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International 4th

Johnny Jones, 29 August 2002

I told you about the circuitous route we took into Clemson to visit Bryan. When we got there, it was later than we'd hoped and we were more tired than we wanted to be. But Bryan was a wonderful host; we took a walk, and getting to stretch our tired legs, and seeing the huge blue hydrangeas and the cream-colored magnolias around the lake revived us.

The next night was a party at his apartment. I know what you're thinking. Grad student. Party school. Bachelor apartment. Woo hoo!

Actually, the strongest refreshment was tea or maybe the hot Indian dish. Bryan began hosting parties for the students in his department the week before. To cut down on preparation time, and to share cultures, he made it a pot luck.

Amy and I cleaned and cooked. We missed the Indian movie the week before, which was big and long and passionate. The video the Chinese students brought was just the opposite: so understated sometimes there was no music. The next week the Iranian student brought a movie.

They went out to see a movie for the American night; Bryan is the only American in his department. That's not too unusual in post-graduate electrical engineering. I asked Bryan why.

"They're well-prepared, and they're hard workers," he replied. "The professors love them because they don't have anything to do but work. Most of them don't have cars. Even the ones who do don't know a lot about how to do things here in the States."

We had an example of that when Vineet told us about his first experience at Subway. The server asked, "For here, or to go?" That puzzled Vineet. He replied, "Well, I'll eat here, then I'll go!"

So partly for his own socialization, and partly to care for the students who needed a leader and a friend, Bryan began having parties. The one we participated in the Friday night after we arrived, in addition to the nationalities I've already mentioned, also had a young man from Lebanon. He was the only Christian.

So you can see that Bryan has a unique opportunity to be a missionary-in-reverse. The students all speak English, and they're here. But they are far away from what's familiar and eager to experience life here in the States.

We took them to Bryan's church 4th of July celebration on the dike in back of the church building on the 3rd. That's when Clemson sets off fireworks, since many students go home for Independence Day. While waiting for the show to begin, I quoted a little of the Declaration of Independence, and I spoke with the students about the ideals of our country.

On the 4th we had a big celebration. An Indian student and two Chinese girls came over early to help us prepare. We spent hours chopping meats and vegetables, making potato salad, and making, then decorating a sheet cake like an American flag. It was fun to see Vineet and Yanfei working with the red, white and blue icing, looking at a little flag I bought that morning.

Bryan wanted to provide a typical a 4th of July celebration, so after we got everyone together, we went swimming in the lake. There were some children there, and several of the young men used the frisbee to play keep-away with them. The students thoroughly enjoyed being with the young ones. Vishwa told me, "We don't get to be with children here in the US, and we miss our families."

Two of the Chinese students didn't swim, instead playing in the orange sand. But instead of a sand castle, they built a Great Wall of China.

When it was time to eat, our preparation paid off. Bryan brought skewers and let everyone make their own shish-ka-bob to cook on the barbecue grill. Since the Muslims wouldn't eat pork and the Hindus wouldn't eat beef, and since there was a vegetarian, everyone could individualize: we had three meats and three veggies to choose from. But everyone ate, and loved, Amy's potato salad.

Amy sang "God Bless America" back at Bryan's apartment, then we gathered up the fireworks I bought. We set them off in a little cove by the lake. Both the Chinese and Indians have celebrations where fireworks are important, so they really loved having participating. They were so disciplined and careful, and their coordinated efforts sent four Roman candles up at once. I watched from the bank.

We ate watermelon and the flag cake back at Bryan's place. Raffi told me, "This means a lot to us to have an American celebration. Many holidays were ignored."

Amy and I had to leave the next day, but in the week we were there, we got to participate in three of the activities Bryan hosted. I couldn't help wishing we lived closer, so we could do more of those simple things that mean a lot to our international friends. I thought about that verse in Hebrews that encourages us to entertain strangers.

Being with the international students was an opportunity, and it was a privilege. It was also a lot of fun. I'm so glad we took off at the last minute and went to visit our son. We were blessed.