The year was 1987. My aunt Kristina, then 20 years old, was with Goshen College’s fourth SST group to China. The group was stationed in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, living in dorms and attending classes at Sichuan University. China then was not yet the modern country it is today. Bicycles lined the car-less streets and SSTers relied solely on the tedious process of snail mail.
For her service location Kristina was assigned to teach English classes at the university. During this time she became especially close to one student in her class named Zhang Xiaowei, or Kathy. Every day Kathy and Kristina would meet after class to eat noodles or go around the city. Despite their cultural differences the two formed a deep bond of friendship.
But soon the three months were over and Kristina returned to America. She gave Kathy her mail address with the hope that somehow they would stay in contact. The two said goodbye, then Kristina left.
“The last time I saw Kristina,” said Kathy, “we were both on bicycles riding up a steep hill. She turned to look at me and said, ‘I think I can—I think I can!’”
Years went by and Kathy and Kristina’s short time together was something of the past. They both married doctors and had children. Kathy become an English teacher and Kristina an art therapist.
But in 2010, 23 years after the two first met, their lives again crossed; this time nothing short of a miracle. Kathy visited America for an English program located, of all places, on the campus of Eastern Mennonite University. Recognizing the college’s Mennonite connection, Kathy instantly thought of Kristina. With EMU’s assistance she called Goshen College with only Kristina’s first name and the year she was in China.
But sure enough, Kristina was found in the SST archive and Kathy received her contact information. And so the next day Kristina found herself excitedly driving to Virginia to reunion with Kathy. That afternoon the two sat in Kathy’s apartment for hours, talking and laughing as snow fell outside the window. The next day Kathy returned to China after a short but incredible reunion.
It is hard to believe that paths could cross twice like this; from China to the U.S., from 1987 to 2010. But what about a third time? Could the twists and intricacies of life really produce another meeting of impossible feat?
This is where my own life weaves into the story of Kristina and Kathy. Last semester I too set on my own journey to China through SST. This time the year was 2011, and honking vehicles had long replaced the role of the bicycle. Communication home depended on the easy click of a button.
During the last weeks of Study-Term I received an exciting email from Kristina. Before they had said goodbye a year ago, Kathy had given Kristina her address. And when Kristina reread it, it said Nanchong—the excact city I was located in!
My host mother, Lilian, was thrilled about the story and determined to help me find Kathy. However, when the two finally made contact, one more remarkable plot was revealed. A year before Lilian had also been at EMU for a scholar’s program unrelated to Kathy’s…and the two had briefly met on campus. Little did they know that they connected: one day Lilian would host the niece of the woman Kathy knew 24 years before!
When the three of us finally met at a restaurant later that week, we were stunned to silence as we comprehended who sat across from us and how our lives were connected. One small difference and the whole chain of events would’ve been altered forever. However, there we were. What had led us together?
For Kathy, the answer is God.
“I truly believe in God,” said Kathy, “Because He is always on my side.”
For Lilian, the answer is fate.
“This situation makes me believe in fate and hope,” said Lilian. “We were destined to meet.”
For me, perhaps it is a mix of both.
I now remember my own service students, wide-eyed and eager middle schoolers. Will life take a surprising twist one day and I see them again? I also remember Lilian, who started as a host mother but ended as a dear friend. Will we keep in contact for the rest of our lives, like Kathy and Kristina, as we promised one another?
I then think of the magic of Kristina and Kathy’s story and know the answers aren’t guaranteed, but I should at least save some room for the impossible to happen.