Special to the Daily Mail
Schell City native Shannon Gray, a senior at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, donated a month of her life to the people of China and came home with a new understanding of life.
"China is an incredible country, full of things I could never have imagined in my entire life. The 14-hour flight over wasn't that bad. In fact, I kind of enjoyed it. Once we got into China, I knew we were in a different country -- almost a new world. It looked a lot like America to begin with, but the farther we got from the airport the more it became a reality I was in a foreign country."
Gray could not read Chinese, so she did not understand the traffic or hotel signs, for example. The people would often speak in their own language, while they were staring and pointing at the group from America.
"Many of the people had never seen a white person. They wanted to see and touch us. At times, I just stood still with both arms outstretched so they could touch me and we could finally get through the crowd. One woman literally chased me around an area. She wanted me to hold her baby. They think if they touch a white person, they will be blessed, and the bigger the person, the more blessing that person has. Since there is a lot of me, I surely was a blessing. Anyway, I held her baby, but I couldn't tell her where real blessings come from as we weren't allowed to speak about God," Gray said.
After experiencing the initial culture shock, then visiting the Great Wall of China in 118 degree weather, the Forbidden City, and the Terracotta war soldiers, they finally reached their destination to begin teaching English. The kids had been chosen by test scores to participate in this summer class.
Gray said that on the first day, the kids were experiencing some culture shock of their own as most had never had a white teacher, nor even seen a white person. They were shy and nervous but didn't want to let their parents down. She said most children are locked into the occupation their parents hold. If the mother is a maid, her daughter will be a maid. This class was an opportunity to better themselves.
"The fun thing we did was teach them to play baseball. We took all the equipment and left it with them. They loved it," Gray said. "The kids ran to meet us the second day, but the minute we started teaching they paid very close attention to every word we said. One of my favorite memories with the kids is when one of the little boys asked me to sing for them. I chose the song 'Amazing Grace.' They loved it. This song also has a lot of meaning on the trip in another area. The Prime Minister of Education asked me to sing him a song. I didn't know what to do. This was a man who doesn't believe in Jesus at all, and could throw me in jail the minute he found out I was a Christian. I asked our missionary-interpreter and he said to sing 'Amazing Grace.' I did, and the Prime Minister was greatly pleased by it. He told me he didn't understand the words, but could see it meant a lot to me, and maybe he should find out more about it. I think I got to be the hands and feet of Jesus even though I never got to speak about Him."
Gray was inspired by being with the missionaries and seeing them in their daily lives. She marveled at the language classes they have to take and the time they spend immersing themselves in the culture so they can be better missionaries.
The last day of classes with the kids, Gray watched as all the other teachers were given presents and gifts and notes.
"All I got was hugs, but then, one little girl in leg braces came up and gave me a letter that said, 'Please don't forget me.' I left with tears in my eyes. I knew that my work here was done and it was time to go home, but I will never forget what God allowed me to do in Yang Xian, China," she said.
Another mission trip lies in the future for Gray. She has been selected to serve on a team that is headed to Amsterdam, Netherlands, July 6-31, 2013. The trip will be focused on learning and awareness of the commercial sex industry worldwide and specifically, the Red Light District of Amsterdam, and how to prepare and go about sharing Christ's love with individuals affected by the literal and spiritual bondage of sin and brokenness. Willingness of heart, maturity of faith, and the love and pursuit of the Gospel is what it is going to take for the 10 women, including the leaders making this trip.
Gray said those would like to be a part of this ministry may pray that the missionaries would know what to say and when to say it, and for safety for the team. Monetary donations may be sent to Southwest Baptist University Center for Global Connections, in care of Shannon Gray, 1600 University Ave, Bolivar, MO 65613.