Ye Mengyuan and Wang Linjia, the two Chinese girls ages 17 and 16 killed in Saturday’s plane crash in San Francisco, had planned to spend a few weeks of their summer at West Valley Christian Church and School in West Hills, Calif., for a language and culture program.
Along with 27 classmates and 5 teacher from Jiangshan Middle School in the Zhejiang province of China, the students were supposed to spend nearly 3 weeks in California, taking classes while also visiting different sights and college campuses. Parents shelled out almost $5,000 for each student for a summer program that has grown more and more popular as wealth increases in the country.
The education bureau in Zhejiang, where Ye and Wang lived, suspended all summer camp trips and vowed greater regulation over the growing market for overseas trips.
Derek Swales, the West Valley school administrator, said while the program is mainly arranged by Chinese agents, the students would also be introduced to Christianity, as school administrators explain the history of the church and school as well as Christian culture. Each student would have stayed with a host family, many of whom attend West Valley Church.
This was to be the first of four summer groups at the school, but the camp was cancelled after the tragedy, and the children are returning to their families in China.
Swales said the school has not yet contacted the families, wanting to give them the space to deal with their loss. On Thursday, West Valley will hold a prayer vigil for the students, and has invited local congressman and representatives from local churches. The vigil will include a singing of “Amazing Grace” in Chinese and a prayer by Pastor Glenn Kirby, as empty classroom chairs and wreathes placed on a platform memorialize the missing guests. The school is also collecting money to put together care packages for each family in China, as well as a memorial plaque for the school.
Swales, who hosted an international student last year, said he feels for the host families who will no longer be meeting the students they had been paired with. In his own experience, he said host families care for the students like their own children.
“It really puts the brevity of life into perspective,” Swales said. “As a father, I hope I can be a better dad and prioritize my life better to take care of my kids.”
He believes the crash has a spiritual impact as people start asking tough questions about where they will go when they die. “As a Christian, it points me to find comfort in a good God, it points me to eternity.”