Jeremy Statton

Living Better Stories

Living a Decision: Interview with Amy Young

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From Jeremy. This is an interview with Amy Young. She lives in works in Beijing, China. She is living out her decisions right in the middle of the mess.  To read more from Amy considering downloading her free eBook, Signs of Eden Regained. You can also read more at her blog, The Messy Middle.

JS: Tell us about what you do in China.

Amy: In order to provide a bit of context for your tribe, I have an MA in education and another one in counseling, so over the years I have done various jobs including teaching English. Currently I am the Member Care Director for the company I work with (and I teach Chinese junior high students one morning a week to help maintain my sanity).

In a nutshell, anything that is non-work related might cross my desk or computer screen. Medical situations, family members dying back home, not getting on with a co-worker, concerns that someone might be depressed, those kind of situations.

Amy’s book

JS: What first attracted you to China?

Amy: Oddly enough it was the Hallmark Hall-of-fame special Sarah: Plain and Tall. I was in my early 20′s and I understood why she’d pack up and leave a life she’d known to move from Boston to Kansas. She was responding to the pull to invest in something MORE.

I didn’t want to get to the end of my working career and look back with regrets.

I was also fairly clueless and didn’t know how to get from point A, where I was, to point B, the meaningful life I wanted. Attending a conference that had a teacher track helped broaden the options and move them from a dream to a plan. I attended that conference almost 22 years ago. Yikes :)!

JS: What were the biggest obstacles, either internal or external, you needed to overcome to move or stay there?

Amy: This question comes with a two-pronged answer. I was in China for nine years and then returned to the States to earn the MA in counseling (leaving/staying round one). After being in the US for three years, I returned to China and have been here for the last five years (leaving/staying round two).

The two rounds couldn’t be more different, which I didn’t expect, so it kind of jumped up and bit me in the behind.

In round one, I was in my mid-to-late 20′s, my sister hadn’t started having children yet, and my parents were still working, young-ish, and healthy. I also thought I was “only going for two years.” It was the stage of life for doing young and semi-reckless things that would look good on a resume, and heck, maybe bring some glory to God!

It wasn’t that hard initially to stay. I missed the usual things, being at weddings, funerals, the Broncos winning the Superbowl (twice! Seriously? Can’t you win when I’m in the States!), driving. And back in “those days” there was no internet, so talking to family maybe once every six weeks or so wasn’t easy.

But that stuff pales when you have a deep sense of investing and being used. The main internal struggle was “how long is this going to be?”

I think it was around year seven or eight I had to admit to myself, that some how it seemed like a commitment had been made whether or not I was comfortable using that label.

JS: And round 2 was different?

Amy: Completely. Being back for three years was so rich.

I loved studying. I loved raking leaves in my parents yard. I loved going to Broncos games with my dad. I loved knowing and being known by my nieces and spending holidays with family and having inside jokes with my sisters and getting a cell phone and driving a car and eating pizza and drinking beer and watching TV live. Even now as I type this tears are forming and I’ve been back for five years(!).

The hardest thing I have ever done was return to China. This time I wasn’t an idealistic young person who didn’t really know what she was getting into; no, I knew the cost and I felt the loss. I still do.

Is it worth it? Yes. Would I do it again, knowing what I know. Yes. But is it hard? Yes.

Amy Young

JS: Since it was so hard to go back, how do you make that decision? How do you step into something that is very difficult, but important to do?

Wow, that’s a great question. I read a book by Bill Hybel in college (the title escapes me), but he talked about not waiting to decide if he wanted to go jogging when it was time to go because the answer would almost always be no. Using this approach, I made the decision before there was much emotion or resistance.

Prior to returning to America I spoke openly that my intention was to return to China yet life doesn’t come with no guarantees and plans might change. For me, change meant possibly marrying or a health crisis in my family.

It was a late November night when my boss from China called and we finalized the position that I would return to. In those days we used phone cards to call America and mid-way through our call the line went dead when the card ran out of money. It hit me that I was really going back and how I had completely underestimated what that meant. I started to cry and knew that I only had about one minute until my boss would call back and I would have to decide for sure.

The new position was supposed to be good news, right? It was, but good doesn’t mean easy. I pulled it together. He called, and we continued the conversation as if nothing had happened.

I wasn’t deciding, I was living out a decision.

I wanted to avoid the pain of the decision, but here’s the thing: it will hunt you down if you try to run from it. Stuff it, and eventually it leaks out. I knew the only way through the pain was to turn and face it, letting it wash over me. If I had waited until the awful waves of grief came to decide, I would never have gone back.

JS: Is there one thing about the culture in China that you prefer over typical Western culture?

Amy: Chinese food! What you have in the west is no more Chinese food than McDonalds is a real hamburger.

But I also I prefer street life in China to street life in Western culture. As a single woman, I am safe to walk the streets at almost any time of day or night. Part of the reason is that there is so much going on, that there are lots of witnesses.

But one of the up-sides of a communal culture is all of the living that goes on communally. There are street vendors, public games of chess or mahjong, early morning exercise clubs, walking to and from public transportation, grandma’s out walking their grandkids. There is always something going on or something to see.

JS: I have to agree with you. On our trip to China, anytime we visited a park or public square there would be people playing games or exercising together. Thanks for sharing, Amy.

Amy: Thanks for the chance to share! Is there a question you wished Jeremy had asked? I’m game for answering!

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

About Jeremy Statton

Jeremy is a writer and an orthopedic surgeon. When not ridding the world of pain, he helps you live a better story. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook or Google +.

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30 Replies

  1. I am a recent follower of Amy’s blog and enjoy reading what she has to say. I admire your sacrifice Amy to do what you do. Good wisdom in the words here Amy. “waiting to decide if he wanted to go jogging when it was time to go
    because the answer would almost always be no. Using this approach, I made the decision before there was much emotion or resistance”

    1. Hi Mark! Thanks for popping in here and being supportive. I’m thankful I read that advice at a fairly young age, it’s been useful in more than once!

      1. I would also admire you if you had decided to not go back because I am convinced God would use you in China or China Town. :)

        1. Thanks Mark … I agree!

    2. I’m glad Amy brought that out in the interview, too.

  2. Jennifer

    As a single American woman who has lived in China for five years, I really appreciated your words here. I understand the grief you described when leaving home and family. I’m hitting the point when I have to decide if I really am willing to keep going down the road I committed to when I was young. Thanks for being vulnerable here.

    1. Thanks Jennifer, as Mark said below, I do believe that God can use you wherever. That being said, you can’t be wherever, you have to be somewhere :) and it’s not easy to pick the path is it?

    2. I’m glad the words helped you in whatever direction you decide you should go.

  3. Amy, your story is inspiring…thanks for sharing it. What’s been your experience as a Christian in China?

    1. Since it’s been so many years, this isn’t a simple question :). I bet you’ve heard that exciting things are happening in the church in China?! It’s true! The growth I’ve seen is amazing. Just yesterday I was in the outskirts of Beijing, kind of a mountain area, rural, with about one million people — the pastor for that district said there are 5,000 people in the registered churches there (I don’t know how many in the unregistered). My experience as a Christian have been enriched as I’ve been able to see that God through Chinese eyes and just recently I’ve been reminded how much broader and deeper and wider is God, his bride, and his body. I can get so small in my thinking :)

      1. I have a friend I went to high school with who is in China. On my trip there we were able to meet and he told me similar stories. Amazing.

        1. Thanks, Amy! I have heard a lot about the complexities…that’s why i was wondering about your perspective on it. We also have friends that have been there for many years in an area where security is a major concern for Christians. Friends in their house church have been arrested, shunned from their families, etc. I’m so encouraged to see how God is moving there and the commitment that believers there have, despite the risks. It’s beautiful to see that the church (both reg and unreg) is growing.

          1. When I was in China as an English teacher we didn’t have any issues worshiping and a registered church. The church itself had an unpleasant history with the government–their land was wrongfully confiscated 30 years ago and they’ve been worshiping at a chicken plant as they try to get it back–but the government has now given them a smaller portion of land and promise of money to make up for the different (they’ll believe it when they see it but they’re excited about the new land). The government has also said they’ll work with the bus company to get a bus stop at the church at times appropriate for services (there is currently a stop at the chicken plant).

            My understanding is that being a registered church (a Chinese church) is fine and safe but unregistered churches run into issues. Chinese churches (registered) must be self-propagated, funded, and led which is why so many don’t want to be registered.

            We did have some minor issues with the school:
            1. We were told we could NOT teach religion. It’s the same as an American public school. However, we could answer questions honestly. (aka: find a way to answer Jesus no matter the question).

            2. There was a Christian gathering happening in the town while we were there and we were told we could NOT go or our organization would NEVER serve in that community again. That was really hard to hear. It was hard to pray for the gathering from the other side of the same town knowing you’d thoroughly enjoy it but weren’t allowed there. The reasoning was that, as English teachers, guests of the government, we were in positions of authority and that gets messy easily.

            Well, there’s more than you ever wanted to know. ;)

            I’m so glad you get to see God through Chinese eyes. That’s got to be a wonderful, unique experience!

            1. Katie, thanks for a snap shot of your experience! I enjoyed hearing!

          2. Christine, this isn’t really the best place to explain things :) … but I bet where your friends are is also politically sensitive. I have a friend who says about China, “nothing is as it seems.” Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what’s really going on and where the root of things are. I realize I’m not saying things clearly … I’m hoping you’re understanding what I’m saying.

            1. I do…and I understand…you still seem to be able to be a lot more open on your site (even if it’s not completely open). Just interesting to see the different experiences people have.

  4. So happy for your courage and dedication, Amy. I can identify with what you were saying about making the decision before the resistance kicks in. I’ve been there a few times – you commit to something and then that’s what carries you through the tough times that inevitably come. Hang in there, Amy!

  5. Fascinating! Love hearing more of your story, Amy. I was especially struck by this line: “I wasn’t deciding, I was living out a decision.”

    1. Thanks Leigh … I don’t think I’ve ever used that phrase before to describe it, but when I wrote it/saw it, it rung true. That’s what I was doing. I’m in the midst of another one, and it’s not easy :)

    2. I liked the implications of that statement as well, Leigh.

  6. Yes! I still like Western Chinese food but I have to call it that (or “Fake Chinese food”) since it’s nothing like real Chinese food. I miss hot tang, gluttonous balls (donuts), and rice that’s edible with chopsticks. We also had something from the pumpkin family that I liked a lot. Oh and bing (ice cream)… nothing like peach and corn flavored ice cream…

    1. It is fun to see all the flavors of ice cream! Were you here with crazy potato chip flavors took off?

      1. No! I’m so bummed I missed those! Although, I have seen some crazy ones in other travels.

  7. Amy

    Nothing profound here, but I’ve known Amy for a few years and I’ve enjoyed reading the comments! Thanks for taking the time to interview. ^_^

    1. Nothing profound?! That you’d show up and comment … I’m so grateful!

  8. Danielle Wheeler

    Wow, as we’re getting ready for our leaving/staying round 2, this really struck a nerve. Here’s to being beyond young and semi-reckless and to living out a decision! Thanks for your good words. See you in August?

    1. Oh Danielle … here, here! I’m delighted you’ll be back, but don’t be surprised if it will take SO. MUCH. MORE to come back than you expected. I wish someone had told me that :). Worth it, yes. Yes, yes! But I had under estimated how hard it would be to switch back and forth :). International flights are a blessing, but the ease can be so disorienting to the soul. Souls don’t jet lag, they can world lag.

  9. M'Lynn

    I somehow found this this morning as I was trying to find your blog (messy middle) via hong kong google search. Great interview! So many things here strike a chord with me. “The difference in round 1 and round 2″ (even though our round 1 was only one year, but the rich family life we had for 2 years back in Texas before coming back for round 2). We’ve been in country for 6 years this time and just signed another 2 year contract. I love being where we are and how obvious it is that we’re so well suited for this job in this place “the deep sense of investing and being used,” but I so miss my family! “The living out a decision”…”the love of China street life”…

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