There are 153 million orphans in the world. I have heard this number numerous times in the past. It showed up sometimes on my Facebook feed, often followed by some heartfelt plea for more workers in the field. It was preached from the pulpit, demanding recognition, shouting with urgency. “Think of it: 153 million children without families. Think.” And yet the numbers never gripped me. It was a foreign problem, one that did not affect me and so did not insist upon my attention. As Stalin famously said, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” So I closed my heart to it, dismissing it as a problem meant for someone else. After all, what could I do in the face of such overwhelming numbers?
With the resurgence of superhero films, we see individuals with mighty powers and special abilities make war against evil and injustice. We see the bad guys lose, and we cheer. The day is won! Justice prevails! Then we go back to our ordinary lives, where evil doesn’t always look like one guy in a purple suit. Sometimes it’s hidden behind banality—hidden deep within human hearts.
I like to think of myself as someone fairly considerate of people with disabilities. Growing up with my mom taught me that. I was a Good Person. Tiffany Chu: Fearless Advocate of Disabled People. Or so I thought. But on the last day of our retreat in Shanghai, our team proceeded to quickly scramble out the door of our towering apartment complex; we had an appointment to make, you see. The subway station was an offensive two blocks away, and we had to get there. As our physically handicapped friends tottered behind, we physically capable beings stormed ahead, heedless of their struggles to keep up. I stole glances behind me, even as the distance grew between us—a painful reminder of the differences we had worked so hard to close over the past few days. But what did that matter when we had a subway to catch, an appointment to keep? I was torn between the desire to also keep up with the rest of the group, and the nagging thought that we should slow down …
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.”
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.