This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Choose your own journey

I find myself at the Nanjing Normal University track most mornings, when the urge to run somehow overrides my desire to continue sleeping. Or maybe it’s just the sounds of 6 a.m. construction outside my window that wake me.

Regardless the cause, I’m out of bed and running laps around the track in no time.

Children circle a track at Nanjing Normal University in China. — Mackenzie Miller
Children circle a track at Nanjing Normal University in China. — Mackenzie Miller

But this isn’t your normal track, at least based on those in America. Whether it be 6 in the morning or 9 at night, there will be people. Rain or shine 一定有人 (there will definitely be people). Hot or cold . . .you get the picture.

And I myself am there, taking off from the start line, bringing all of the week’s thoughts, stresses and learnings. I bring my story, and I begin to run.

Lap 1

As I round the first corner, I pass two female Chinese students linked arm in arm. They leisurely walk, exchanging conversation and a few chuckles. I pick out a few familiar words in Chinese — small victories.

Just past them I see a group of elderly ladies decked out in an array of colorful sportswear. One Chinese woman at the front of the group turns up the volume on the radio and begins to demonstrate the hand motions to go along with the music. The rest of the women fall in step.

“快一点儿,加油!” (A little faster, you got this) is the next audible phrase as I round the second corner. A mother and daughter jog alongside each other, the grandfather following close behind, his eyes glistening with pride for his granddaughter.

Slowly but surely running past the neighboring basketball and volleyball courts, I observe the large number of male Chinese students all engrossed in games of pick-up. Who will be the next Yao Ming? The volleyball court is where the international students are hanging out today — those from Maryland, Jordan, South Africa and Chile.

And somehow, just like that, I have arrived at the end of lap one. Next lap, here we go, but this time new people catch my attention.

Lap 2

First, it’s the gentleman from Yemen passing a soccer ball around with two young Chinese boys. Though their first languages are different, they share in the universal language of laughter.

I weave my way around the children rollerblading and riding bike the opposite way around the track — in China, anything goes! A mother plays a song on her accordion off to the side, while her son plays in the sandbox close by.

My head quickly looks down towards my feet as I notice the group of security trainees standing in the center of the track, all wearing a navy blue uniform, staring straight ahead, expression absent from their faces. Are they security trainees, or are they members of the army? No one really knows, but if we did, what would their story be?

My legs are starting to burn a little. I blame it on the large amount of walking I do each day, but maybe I’m just out of shape. Lap 3 and 4 become a blur as I enter into my thoughts.

Life at this Nanjing Normal University track amazes me. Each time I come, I leave feeling refreshed, and it’s a deeper feeling than just a post-workout exhaustion.

In a way, I feel as if each time I come to this track, I witness what heaven will be like. On a big open field, people from all over the world, of all different races and ethnicities, gather peacefully. There is laughter and smiling, belonging and a sense of contentment.

Everyone comes as they are, and I don’t think God would have it any other way. Some come in high heels, others in flip flops. A few run laps in jeans and some in a newly purchased dress. I’ve witnessed it all, and it makes me smile.

A wise professor of mine at Hesston College used to always say, “It’s sort of a choose your own journey.” Though he was talking about the notes on a sheet of music, I don’t think I could choose a better phrase to describe this track/faith journey metaphor.

Each day you show up, you come just as you are, but you intentionally choose to journey forward, to start the next lap. To choose peace over violence, acceptance over judgement, inclusion over exclusion, contentment over longing. And you keep running around the track, engaging with those you meet along the way.

And that’s where I met God this week — at the track.

Mackenzie Miller, a 2018 graduate of Hesston College, is currently studying Mandarin Chinese and interning at Zhi Mian, a local psychology center, during her gap year in Nanjing, China before heading to Goshen College in the fall. Originally from Lancaster, Pa., she did an internship at MWR in 2017. This post originally appeared on her blog at

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