Crossing cultures and the culture of the cross
For many young people, a favorite part of returning to school each fall is finding out what everyone did during their summer vacation. Well, a group of 13 students and two teachers from St. Croix Lutheran High School, West St. Paul, Minnesota, had stories like none others. They sat on a train for more than 36 hours … in China.
Tamara Leyrer, instructor of Mandarin Chinese and international admissions counselor for St. Croix Lutheran, believed a trip to China would be beneficial for her students. “I lived in Taiwan for nine years,” Leyrer explained. “In 2005, we moved back to Minnesota and are now teaching at St. Croix.” Her position there gives her two excuses to stay in touch with her former home.
“I do teach Mandarin,” she said, so the language opens opportunities. “But I also work with admissions for international students, so I make a couple of trips overseas each year.”
She decided it might be a good time for her students to come along. Thirteen took her up on the challenge, applying to participate. They met weekly to plan and raised sufficient funds for the late July trip. Soon, they were leaving to do service and gain a cultural education not available in this country.
Camp counseling … in China
The main point of the trip was to teach at an English camp just outside of Beijing in cooperation with a group that does volunteer work teaching English in China,” Leyrer told Metro Lutheran. “This camp is a private camp, and parents choose to allow their children to participate.” Daily camp classes include science, music, Old Testament, and New Testament.
Tamara Leyrer, a Mandarin instructor at St. Croix Lutheran, believed a trip to China would benefit her students.
“It violates the law to proselytize in China,” Leyrer explained. “But, since the parents knew about these classes,” and permitted the participation of their children, it was permissible for the St. Croix students to teach these classes. “All classes were based on teaching children about a God that created them and loves them,” she added.
“I was amazed how quickly the St. Croix students bonded with the Chinese children,” reflected Scott Sievert, the second St.Croix teacher on the trip. “Nobody wanted to leave at the end of the week.”
“It was affirming to see St. Croix students have their world extended beyond the world they know here, to have their eyes opened to the world,” said Leyrer.
After the Beijing camp, the St. Croix group was scheduled to ride 11 hours on a train to Xi’an to visit a school there. While on the train, however, that area of China experienced its worst flooding in 50 years. The train was forced to stop dead in its tracks.
St. Croix students spent harrowing hours watching the river rise. They saw houses fall into the river and float downstream.
But, the delay also gave them a chance to meet and visit with people on the train. Many fellow travelers wanted to practice their English and find out why the Americans were there. “As we answered their questions, we were able to share God’s word and tell them that God loved them.
“It’s clear to me how much my high school students matured through this experience,” Leyrer concluded.