“Mián…” “huā…” “tang!” I repeated the words back to her. “Miánhuā tang! Yes!” She flung her arms open wide and laughed, bouncing a little on her heels. She wore a necklace, which read, “Sunshine,” and I commented on how fitting this was for her. “My mother gave this to me. She told me I need to calm down a little, but I am like, ‘No, I am me!’” She laughed again as she recalled how one professor compared her to a firework.
The sunshiny firework’s name is Katherine. We met at the Lutheran Campus Center’s (LCC) recent Carnival, put together by our student leaders. Katherine is an exchange student from China and will be in Winona for one year. We chatted near the cotton candy machine at the carnival and taught one another how to say “cotton candy” in English and Mandarin.
I tried to imagine what it might be like to be in college for the first time. Not only that, but also finding oneself far from home in a church parking lot in a small town in Minnesota on a Friday evening. Katherine didn’t just take it all in stride; she embraced it with gusto and a contagious curiosity. When another student from Taiwan asked if he could make cotton candy, she jumped up. “Can I teach him?” (How could I say no?) I stood next to her, taking in the sweet smell of pink vanilla and blue raspberry cotton wisps, listening to the whir of the machine, laughter, and Mandarin, and seeing the smiles of students from China, Taiwan, and Blaine, MN.
Dear friends of the LCC, this is so much more than cotton candy. As I told my kids when I got home that night, it was a gift to share such a magical memory with Katherine. The point was not to “convince and convert,” but to simply share the love of God in hospitality and laughter. Perhaps that is what God’s kingdom is after all- breaking into everyday lives with sweet surprise.
“How do you say it again? Cotton…?” “Yes,” I replied. “Cotton candy.” She smiled: “Candy! Cotton candy…that is hard for me!” “Miánhuā tang” is hard for me!” We laughed. Again.