Orphan Camp 2015

Guest blog entry by Paul Thomas

Joy asked me to step in and write a blog post for her. I’ve done the admin side of Orphan Camp for the last couple years, which keeps me busy making sure that kids, staff, toys, buses, and food is all where it should be — so not a lot of time to play with the kids.

(I’m totally fine with this. Some have these gifts, and some have those gifts…)

Because of this, I get a “bird’s eye view” of the event. A few things jump out at me, as I watch the day progress.

For example, you sometimes don’t expect the people who are the best with kids to be the best with kids.

Some people who seem tough and serious on a daily basis have hearts of oak that can give the most steadfast, deep love to some of the kids who need it the most steadily.

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Sometimes, people who have no experience as parents turn out to be experts at connecting with somebody who needs somebody to connect to.

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Seeing kids grow up over three summers is, well, amazing. And heartbreaking.

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And obviously, there’s a lot of smiles and laughter, but that’s kids for you!

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What isn’t in these pictures is the staff of both the orphanage and the facility where we host the event. Obviously, the kids are the focus of the day, but they’re not the only ones we have the chance to show the love of Jesus to. The orphanage staff get a fun day while we take care of their kids, but they also get a few minutes to talk with believers who try and explain why we spend our “free time” doing this.

(Our time isn’t free. He paid for all of it. We can just try to use it well.)

Similarly, the staff of the facility are bemused and appreciative that, on this blazing hot summer day, a bunch of foreign strangers are eagerly taking on the work of setting up and breaking down the tables and chairs, cleaning the pool, serving the food — jobs which normally would fall to them. We’re frank with them about why we’re eager to do this.

(“In all humility, consider others as greater than yourselves.”)

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Maybe the best is seeing some of the kids who have left the orphanage as they blossom in the care of a foster family or their new adopted family. We invite these kids back every year so the staff can see beloved little ones as they blossom and grow.

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I am very grateful to the volunteers who come and make this event fun and loving. I am very, very grateful to the supporters around the world who have made this possible thanks to contributions and prayers. (Two years with beautiful, sunny days, despite being in the middle of a rainy season? What are the chances…?) Most of all, though, I am grateful to have been given a little way to serve, and to try to show these kids and the staff what Christ’s love means.

The Long-Awaited Christmas Post

 In January, my friends Rebecca and Isaac wrote a post on the orphans’ Christmas, full of great pictures and descriptions. For several months the administrative section of our blog was down, and we were unable to post any new content. Now our wonderful webmaster has fixed the problem (thanks, Roy!). At long last, here is the Christmas post. Take it away, Rebecca and Isaac! :)

Many of us are familiar with a round jolly man, who wears a red suit and brings gifts to children around the world on Christmas Eve.  He does this while traveling in his sleigh that is carried by nine reindeer no less!  While this is a whimsical thought, and can be helpful for parents to use as an incentive for their misbehaving children, the story of the origins of this beloved character is worth remembering.
Nicholas was a man who lived in Turkey around 300 A.D., who was orphaned at an early age and left with a large inheritance. To many peoples’ dismay, Nicholas did not keep the money for himself, but rather used it to give gifts to those in need. Why would anyone do that? Because of the love of Christ; knowing the sacrifice that Jesus made, and how He has called us to do the same.
This Christmas at the orphanage was quite lively. While none of us dressed up in red suits, each child was given much needed gifts and attention.
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The day began with one of our regular volunteers reading the story of the birth of Jesus in the local language. This was a wonderful opportunity for the children and their caregivers to hear in their own language about why we celebrate Christmas and why we give gifts. None of us had ever seen the children sit so still and quietly before; that was definitely a miracle.
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We were also blessed this year to have enough volunteers come so that each child had one-on-one cuddle time and help opening their gifts.
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In the gaily wrapped packages were socks, shoes, jackets, clothes, learning toys and stuffed animals. This was all because you and local brothers and sisters gave generously from their hearts.
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All of the children were so excited that they began putting on their new things right away. I dare say that some children were more excited about their new shoes than the toys!
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 Paper was flying, ribbon twirling, giggles ringing, smiles flashing, and tummies filling with candy and other treats.
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For some of the children the flurry of gifts left them worn out and drifting off to sleep while being lovingly held.
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This was a wonderful celebration and while we were so grateful for all that everyone gave, it was for one day.  I long for a time when every Christmas, no, every day, these precious little ones will have a forever family to call their own.
Let us together “learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow” just as it says in Isaiah 1:17.

Joy here again. I hope you enjoyed hearing about the orphans’ special day as much as I did. :) By the way, for those of you who love the orphans as we do, stay tuned for the first in what we hope to be a series of biographical videos on children who are waiting to be adopted. This has been something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and now someone has come along with the skills to do it! :) I hope to have the post up in the near future. We’re so excited for you to get to know these sweet children better, and are praying that God will use these videos to “place the lonely into homes.”

What a Wonderful World- Orphan Camp 2014!

Yesterday we tucked another year of Orphan Camp under our belt. I have to say, by God’s grace and with the help of some awesome prayer warriors and volunteers, it was our best one yet! The kiddos had such a glorious time that they could hardly stop smiling; each new treat or game seemed more exciting than the last. It was so wonderful, in fact, that I think it deserves its own song. In honor of that, here is my own Orphan Camp version of “What a Wonderful World.” :)

I see shining eyes, Big dimples, too, I see the hugs…

…from me to you,

And I think to myself… What a wonderful world!

I see shopping sprees, Accessories, too… All this good food to eat, Noodles, rice and tofu,

And I think to myself…

What a wonderful world!

The thrill of adventure, The danger of the ride, Is always filled with laughter… With buddies by our side. When our friends hold our hands, whether old friends or new, They’re really saying, “I love you!”

 

I hear children laugh…

I watch them grow,

Their simple enjoyment…

Causes faces to glow,

And I think to myself…

What a wonderful world!

 

Oh, I think to myself…

What a wonderful world!

 

 

 

 

Egg-citing Day!

Since Orphan Camp is coming up next week, I figured I’d better go ahead and post about Easter so we can at least keep up with the big events. Way to stay on top of things,  Joy (haha)! :)

Easter has always been a simple, but fun holiday for us at the orphanage. Since the Good News is God’s focus for the holiday, we think it should be ours, as well. Though the kids are young, they’re never too young to hear this story. We have found Resurrection Eggs to be a very effective means of sharing Easter. Cathy did a fantastic job! Every egg has a small token of the resurrection story inside of it, such as a donkey to indicate his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, coins to show His betrayal, nails in the shape of a cross, and then an empty egg at the end to symbolize the empty tomb. The children were mesmerized by the story, and wanted to touch each piece. Xiao Man here was showing us that she knew how Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. She’s such a smart girl. I just love her heart.

After the story time, we were ready for the Easter egg hunt. You have never seen excitement until you have seen the children go after those eggs! First we “hide” them outside (with varying degrees of difficulty)… …and then we set the children loose to find them. Every child gets to go, even if they can’t actively participate. Some of them like A Yu… …and A Buo, just enjoy the sun and breeze on their faces… …others, like Wu Fu (Five Blessings), stared in fascination at the proceeds… …while Gang Gang was a bit more hands-on in his play. AnAn couldn’t participate in quite the same way, because of his blindness, but he liked exploring the eggs with his hands and tasting the treats inside. Ah, the treats inside. My, how those children loved finding all that yummy candy! Xixi was feeling quite smug about his haul… …while A Bai celebrated every egg… …and Xiao Man was mostly interested in noshing candy.

Dong Dong, on the other hand, generously gave most of his candy away, and spent most of his time carefully arranging his colorful eggs. For at least half an hour, he was completely engrossed, making sure that every egg was un-nested… …taken apart… …and methodically arranged in rows. He was nothing if not thorough in his pursuit of order.

A couple of the children had no desire to hunt eggs at all, but were much more excited to be pushed around by their “big brothers” in their cars. The preferred speeds were fast… …and faster! :)

Out of all the children’s reactions and pictures, this one was the hardest won and most satisfying- Xiao Xiong (Little Hero) was left at the orphanage this winter, and has been (very understandably) grieving deeply ever since. Because he speaks a dialect that none of the orphanage staff, nor any of our volunteers speak or can identify, his frantic communication cannot be understood. Even when being cuddled or played with, he is almost always grave and solemn. You can imagine how excited we were to see his sweet, shy smile break out over his face as he broke open the egg and discovered the sweet treat inside.  Definitely the best surprise of the day!

Every holiday like Easter or Christmas, I think of all that Jesus sacrificed so that I can be adopted from my broken, grieving, hopeless life; made His child; and given joyous life eternal, filled with forgiveness, hope and peace. I look at children like Little Hero, with his hurting heart and deep need for love, and I see myself before Jesus made me His own. When all the trappings and traditions of these holidays are stripped away, there is His heart for adoption. Do you share His heart? Do you look at Little Hero, Dong Dong, Gang Gang, Xiao Man, and others, and see broken hearts worthy of love and redemption? If so, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I would love to help you learn more about the process of adopting one of these precious children as your own.

Christmas Fun

Sometimes we get so busy living life that we get rather behind on blogging about it. That has certainly been the case lately. You know it’s bad when the Christmas post is going up after Valentine’s Day! Please forgive me for depriving you of recent updates on these sweet and precious kiddos.

My wonderful friend, Elizabeth, has graciously agreed to write a post and choose pictures so that you can see Christmas at the orphanage through eyes other than mine. Elizabeth and her husband XieLi have been volunteering at the orphanage for more than a year now, and are fostering one of our little treasures, Eva. Take it away, Elizabeth-

The orphanage Christmas party is one of the highlights of the year. And I mean for the volunteers—though I hope it is for the kids too!

At the beginning of December, we helped the kids put up the tree.

The kids always love this activity, though some of them would rather just play with the shiny balls than hang anything on the tree!

The day of the Christmas party, we started by gathering all the kids and orphanage workers into the main room and telling the gospel through the Christmas story. It’s a special time to share a cultural activity with a deep meaning. Then Joy presented the orphanage staff with some gifts that had been prepared for them. We want this to be a special day for them too!

Next, the gifts were brought out and distributed to the kids. The kids each had a buddy who sat with them to help and admire and cuddle. Pretty paper and boxes are a big hit with every kid, and these guys were no different! But I’ve never met any other kids who got quite so excited about receiving clothes and shoes. It was heartwarming to see them laughing and playing with their new treasures, and giving hugs to the volunteers who helped them open them.

As I watched them enjoying Christmas, I thought about just how powerful incarnation really is. Immanuel, God with us, “became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we have seen his glory…” We know God’s love because Jesus came to live it for us. I am so thankful for the opportunity to incarnate the love of God to these precious kids in a small way. And I pray that one day each of them can know it even more fully through a forever family!

Orphan Camp 2013- A Sea of Smiling Faces

Orphan Camp is highlight of our year, for orphans and volunteers alike. It’s a chance for the children to hang out in the fresh air with people who love them, and do all the things that they like most. After years of experience, we’ve found that simple activities and a relatively unstructured time work best.

The pinnacle of many of the children’s time is the water fight and accompanying pool games. Those kiddos love to get wet!

Zhong Zhong just wanted to get his toes in the water…

…while Xiao Ming, prefer to relax and enjoy the coolness.

Xixi preferred to have his adoring fans wet him down while he giggled with glee.

But Dong Dong and Jin Qiu were much more active in their water games. Dong Dong went at it with his usual zestful gusto. He zeroed in on a target, took careful aim…

…and shouted in victory when his spray hit its mark-

Jin Qiu preferred to broadcast his attack and shower whoever got in his way.

Digging in the sandbox was another popular pass time. Oh, the glorious fun of playing in the dirt and getting absolutely covered! I think this was Gang Gang’s favorite activity.

He sat happily engaged by the hour- digging, piling, and making important phone calls… :)

A Yong loved the sandbox, as well. I don’t know when I’ve seen him more focused and determined in an activity than he was in transferring sand from one bucket to the other. He did a great job!

Sliding in various forms appealed to many of the children. The combination of the exhilaration of whizzing downward, while still being safe and secure in their friend’s arms was irresistible. Yuan Yuan took A Buo for a ride, which A Buo thoroughly enjoyed.

Zhong Zhong was a bit more tentative about braving the slide. However, with Luke spotting him at the bottom…

…and Angel and Shelley’s support…

…he made it!

By the way, is this not one of the sweetest little boys you’ve ever seen? God has done a lot of healing for him to be able to smile and trust this readily. What a precious little love!

A Feng, with his love of open spaces, preferred sledding down the hillside with Jim.

Look at that laughing boy; what a joy!

However, A Feng’s very favorite thing, the activity that he ran, beaming from the bus to do the moment he arrived, was to roam around in the wide-open field.

Something in this sweet boy just longs passionately for the sky overhead and grass beneath his feet. One volunteer’s full-time task was to do nothing but follow him around from a safe distance and let him enjoy his freedom. All of us who saw it cried with joy just a bit, I think. Such a simple pleasure meant so much to this young man.

Speaking of joy, Xiao Man was pretty cute twirling her ribbon streamers-

What a darling little girl this one is!

Food is another central theme of our Orphan Camp. We try to have the children’s favorites, and plenty of them. Fangbian mian (convenient noodles, or what Americans might call Ramen noodles) are the macaroni and cheese of Chinese children. They inhale it! Nothing says fun for Xiao Ming like Stephanie feeding him noodles by the forkful. Look at those eager eyes! :)

Yoghurt is another favorite. A Feng could eat 10 a day with no problem. We have to feed him lying down, because it helps him swallow. As soon as he sees a container of yoghurt, he assumes the position-

Lunchtime is a bonanza of meat and veggie rice boxes…

…and fresh fruit (a perennial favorite). I love Dong Dong’s face while he’s getting ready to eat his watermelon.

Of course, the ice cream is the crown jewel of the kids’ culinary adventure.

We had a treat this year, in that a number of our fabulous foster families were able to join in the festivities. These parents are doing such a wonderful job of loving and nurturing the children God has laid on their hearts for this time.

Eva Joy with her foster parents Elizabeth and Xie Li-

Laila with foster mom Joslynn-

Luke and Shelley-

Ruthie with Rachel and Caleb (not pictured)-

And Miss Summer with Hugh and Crickett (how did I end up with a picture of only her?)-

We were so glad that the foster families could enjoy the fun day with us, and that we all had a chance to visit with their delightful kids. Truly, these families have a special role to fulfill in these children’s lives, and we deeply appreciate them.

Oddly enough, I have still more pictures, but I’ve apparently reached my upload limit for this post. Either I’ll write one more post on this event, or I’ll leave it to your imagination. In any event, I hope you have gotten a taste of the children’s joy in the simple pleasures of the day, and perhaps caught the vision for how much more joy could be a part of their lives if they had a forever family of their very own.

Did  you delight, as we did, in the exuberant joy of DongDong’s water play-

Xiao Man’s sweet smile as she twirled her ribbon streamer-

Xiao Ming’s wide-eyed enjoyment of his fangbian mian-

Gang Gang’s sandbox revelry-

Xixi’s laughter as his friends splashed him in the pool-

And Zhong Zhong’s smile of success after his sliding adventure?

Please, pray that God would provide each of these orphans with forever families! They do so love to be loved. Would your or someone you know be willing to love them?

Hard not to, isn’t it? :)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Different Plan

Whipping wind and driving rain from Typhoon T8 impeding our travel. A sold-out train, delaying our journey 2 1/2 hours. Electricity at the orphanage knocked out, wrapping us in a muggy blanket of dusk as the torrential rains fell outside. A  young lady, far from home, with a fever spiking at 103.4. Two others with the beginnings of a stomach flu. Arriving home, completely drenched, after only half a day spent loving the children instead of the desired three. This was not what we had planned.

It is, however, what God planned. One thing ten years in China has taught me repeatedly is that “the mind of man plans his ways, but the Lord directs his steps.” So instead of writing the post I had envisaged, full of trips to the swimming hole, special lunch excursions with the older kids to KFC and other highlights from our days there, let me write about the time our loving, gracious God ordained for us. There were certainly many sweet moments therein.

Due first to our travel delay, and then to the lovely lunch the orphanage had prepared for us (they’re very proud of their local specialties, especially chicken, and enjoy treating us to them when they can), we didn’t reach the children until early afternoon. Many of them were napping, but the ones who weren’t were absolutely ecstatic to see us, and swarmed us with sticky welcomes.

One thing I noticed immediately was that, although there were only four of us instead of the usual 10-20, the kids all still wanted the same amount of affection. They crave it, and are so hungry for it that they don’t care how many children they have to share a lap with, so long as they have their softly spoken words of endearment and loving touch.

Si Xi, a little girl with Down Syndrome, didn’t care if she got her spot on a lap, as long as she could at least have a foot. I’m afraid she got rather addicted to horsey rides, and my legs got a great work-out!

Our afternoon was filled with praise music, and it was exciting to see how the children responded to it. Rambunctiousness calmed, play gentled, guardedness dropped. With simple songs, like Chinese renditions of “This is the Day” and “Jesus Loves Me,” the children joined in, begging to sing them again and again. A Feng is usually quiet and closely guarded, much as you see here…

…but when the singing began, he actually laughed and clapped! It was such a treat to get to see that.

Another treat was to have my talented young friend, Lacy, accompany the singing on her violin.

The children had never seen anything like it, and were mesmerized by the sweet sounds of hymns on her fiddle.

Miss A Lian, never one to shirk her part, provided accompaniment of a different sort. Not sure how sweet her music was, but she sure is! :)

Some other unexpected blessings that were part of God’s design for our time-

A Bai, an eleven year old girl who constantly asks with longing when I am going to bring her a mama looked at me and said, “I love you, because Jesus loves you!” What a wise little girl. There’s a sermon in that statement.

Knowing that we must be tired, the nannies brought each of us a piping bowl of peanut soup to nourish us. For the Cantonese, nothing is quite as refreshing on a steamy day as a nice, big bowl of hot soup. Certainly, their kindness was most refreshing. :)

We found a clean, rodent-free hotel room just a 20 minute walk from the orphanage and right across the street from Pizza Hut. Perfect location. The staff was most helpful, as well, even coming to fix our toilet with a mop, and then mopping the floor with it afterwards.

Thank goodness for house shoes.

So, did the trip go as we had hoped and arranged? No. But God had a different plan, one that I choose to believe by faith was better. I am encouraged even in writing this to be reminded of the many kindnesses He showered upon us. What else can we expect of our gracious God, who is good, and does good?

I want to credit my friend Alyssa with most of the photos in this post. She was right in the mix, playing with kids, changing diapers, helping with baths and many other things…but as with most people who stay behind the camera, you’ll just have to take my word for it. :)

Orphan Camp

Every year, we try to have Orphan Camp, a day when the kids and the orphanage staff can come for fun outdoor time, special treats, and lots of love. After much preparation, yesterday was the big day! Kiddos and staff arrived at the Fountains (a community center founded by friends here) in a large coach, eager for the good times they knew were in store.

To give an overview of the whole day would be a little dry and impersonal, and the children would get lost in the details. As you know, we’re all about helping you get to know the kids on a more personal level. So rather than outline the whole day, I’m going to give you a few glimpses into individual children’s enjoyment of the time.

As quickly as the kids could get their shoes off, they plunged into the water, clothes and all. A Bai could swim like a fish, and had a rather unique style of entering the wading pool. Running full tilt, she leaped off the side, spread full out, and landed a belly flop right in the middle of the water, drenching everyone around with a glorious splash. Much more confident in the water than the other children, she swam circles around them (literally), and encouraged them to join in her frolicking. Definitely, A Bai was the life of the pool party!

Though they also loved the pool, Jin Qiu and Dong Dong were much more into the water toys.

Squirting water hoses full blast at anyone within range, throwing water balloons, splashing, and blazing away with their water guns, they were definitely all boy in their enjoyment of water weaponry.

Other children were a bit more sedate in their pool play. Xiao An is blind, a recent arrival at the orphanage, and very tentative about experiencing new situations. Cathy discovered that he was much surer of his footing when he could wrap his arms around her waist and slowly follow her around. Right into the wading pool they went, so Xiao An could enjoy the watery coolness on the hot day.

Some of the younger kids found the water mat more to their liking than the pool. Zhu Zhu was fascinated by the various water spouts. As soon as she would push one of the spouts down to stop the water, another would pop up, and she’d turn to contemplate that one. She never did succeed at making all of the water stay down, but she gave it her best shot!

A Lian also loved the water mat, and was as cute as could be, playing with the water spouting from it. Rather than leave her comfy seat, she elected to have her yogurt snack right where she sat. What could be more fun than that?

Just as an aside, isn’t she one of the most gorgeous kids you’ve ever seen? Look at that face…it’s just crying out to be kissed!

Ready to warm up after their wet fun, the nannies and the big kids headed out to the field to jump in the Zorb, a gigantic, inflated ball. A Bai, Jin Qiu and Xiao Mei could really get that thing rolling across the grass. For the most part, they stayed on their feet, but occasionally the momentum would cause them to lose their footing, and they would tumble around in the ball like so many ping pong balls, giggling and shouting the whole time.

A Feng also thoroughly enjoyed the green space, but in a much less rambunctious way. Something in A Feng is always searching for freedom, and being cooped up in four walls is hard for him to bear. His favorite part of the whole day was having a great big open field to wander around in, under my dad’s watchful eye. No walls, no one making him go here or there, we could see him visibly relax as he enjoyed the feeling of grass under his feet and the sunshine on his face.

Lunch and snack times were favorites with all of the kids. I thought of calling Orphan Camp “The All-You Can Eat Yogurt and Ice Cream Buffet,” but that seemed a bit lengthy. :) We DID have rice boxes and noodle bowls, and the kids scarfed them down with abandon. But by far their favorite treats were the dairy ones. A Feng (pictured above) ate six yogurts over the course of the day, opening his mouth for the next spoonful of the sweet treat as soon as he’d swallowed the last. Zhong Zhong, in addition to his yogurts, at six bowls of ice cream, frequently smiling and clapping his hands between bites.

So much fun and activity made the little kids extra sleepy by nap time. Trying to give them as many new experiences as possible, we let some of them lie in the grass. A Yu luxuriated on her soft green bed, enjoying the sensation of the blades on her skin.

Babies like A Hui and Xiao Li, we took inside to the playroom, where they ignored the toys and promptly zonked out on the carpet.

One big highlight of the day for A Bai and Xiao Mei was their very own shopping trip. The Fountains has a thrift store, where second hand clothing, accessories, and other things can be bought at very reasonable prices. A Bai and Xiao Mei got a free pass; anything they wanted, they could have. Both of the girls made a beeline for the accessories and toys, picking out bracelets, handbags and dolls. When I gently steered them towards the clothes, they definitely decided the more girlie, the better. Xiao Mei was drawn towards anything that shined or sparkled. Especially when it came to shoes, her tastes ran towards the extravagant. A small, red pair of traditional slippers with elaborate embroidery called her name, and nothing pleased her more than when she could finally cram her feet into them and hobble towards the hat selection. Both of the girls looked so feminine and pretty in their new finery. Don’t worry, we made sure they ended up with some practical things, as well!

There is much more to say about Orphan Camp, and we intend to post about different aspects of it in the coming days. Our goal was for the children and the orphanage staff to have a fun an memorable day full of new experiences, to feel the Lord’s love through us, and for the kids just to enjoy the freedom to laugh, run and play outside to their hearts’ content. God graciously and exceedingly blessed our day, and we’re so thankful. Maybe you’d like to join us next year?