Remembering “Li Laoshi”

Westminster teachers and students recall loving memories and stories of Dr. Ming Li, whose recent death has shaken the community.

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Karen Bowman

Dr. Li’s students gathered around her at a theme park in China to listen to her life story.

By Anna Grace Likes, Westminster Christian Academy

As the Westminster community grieves the loss of beloved Chinese teacher Dr. Ming Li, classrooms feel a new stillness. On Tuesday, March 22nd, Ming Li lost her short battle with breast cancer. This came as a shock to most, as she was only recently diagnosed and many did not know she was sick. 

As her life was celebrated in a chapel ceremony, cards were made to send to her family, and the community commemorated her battle with a pink dress-down day, Westminster began to reflect on the impact of Dr. Li’s life at the school. Whether one got to know her personally or merely passed her in the hallway, she always gave a warm smile or shared a kind word.

“Servant leadership is the word that comes to my mind when I want to describe who she is. She is a true Christ-like servant who displays Christ-like humility every day,” said Dani Butler, Head of Student Development and longtime friend of Ming Li. Butler got to know Li after they spent time working for the international program at Westminster, and over those nine years they formed a close friendship. 

But, according to Butler, Li’s greatest passion was her students. “She would always talk about students and how much she loves them and loves teaching at Westminster,” said Butler. Even on days off, Li was always thinking of ways to better connect to her students, praying with and for them often.

This quality was easily understood and reciprocated by her students. As much as she cared about them, they all cared about her in the same way. 

“Li Laoshi (how students referred to Ming Li–one’s last name comes before their title in Mandarin, so this means “Li (her last name) experienced teacher (laoshi)) was one of the friendliest people and one of the strongest members in Christ I have met. She was extremely accomplished as a person[…]She decided to follow Christ and move to the States and build our Chinese program from the ground up. The amount of trust she had to put into Christ to do this was immense and I will always remember her for that,” said Jimmy MacDonald, junior and former student of Li. This respect was felt by all who knew Dr. Li because of the dedication she displayed in all aspects of her career.

“She was probably one of the most hardworking and grace-giving teachers that I have known. She just taught about how to live life and that, more than anything, is what I have learned from her,” said Lucy Knerr, sophomore and former student of Li.

And it was not just students who recognized her hard-working attitude. Her colleagues in the language department continue to express amazement in her work to build the Chinese program from the ground up.

“We had done an online [Chinese] course for maybe a year or two that didn’t do what we thought it would, and so when she came on, she helped build the program so much. She was such an effective teacher and having a teacher in the classroom went far beyond what the online course ever could. Now, we have a 5-year program all the way from 8th grade to 5 AP and Mrs. Li taught all of that. She was, I think, one of the most hardworking teachers in the school. She ran the whole program on her own and did it without ever saying a negative thing or complaining,” said Sarah Loyal, World Languages Dept. Chair.

Many who got to know Dr. Li did not just do so in Chinese class, but also through the international and study abroad programs. As someone heavily involved in these programs, Dr. Li worked with international students who came to study abroad at Westminster. She connected with them through everything from translating to helping with chemistry homework, as she was a research chemist before she answered her calling to teach Chinese. But she also led the summer trips to China, and that is where she truly connected to her students.

“One of my favorite memories of her is when we were at a theme park in China–she did not like rides, but she would ride them because her students wanted her to. She would get off the ride white-faced and terrified, but she would do it anyway,” said Karen Bowman, Global Education Coordinator and friend of Dr. Li. “One night when we were finishing up at the theme park[…]she sat down with the students and just started telling them her story: of how she came to America, how she met her husband, and how she became a Christian. The students just showed up and no one left–they hung onto every word. She took advantage of the time she had to just share life.”

Dr. Li’s loving character continues to seep into the memories of the entire Westminster community. Her absence creates a hole in the language department and the international program, as well as her friends, students, and colleagues’ lives. But while the school grieves this tragic loss, believers can take solace in knowing her deep faith and Christ-like character led her to Heaven. 

This story was originally published on The Wildcat Roar on March 28, 2022.