Walking the streets of Shanghai, one may notice the people bustling past in rich garbs of fancy coats, expensive boots, toting quality purses—emblems of their high status in a diverse city. On the same street, an amputee beggar jingles a small bowl of coins in one hand, pulling himself along with the other while his body rests upon a wheeled wooden slab.
Within one city lie two divides, two separate worlds that rarely, if ever, intersect. The superrich hurry past without a single glance at the minorities, disabled, and poor mingling along the margins. These are the faceless and voiceless of China.
Among these, I spent my week. As I moved forward to introduce myself, they held themselves back, as though trying to hide themselves. Though smiles adorned their faces, a cautiousness dictated their movements. An apprehensive cloud loomed over them, not knowing what this stranger would be like, how she would react to their conspicuous handicaps. Over the course of the week, I learned some of their stories of loneliness and tragedy, of abandonment and hopelessness. Some grew up in government orphanages, others in Christian ones. All shared a history of loss.
“I will give them—within the walls of my house—a memorial and a name far greater than sons and daughters could give. For the name I give them is an everlasting one. It will never disappear!”
When a child becomes an orphan, she experiences loss not only of her parents, but also of her sense of identity, of having roots, of worth. She loses what we all have and take for granted—a family surname—and takes on the name of her city instead. The name identifies her as a nobody, an unwanted. Every time she meets someone, the introduction reminds her over and over: “You are nothing. You belong to no one.” This ominous voice, sounding through her head, draining into her veins, bleeding into her soul—this voice is her childhood companion, the liar stealing her joy.
Then perhaps one day, she hears a different voice. Someone tells her she is loved, not just by anybody, but by the One who created her. Someone shows her what this love means. Someone stays. In her world where she has learned that people will always abandon her, someone stays. And slowly, slowly, slowly, she sheds the armor she has built around herself—piece by piece by piece.
As the girls approached to give introductions, they told me their names. I later learned that the names they gave me were not the names they were given as orphans. They had given themselves new names—names that reflected new lives. The names they gave themselves spoke of grace. The names they gave themselves spoke of home. The names echoed a new voice: one that tells them they are worthy, tells them they finally belong.
Struggling to form the words through her uncooperative mouth, one girl with cerebral palsy shares a piece of her heart: “I learned that God didn’t make me this way because I have bad parents or because I am bad. He created me this way because He loves me.” As she listened to this pronouncement through her own lips, she repeated the words once more. And as she did, her eyes shone with otherworldly confidence and peace, this truth settling into her soul as a beacon of hope.
[Written as a brief reflection on our recent mission trip to Shanghai, China.]
- Renewal Missions: The non-profit we teamed up with for this trip. They are committed to the arduous task of working towards long-term, sustainable assistance to the disabled and orphaned through meaningful relationships and mentorship.
- Renewal Cards: The business side of Renewal Missions. This partnership with Home Sweet Home allows them to provide employment opportunities for orphans with disabilities in China. Each unique card is individually hand-cut, often requiring hours of work.
- Home Sweet Home: A non-profit organization based in Shanghai whose purpose is to support the marginalized through employment, counseling, and community.