to Hong Kong, each of them starting a new chapter of their lives as college students. I hope that some of what they learned and experienced here in our youth group over the years will serve them well as young adults in university.

But goodbye isn’t the only thing that comes with another year in Shanghai. It also means a fresh group of new teachers coming into the community, adding their own unique personalities to the mix. And this year, two of our closest friends will be part of that group. You’ve no idea how excited Anna and I are about this! These two have been tossing around the idea of spending some time in China since Anna and I were in Wuhan, and honestly, we’d secretly lost any hope that they’d ever join us. And as I’m writing this, I’m looking out the window at what will be their apartment!

A few months ago, I was a little down about how different things were going to be once we returned to China. But all in all, there’s a lot to be excited about and thankful for. And I’m not sure what this year has in store, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that we’re really looking forward to round four of our adventure in Shanghai!