The GWM Club isn’t your ordinary school or athletic club. There are nine members, expatriates whose parents are working in China away from their own countries. They usually meet in someone’s living room. The agenda revolves anywhere from the latest jokes to who’s coming to town for a visit. And at times …
“It can be boring,” says the club’s spokesperson. Actually everyone in the group is a spokesperson, but it’s hard to listen to nine voices at the same time. “We try to be great,” he adds with a smile, “but we see each other over and over again.”
Actually, the members of the GWM Club are fascinating. They’ve covered more miles, lived in more countries, and learned more languages than other young people generally dream of. And now they happen to live in the shadow of the Great Wall itself. That’s why they call themselves the GWM Club, or the Great Wall of Mormons.
The GWMers live in Beijing because of their parents’ work obligations. Josh and Mary Hendryx’s father, Steve, for instance, works for the United States government as a commercial affairs specialist, while Tai Li Anderson’s father, Forrest, does photography for an international magazine.
All of the club members can tell you that living in so many locations can have side effects. “When we first moved here,” says one of the guys, “I got the flu for two weeks.”
But moving has its wonders too. China is rich in culture and history, and is home to more than one billion inhabitants. In Beijing, there’s the Forbidden City, an enormous complex of palaces that takes days to explore. There’s Tiananmen Square, the largest square in the world. And who hasn’t heard of the Great Wall, stretching thousands and thousands of miles and said to be the only man-made structure visible from the moon?
And then there’s the GWMers, not as breathtaking as the sites but great in a lot of ways. Right now they’re at Tyler de Waal’s home attending a fireside meant for them.
“We have church in our homes, too and that’s really neat,” says Josh, 14. “But it’s limited because there aren’t any other church activities.
But small is perfect for 12-year-old Jack Evans. “I like it because it’s a lot easier to pass the sacrament,” the newly ordained deacon admits. And knowing everybody? It might be boring at times, but as Josh says, “It makes us feel kind of special because we’re the only Latter-day Saints.”
“This is one of the better versions of my mom’s story,” chuckles visitor Richard Gordon-Smith, 15, as his Czechoslovakian mother Rostya shares her conversion story. Then the Beijing youth share their versions of life in a land that’s foreign to them.
“We all go to the International School of Beijing,” says Josh.
“At school Candace de Waal and I tell each other Mormon jokes that nobody else understands, and we sing hymns with other non-Chinese classmates,” continues Melissa Watson, 17. Despite the blank stares and puzzled looks they sometimes get, Melissa says her “schoolmates respect me because they know my LDS values.”
“We all have lived—and continue to live—in countries other than where we were born,” says Candace. They’re proud to say they’ve lived in places as diverse as Indonesia, Holland, Canada, the U.S., and Japan. And now China.
“You become more open-minded, and you learn to respect other cultures,” says Tyler. “You learn to do things you might not normally do.”
“You get a broader view of life as a result,” Melissa says, adding that it makes her realize the importance of following values like honesty and obedience. Tyler says it has taught him not to take his testimony for granted.
But the thing that makes these two deacons, two teachers, three Beehives, and two Laurels unique, and, yes, greater than the Great Wall is in knowing who they are and what they can achieve. They all look forward to the same great goals—serving missions, marrying in the temple, rearing eternal families, and becoming worthy of the celestial kingdom.
“Even though we’re small in numbers in a place where there’s a billion people, we have to be great in strength and in being the example the Lord wants us to be,” Tyler sums up.
The Great Wall was originally built to protect China and keep the people safe from invaders. Its massive ramparts and thousands of miles of stonework continue to amaze those who visit it.
No wonder these nine young people find this wall an inspiration too. As they stick together in following their beliefs, they build their own walls—walls of spiritual strength.