Returning to Sichuan

Late on August 1 we touched down at the Chengdu airport after nearly 17 hours of flying, eager to prepare for another Goshen College Study-Service Term in China. Our arrival marked a return to China on several levels. For our family of four, this was a personal return, since we had been here six years ago with the 2008 China SST unit. As faculty leaders we were also returning to region deeply connected to Goshen’s SST program. SST groups have been coming to China since the fall of 1980. (GC struck the first undergraduate exchange with the People’s Republic of China). SSTers came to Sichuan annually from 1980 to 1993 and every three years since that time. For many years the program was based in Chengdu, Sichuan’s capital, but in 2008 the location switched to Nanchong, a smaller city in the eastern part of the province. China is GC’s longest-running SST location.

Our family – Rachel, Steve, Lydia and Esther – had enjoyed out time in 2008 immensely and had been looking forward to being back. We knew things would have changed in some ways – and they have: more buildings, infrastructure improvements, and the like. Some people we knew well are now gone. And we had changed. Our daughters were 7 and 5 the last time we were here, and we were … well, six years younger, too.

But many things have remained the same, from some specific restaurants and stores that are still here with the same staff, to the general tenor of region: its more laid-back approach to life, its exuberant (some would say boisterous) people, its life spilling out into the streets in the evenings. Last night a Chinese friend here said, “If you want to be busy and make money, go to Guangdong [a province in the southeast next to Hong Kong]; if you want to enjoy life, come to Sichuan!” Sichuan is a large and populous province in southwest China known for its distinctive spicy food, its tea houses, silk production, the music of the erhu (a two-stringed bowed instrument), and being the native habitat of giant pandas.

For our first three weeks in China, our family lived in Chengdu (population 7.1 million) and participated in the summer language institute of Mennonite Partners in China (MPC) at Sichuan Normal University. MPC is a North American agency that sends English teachers to China, especially to Sichuan. A good number of MPC teachers through the years have been alumni of China SST, including Matthew Amstutz (GC’13) who is teaching in the Sichuan city of Zigong. We enjoyed spending time with him and the other MPC teachers as we re-acclimated ourselves to the China and were brought up to speed on what was new. We also visited significant sites in the region, such as Sanxingdui, an archeological site related to a civilization from 4,800-4,000 BC; the remarkable Dujiangyun dam and irrigation system, built about 200 BC and still in use today; and the waterfalls of Qingcheng, a mountain west of Chengdu. And then, on August 24, we headed for Nanchong.

Friends and family of China SSTers should know that we are experiencing some technical difficulties posting from China. There may be some delays in posting and fewer photos as we experiment with alternative ways of posting. Thanks for your patience!


  1. Skip Barnett says

    So happy to hear that you all are back in the Middle Kingdom and seem to be enjoying life there again!
    I look forward to reading your future posts and seeing the pictures you take. God’s peace to all 4 of you and the GC students soon coming to you. Skip B.

  2. Dorothy Cutrell says

    Thanks for the article on your return to China. My husband Ben Cutrell and I were in Nanjing for six months in 1990-91, and our short exposure to China left me with many memories and a couple of lasting relationships. We went as consultants to Amity Press which was printing Bibles. Your photos are great. Thanks again.Leave a response…

  3. Deb Miller says

    Hi to Steve, Rachel, Lydia and Esther~
    Hope you are having a great time in China! Things are VERY soggy here in the UP. Wendell has been wanting rain, and we GOT it last night!!!!! He thinks over an inch fell! Just wanted to say hi and have a wonderful time in China!!! Hope to see you at Christmas time! (if you have recovered!) Lots of love, Deb, Wendell, Imani and Matthias

  4. don and marty minter says

    Your return to Sichuan comments bring back so many good memories for us. In 1985 with 6 weeks in Sichuan (2 days in Chengdu, the rest in Chongqing), the “coming in” with 48 hour rail journey Beijing via Xi’an to Chongqing, the “coming out” 5 days via boat on the Yangtze, getting lost at night walking in Shanghai – – all never to be forgotten. This was a part of the Mennonite Medical Exchange program then active with 2 Chinese physicians being hosted in the U.S. each year also. …… With Very Best Regards ………….. Don and Marty

  5. Janette says

    It is wonderful to hear of your safe arrival and what you are already experiencing. I am looking forward to reading future blogs and maybe one even written by Esther. Let Esther know that I am impressed with her chop stick use. God’s blessings to each of you as you live this experience leading the SST group and participating in the Sichuan culture.Leave a response…

  6. Ruth H. Yoder says

    Hello Nolt family,
    I will be reading your blog faithfully, because I am a Dock House volunteer (Christopher Dock Mennonite High School) and have the privilege of relating to several of our Chinese students from Sichuan Province. It was fun to serve as a semi-competent tour guide in Lancaster County for one set of parents. After introducing them to my friends, the David Glick family; we toured the Glick farm.. What an educational and relational experience for them and for me! The Clydesdale sized farm horses on the Glick property prompted many questions .This is my SST, since the program was non-existent when I attended Goshen College, ha! (Eons ago) Blessings to you, Lydia, Esther, Rachel and Steve. Hugs, Michelle Horning’s mom, Ruth

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