Our Australian "China Rose"—Meet Suzanne Rowe
Interview by Lynda Schab
FWM: Suzanne, I am so excited to get the chance to chat with you. You are a wonderful writer and I've enjoyed many of the articles you've posted on the FaithWriters’ site. One thing I am fascinated by is your "worldliness!" Of course, I mean, "worldliness," in the cultural sense. You have traveled and have been involved in cross-cultural work all over the world. Let me start by asking this: where is the place you call home, and what prompted you to step out into overseas work?
SUZANNE: Thanks, Lynda. It’s an honor to be interviewed!
Where do I call home? Sometimes I wonder myself, but the answer would have to be Australia. People here ask, "Where is your ancestral home?" meaning "Where is home?" and I always give the complicated answer of being of British heritage, born in Papua New Guinea, raised in Australia, but now living in China. After that long explanation, I always say Australia is most definitely home for this Aussie girl.
What prompted me to step out into overseas work? I was interested as a child because of the home in which I grew up. My parents had worked in New Guinea with the government, my grandparents had worked there as full-time Christian workers, and we often had people from around the world through our home. But the real challenge came when I was a university student.
With a group of students, I went on a short-term trip to India. That’s where I was absolutely blown away by the fact that the world had huge numbers of people who’d never heard the gospel. I came from a part of the world where there was a church in most towns, where many places have religious education offered by the church even in public schools, where there are enthusiastic groups of Christian young people who run programs on beaches and camps for kids every summer holidays, and more. And yet in India I met people who’d literally never even heard the name of Jesus Christ.
I was always open to overseas work, but after that trip, I consciously began moving in that direction. Through a complicated series of events, involving travel to Indonesia, America and China, I finally found myself living here in China after eight years of gaining teaching experience, further study and support-raising.
FWM: You currently live and teach in China. You go by, "China Rose," on the FaithWriters’ message boards. You have also written several articles about the Chinese culture and stories with Chinese characters. You obviously have an intense love for the country and its people. What draws you to China in particular?
SUZANNE: I have lived in China (most of the time) since 1995. Originally, the main draw was simply statistics, a good match of gifting and needs, and the fact that teachers of English as a second language (which is what I am) had a wide open door to come here to live and work. I do fairly well at languages generally, and because Chinese is quite a hard language to learn, it made sense to go where a strong language-learner was needed. As I prayerfully considered options of where and when to go, a whole series of "God-coincidences" happened in a fairly bizarre manner. As a result, it seemed like "no-brainer." I concluded that China was God’s direction for me at that time.
As far as being a teacher is concerned, I can be as open, or even more so, in the classroom than I ever could in an Australian classroom. In class, we cover cultural things like Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving (yes … I know it is a North American celebration, but I exploit it for all its worth), Halloween (which is taught in the school English textbooks) and more, and I can naturally share the hope I have. People who are interested in knowing more usually take it up with myself or one of the Chinese staff members in our group. Religion is not a socially sensitive subject here, as it is in Australia … and neither are salaries or weight!
In hindsight, I’m suited to China too in that China has some of the best food in the world, and I love good food!
FWM: Tell us a little about what your life in China is like now. Where exactly are you living and what does your teaching job entail?
SUZANNE: I live in central northern China, about 550km (approximately 360 miles???) west of Beijing. I’m an English teacher, but am part of the Shanxi Evergreen Service (www.evergreenchina.org), which is a non-profit organization giving assistance mainly through training. We have work in the areas of medicine and public health, education, consulting, economic development and agriculture. My primary responsibilities involve teaching English to practicing teachers of English, some Evergreen staff and the staff of local entities with whom our organization works. I also still meet regularly with a language tutor to work on Chinese. I think it’ll take the rest of my life to reach native speaker level!
FWM: As mentioned above, you've written several stories and articles about China and other cross-cultural work. You have also penned some amazing testimonies and even dabbled in poetry. When did you discover your love of, and talent for, writing?
SUZANNE: I took a break for a while back in Australia, and during that time enrolled in a correspondence creative writing course, just because it was something I’d always wanted to try. I began the course in December 2004. I’ve always enjoyed writing, but had never tried to do it "properly" outside of work-related writing tasks. As part of that course, I had to work through a book called Writing the Natural Way by Rico, and that’s when something really "clicked" for me. I guess that is when I truly developed a love for writing.
As for a talent for writing, people have always given me positive feedback on the newsletters I send out, and now I get some nice "positive strokes" from friends and family when I’m brave enough to share my FaithWriters efforts too. So I don’t know about having a particular talent, but I’m enjoying it, and it seems some others are too.
FWM: One of the testimonies you've written is about your "singleness." You've said that although it would be nice to find a lifelong partner, you've learned to delight yourself in the Lord, focus on doing His work and accept what He wants for your life. Your dependence on and faith in God is so admirable. Culturally, is it difficult to be single in China? And, as a side note, what do you do for fun?
SUZANNE: Singleness ... oh, how I struggled for YEARS! I was the sort of girl who looked forward to being a capable model wife with a few children, and yet life hasn't turned out that way. You say that my dependence on and faith in God is admirable, but I tell you what ... it took a long time coming and makes life SO much simpler.
Culturally, it is tough to be single here, but less so for me as an "outsider" than for my Chinese friends. For Christian women here to stay single rather than marry a non-believer is almost unfathomable.
Personally, I'm glad to be addressed by the title "Teacher" or just by name, so at least you don't have the western "Mrs./Miss/Ms" labels. Still, when people learn I'm single, they either pity me, tell me to hurry up and find somebody, offer to match me up with their cousin, or treat me like a child. A common question on the street is, "Is your whole family here?" followed closely by "How many children do you have?" That I've not gone to a matchmaker and found just anybody is mind-boggling for people here, not least because their whole support structure is built around families. I don't deny that I still long for a family at times, but by and large I enjoy the single lifestyle these days. I hope that in happily staying single rather than settling for anything other than a Christian man willing to live in China, I can be an encouragement to my single Christian Chinese friends.
As for fun, I often eat out with friends and chat. I enjoy good music, good books, good coffee and good chocolate, ideally all at the same time. Once or twice a week, I join some friends for informal aerobics sessions. Of course, I spend a lot of time each week on the FaithWriters’ challenges and occasionally hang out in the chat room with friends. I like walking or biking around. Sometimes I spend an evening with a family here and enjoy their company.
FWM: How did you happen to find the FaithWriters’ site and how has it helped you develop your writing ability?
SUZANNE: That writing course I mentioned before requires you to find and submit four "resource files" with each assignment submission. A resource file is a sheet of specified information about writing groups, competitions, publishers, reference books or anything really that fits in with your particular writing interest. With my first assignment submission, I googled for Christian writing groups, hoping to find something to satisfy the requirements for the resource file, and of course, found FaithWriters.
Since then, I haven’t looked back, and have actually used FaithWriters related information for many other "resource files" submissions! The only problem has been that I’ve been so busy with the challenges that I’ve still not quite finished the course. That’s okay though—I’m up to the last assignment and am hoping to finish it sometime this year!
The hobby course I did is a basic introduction to creative writing, gets you to mimic different genres of writing and teaches you a lot about marketing your work. It has definitely been of value, but FaithWriters has been of even greater value in helping me develop in my actual writing.
In 2005, I set myself the goal of entering every challenge topic possible because I knew that writing a limited amount to the best of my ability each week was the best way I could improve my skill. Through reading the entries and feedback of others in the group, I’ve learned a lot about the technical side of writing, as well as the creative side. Through friendships with more experienced writers and "picking their brains," I’ve also learned a lot. All in all, FaithWriters has kept me motivated, consistently practicing writing, enthusiastic, given me the confidence I needed to start sharing my efforts further afield and the friendships there have also added a consistency to life as I’ve moved back across the world. That I value greatly.
Life before FaithWriters … was there such a thing?!
FWM: So what are your plans for the future? Do you have any writing aspirations you want to share?
My plans for the future are just to happily plod along a day at a time, walking with God. I'm not a "visionary" type of person, but do enjoy the many activities that make up my days.
As for writing aspirations, I have two dreams at the moment. One is a small book based on the life of Judah (son of Jacob), with creative retelling of various instances in his life and then highlighting lessons which can be applied to modern day readers. The other is a book about life in China ... if you've ever read Don't Let the Goats Eat the Loquat Trees by Dr Hale (one of my favorites!), you'll know the sort of work I mean.
FWM: Both book ideas sound very interesting! The impression I've gotten is that you are energetic and driven and I have no doubt you'll accomplish what you set out to do. Thanks so much for giving us a glimpse into your "worldly" life, your writing, and your faith. Best wishes to you as you continue your walk with God, and may His favor rest on the work you do—wherever that may be.
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