Two Passions for One World
This story of Emily Minter and Brittany Garton's passion for China and Romania. Through conversation and questions, they reveal their experiences with a passion that seeps through their words.
January 22, 2011
It was the first meeting of the Global Student Organization (GSO). Our faculty sponsor, Dr. Cummings, had us each say our name and our cultural experiences. I said that once I had lived in a town with a large Hispanic population. I followed up with a disclaimer about wanting to become more culturally involved. The rest of the room shared their cultural experiences.
Even though I had never been anywhere outside of the United States, I wanted to go. I wanted to go to Romania, and see the gypsies that my friend, Brittany Garton, could not get out of her heart. I wondered about China, and the exchange Bluefield College has with the Chinese students. I would think about Cherry, a Chinese student who had visited earlier that year. “You must go to Purple mountain,” she had told me, “and scream at the top.”
I wanted to go to Purple Mountain. I wanted to make salsa with the Romnie gypsies. I was growing tired of my college experience in the United States. I was tired of forgetting that someone had picked the coffee I drank in the morning, and that the people who make my stuff are real people. It was in my heart. I just was not committed to going anywhere.
The second meeting of the GSO was very similar. We were in the same room, with most of the same people. Brittany Garton was sitting beside me, and Emily Minter in front of her. It was time for elections. Emily was nominated for president, and Brittany for vice president.
I knew they both had a passion for different cultures. Emily had traveled to China the past summer with the school, and I had heard her talk about it in a convocation. Her animated personality became more animated when she spoke of China. I had also heard that she was headed back over Christmas break to teach English there.
Brittany had been going to Romania since she was thirteen. When I met her, the walls in her dorm room were splattered with the faces of Romanian gypsy children. I used to make her tell me their stories, pointing at each face and asking who, where, and what.
The two women we had chosen to lead this new organization were both incredibly passionate for two different countries and cultures. I wanted to learn more, and one of the benefits of writing about people is the excuse to ask them questions.
We were in Brittany's room for the interview. Brittany was hard at work, making candy in the microwave. Emily and I sat on her bed and I began asking the questions.
“So,” I began, “was China your first time overseas?”
“Yes. Well, actually what do you mean by overseas?”
“Out of the country.”
“Then no,” she replied. “I went to Canada once before. But China was the first time overseas.”
“What made you decide to go?”
“Partially because a friend was going. And it was a once in a lifetime adventure that I wanted to seize between my fingers.”
The beginning of an interview can be rough. I racked my brain for the next question. I only had seconds:
“What did you learn?”
“The airplane ride is long. The bathrooms are different. The language is foreign. But the people are the same.”
She proceeded to tell me the story of their first communication breakthrough. A woman had come to ask her a question. They passed her a paper and a pencil, and she drew what they would soon learn was a broom and dustpan. Emily and her friend, Hannah, communicated with the Chinese women through motions and pictures. Soon, they were brought a dustpan. Emily turned to Hannah and said, “Hannah, we've just communicated.”
The stories built on other stories. Emily told me about how after a long day, they were sent out to get dinner, without chaperons or a Chinese guide. They took a bus to the sandwich shop, purchased their sandwiches and headed back to the bus. It was, however, rush hour. The bus was packed and every person was crammed against another person.
“I couldn't see,” Emily said. “My butt was against a stranger. Rae was holding me around the waist. There were a sea of people. We were cracking up about how packed the bus was. But our mission was successful.”
The attitude of the trip was this: just try. “There is no harm in trying,” Emily explained. “If we don't know if we're allowed to try on clothes here, just try. If we don't know what we're eating, just try. If it doesn't work out, we'll try something else. I never felt like I didn't accomplish what I wanted to accomplish.”
She continued with a story. “Once we were having lunch with the vice president. Now, it is difficult to use chopsticks. But it is increasingly difficult to use chopsticks with an important person. One thing we did in China was watch how people ate food that we did not know how to eat. We'd just sip our tea and wait. At the dinner, there were giant shrimp. A lady picked one up, bit off the shrimp's head, spit it out and ate the shrimp. So, I bit off the shrimp's head, spit it out, and ate the shrimp. It was very good.”
The stories continued. I laughed, wrote and listened. Finally, I said, “I heard you are going back to China over Christmas break. Why do you want to go back so badly?”
She sighed. “Because I left a little piece of my heart there, and now I have to go back and get it. I know I'll leave another little piece of my heart and soon there will be splinters of my heart all over the world. I could very easily see myself living there are teaching English.”
I moved to the next question: “What about China draws you to it more than America?”
At this point, Brittany looked up from her candy making. “That is a loaded question, Lydia.”
“I am not trying to trick anyone,” I said. “I want to know what draws her to China.”
“Because she is called,” Brittany replied.
“I am called there,” Emily agreed. “There are needs and hurts in the US that God has called other people to.”
Brittany's heart sings the same song, just with a different country. Soon after I finished interviewing Emily, she headed off to her room. Brittany continued making candy making, while I tried to get answers out of her.
“When did you first go to Romania?”
“The summer of eight grade. I was twelve or thirteen, I guess. I wanted to go on an international mission trip, but with the Virginia Baptist Mission Board, you can't go unless you're sixteen without a parent. So my mom and I decided we wanted to go to Nicaragua. But that didn't work because of my mom's health condition. We found a trip to Romania that need a few more people, and we decided to go.”
“Did you know you were going to move there someday?”
“Not at first,” she replied. “On the plane ride home I started planning for next year. My mom asked me what I was doing, and when I told her, she told me I wasn't going back. But I have gone back every year, and after I graduate, I will move there.”
“When did you know you were going to move to Romania someday?”
Brittany rolls her eyes at me. “Don't you already know these answers, Lydia?”
“Some of them. But I don't want to leave anything out. Answer the question!”
“Okay, it was a gradual process of realizing that I was supposed to live in Romania. I was a small town girl, and I wasn't comfortable in the city. At first I thought I was supposed to work in a village, but overtime God showed me that I was called to the city.”
“What is it about Romania that makes you love it?”
“Jesus draws me to it.”
I made her tell me a story about one of her favorite children.
“The first year I went to Romania, I really bonded with a little boy named Kempes,” she began. “He was nineteen months old and I taught him how to color. He thought he had to lick the crayons to make them work. Kempes was in Romania for my first five trips to Romania. The last year I was there, he didn't leave my side. He helped me get things ready, like snacks for the other kids. One day, I went to help a kid who had gotten hurt. I left Kempes, and he started crying and yelling something in Romania. Later, one of the staff members of Project Ruth asked me if I knew what he was screaming. I didn't. She told me that he was screaming, “Mommy,” in Romnie.”
In June of 2011, Brittany will move to Bucharest, Romania, where she will work with an organization called Project Ruth. Project Ruth teaches gypsy children the national language of Romanian. Language is one of the barriers between the Romnie gypsies and the Romanian people. Perhaps, as the gypsies are able to learn the language of the country, they will be able to break out of the cycle of oppression and poverty.
Having a president and vice president of the GSO that are both involved and passionate in other countries will give this new organization a firm foundation.
“My trip has just become a part of me, an extra sidenote,” said Emily. “But not a stupid side note, like the kind you ignore when you are reading for school. It's the kind of sidenote that rocks your world. One of the ways China has impacted me is that it has made me more sensitive to other cultures. I am really sensitive about how people often define an entire nation by one or two ideas we have about the culture.”
Brittany said that she would like to see Bluefield College set up a program with Romania.
“I know people in charge of different educational fields in Romania,” she said. “And I would like to use that resource as a way to start a European study abroad program.”
“Since we are a brand new organization, I'd like to see new student involvement,” said Emily. “I want a culturally rich environment brought to campus, where other cultures are not only tolerated, they are embraced.”
Emily and Brittany are not just leadership of an organization. They are actively sharing their passion for cultures on an individual level throughout BC's campus. Through their stories and passion, I have become more and more interested in traveling around the globe. This summer, I plan to go on my own adventure to China. And within the next two years, I am planning to travel to Romania.
When I asked Emily what she would say to encourage people to go to China, I found she had been fulfilling her answer.
“The same thing I'm doing right now,” she said. “Tell my stories.”