A Hope and a Future | A Look into the Chinese Orphanage

Melodic strains of song streamed through the atmosphere, slicing through hardened hearts, the familiar words hitting their mark in a poignant new way. Open up my eyes to the things unseen. Show me how to love like you have loved me. A shiver ran through me as the reality of these words I’d heard countless times before sank into the depths of my spirit, still raw from the brokenness I had witnessed only weeks before. Break my heart for what breaks yours. Everything I am for your kingdom’s cause. I turned to my husband, usually so stoic, and with a shock saw tears endlessly streaming down his face.

At the end of the service, as we walked out hand in hand, I asked him what had caused this uncharacteristic show of uncontrolled emotion. He paused a moment before replying, “I was thinking of my baby, and so many abandoned, unwanted babies in the world.”

Two months prior to this, we had embarked on a life-changing journey across the ocean into Shanghai, China. There, we spent an afternoon as witnesses to the voiceless horror of babies left behind, surrendered to the cold institution of the orphanage, and abandoned to grow up with little hope of ever knowing the love of a family. Through no fault of their own, these children were given up for their physical or developmental disfigurements. We walked through the doors of that small orphanage in China to sounds of children ceaselessly calling out for “媽媽,爸爸” [“Mama,” “Baba”]. They stretched out their little arms toward us, weeping with longing for a hug from someone, anyone; radiating with an innocent desire to simply be held.

As one little boy came into my arms, his little body sighing with helpless relief into the crook of my elbow, I knew that these moments were mere band-aids amidst the unfathomable losses he had already suffered in the mere two years of his life. As other children clamored to be included in a warm embrace, my heart broke, wishing that there were enough loving arms to hold them all for as long as they wanted.

While I grappled with the enormity and depth of the brokenness such young souls have endured, Michael locked eyes with a little girl, and throughout the afternoon could not tear his attention from her. She greeted him by bringing the toys lying upon the floor and laying them in his lap. She smiled a proud little smile, reaching out to him with her tiny hands. He showed her how to put Lego pieces together, to which she responded with wide-eyed awe and excitement. I didn’t know then that these precious moments would change him forever, but I saw a sweet tenderness in his eyes that I had not seen before.

We left the orphanage with heavy hearts, unable to process the depth of pain we had just witnessed. As we trailed out and drove away, distancing ourselves in feet and miles from that place, Michael began a refrain that I would hear many times after: “I want to adopt that little girl. She is my baby.”

The question of adoption had never before been pressed upon our hearts; we lived simple, but undeniably comfortable lives. Instant doubts flooded my mind, and yet I could see even then that a fire had taken hold of both our hearts, and we knew somehow that we could never again return to our blissful ignorance. We researched and pursued adoption for this one child, only to come to a frustrating dead-end. For various reasons, some children simply cannot be adopted, and the path ahead seems hopelessly bleak, as they face a lifetime in an institution without ever experiencing the love of a mother and father.

For these, we labor to create a warmer, kinder world than the one we currently see, one where their society can learn to accept and love them. We strive to open up greater opportunities so that when they step outside of the orphanage doors as adults, they can look forward to a future with hope, and not one full of question marks and ellipses upon an oppressive blank page.

We drove home from that emotional Sunday service in near silence. As we walked back through our front door into the security and warmth of a home those children might never experience, I asked Michael what was so special about that one child. With a simple straightforwardness, he replied, “It’s not that there’s anything about her that’s particularly special. But somehow, I feel like I just want to take care of her. I want to give her the best things, and I want her to be happy, like she’s my own. Is that what God feels for us?” And I want to say, yes, maybe that is a tiny, tiny glimpse of how God loves us.

Sweet Eliana