I was so excited about going to southwest China to see Sister Wen.
In fact, I was not well acquainted with Sister Wen. I knew about her, but she did not know me. A few years back when I was just a new believer, I would take a back seat during Sunday services. Sister Wen also sat in the back as she had to care for the people going in and out. A few times in the silent prayer before recess of the service, I heard her saying “Lord, I am here, send me!” which made me pay more attention to her. Later I went to a new church, and then I heard that Sister Wen went to China. Last Easter I returned to my old church to attend a special gathering, and found out that Sister Wen and her husband sold their house overseas and moved to southwestern China. There, in selfless love, they organized a home for children who were abandoned, who were wandering on streets, or those that walked out of their homes.
We first flew to Beijing, and later arrived at the southwest corner of China after two days and two nights of hectic journey. In my mind China’s southwest region has always been a mysterious and aspiring place, with many different tribes skillful in song and dance, with beautiful scenery, and uncommon customs.
When Sister Wen saw us she was clearly pleased and rushed forward to take our luggage. Her husband has just gone to Hong Kong to handle some business and we could stay at her house. Excitedly she told us their effort had just been recognized by the local government and had receive partial support; they were interviewed by reporters and their story appeared in local newspapers; a recent college grad, a Christian, saw the report and asked to join them as full time co-worker; she talked about God’s unceasing provision and the monetary offering recently received….
Sister Wen lives in a house with 3 bedrooms, living room, and dining room. It is a nice house with a pleasant neighborhood. She said, “We have been here three years and have settled well. But it was not easy when we arrived. As strangers in a foreign place, we were searching in the dark and could not find things we need, as if we were abandoned by the world…I am truly thankful for God’s watching and keeping!”
Yes, I can imagine that Sister Wen, who grew up in Hong Kong and lived in a Western country, would certainly get lost in southwest China. I couldn’t help but ask her why she gave up her comfortable life to live here.
She said when she was studying in the Western country, she had attended a youth fellowship. One day an 82 year old lady was invited to speak, who shared her burden for the orphans in China, and then called upon the young people to follow the Lord, and with Christian love to care for children who had lost their parents. Sister Wen raised her hand in response to the calling; from then on this ministry had become her wish.
Sister Wen’s “Home of Abandoned Children” is a small three-storied building with an open yard in the center, consisting of children’s living quarters, classrooms, library, kitchen, and co-workers’ offices. The rooftop serves as an open playground. The rented unit has four children to one bedroom (sleeping on bunk beds), and the classrooms also serve as dining halls.
While the living condition is not ideal, it is a real home to these wandering children. During the day they go to study in a Christian school, and in the evening two teachers serve as counselors and care-takers to help them with homework. The school was established by a pastor from Hong Kong, and the fees for these children are waived. Even so, there are still three kids who refuse to go to school.
The children’s age ranges from 8 to 16. Behind every child is a bitter story; all came from malfunctioned families. For some, both parents were gone; some had either the father or the mother. For some, one parent was re-married and the new father or new mother did not like the child; some fathers or mothers are addicted to drug or gambling, and in the process abandoned the child; some children could not stand the abuse they suffered in their families…
Some of them jumped onto trains in order to travel far away; they stole or begged for food, wandering aimlessly, until they got to the orphanage. Some were sold or kidnapped into child labor, could not stand the hardship and escaped. Some ran away from home, and wandered around, not knowing where they should go until arriving here. Some simply are unwilling or unable to tell their background…..
Before they came to the Home of Abandoned Children, they drifted around street and alley, searching for left-over food in garbage dumps, or begged for food to survive. At night they slept in street corners or under house eaves outdoor, exposing themselves to violence or other traumas. These children are stubborn, rebellious, and smart. But many years of wandering life without supervision or care have left scars in their hearts, and they often have bad habits.
Sister Wen and her three co-workers love these children, ever showing concern for them, care for their daily lives, teaching them to behave and to have self-discipline, encouraging them to develop their own capabilities. They open up their minds to Christian love and truth, touching and motivating them along gradually, so that they may put down their mental defense and integrate into a group. At the same time, they discipline these children, telling them what are permissible and what are not. It is truly not an easy job to heal these seedlings that have been hurt, and to nurture them to become useful trees.
Lovely but Hurt
Some of these children have homes, but are not willing to go back; in their homes they had no respect, and could not feel any love. Sister Wen and her co-workers have repeatedly told them their Heavenly Father loves them, and even their fathers and mothers do too.
For those children who lost their parent’s love, the love from Christ and from society seems ever more urgent. I saw an eight-year old Xiao Xia, who hid herself in a corner of the room weeping in a low voice, as if she was in great sorrow. I went over and held her in my arms, asking her what’s wrong. Yet no matter how much I asked and comforted her, she refused to talk. At last I said, “Our Heavenly Father loves you. Don’t be afraid…”
Before I finished my sentence, Xiao Xia cried and blurted out:
“I know Heavenly Father loves me, but he…” and pointing to the boy sitting to the side across the room, “he kicked me.”
I asked the boy to come forward. The boy said,
“I am trying to study, but she came over and bothered me.”
I said, “If she was wrong bothering you, then isn’t it wrong for you to kick her? If you admit you are wrong, then you should apologize and make up.”
The boy nodded his head. The two kids apologized to each other, and shook hands. Looking now at Xiao Xia, I saw her smile was like a blossom. Such a pretty lovely girl! Sister Lin, a co-worker, said,
“This little girl is very smart. She is very talented in singing and dancing, and she has already learned many hymns. Xiao Xia, sing a song for auntie.”
Xiao Xia was a bit embarrassed; she said “Auntie, I can write my name. Do you want me to write it down for you?”
The boy passed on a slip of paper, and Xiao Xia wrote down, in tidy calligraphy, the three Chinese characters of her name Han Lixia.
On another day while we were chatting with Sister Wen, a little boy from far away ran over to Sister Wen, swinging his arms left and right like a sparrow and twisting his body.
He was yelling “Teacher Wen! Teacher Wen!” as he rushed into Sister Wen’s bosom; and then he somewhat blushed and asked,
“How are you Teacher Wen? Do you have some candies for me?”
Sister Wen said, “Teacher has two pieces for you.”
“Thank you Teacher Wen!” So innocent, polite, and lovely childishness! Such a lovely kid! Sister Wen said: “This boy is 9 years old, a little wanderer from Nepal. You think he is lovely today; but last year when he first arrived, he only thought about running away, and he kept beating himself with his little fists: ‘I hate! I hate!’ Such a small kid, what kind of grievance did he have? I dare not ask him, not even today.”
Of course not all children are so lovely. Many of them have wandered for a long time, experienced much pain, and been affected by bad influences. They often appear not caring about anything, going their own way, to the point of being unreasonable. They would not listen to anyone, and seemed unaffected by help or advice.
Challenge to our Love
Sister Wen and her co-workers used their sweat to irrigate the hearts of these children, offering themselves sacrificially; their tasks are demanding and difficult. Sister Wen has her cell phone with her all the time. Sometimes as soon as she listened to a message, she had to run out immediately for emergencies.
Sister Wen and her co-workers do not have too high an expectation; they just hope to build a home for the children, let them be educated and to regain their honor as human beings, and to let them feel the love of Christ and the caring of the society. Sister Wen and her co-workers are fully aware that their selfless offerings and efforts are like a drop of water in an ocean; and yet they said if they could just help one child, there would be one less child to suffer. I remember reading an article stating that wanderers have a strong tendency to drift, refusing to settle down. They do not want to be chained to a place even if it provides room and board. The halfway houses provided by the government do not fear all will show up, but that they will not come. Recently, the perennially growing number of wanderers has become a serious social issue, as many of them become criminals, and an unsettling factor for society at large.
This is a huge and difficult ministry, a challenge for the love of Christians.
Appendix: the story of Teacher Wang
Mr. Wang, a teacher at the Home of Abandoned Children, is 28 years old, and in some respects he is handicapped. He is so skinny that he looks like a set of skin-wrapped skeleton.
Mr. Wang grew up in a village, the youngest of three sons. When he was two years old he contracted a disease called progressive muscle malnutrition, which prevented muscle growth and rendered him listless, easy to fall, and sometimes he could not even stand up and had to crawl along. In his backward village and poor home, there was no way for him to get treatment, and his parents thought about abandoning him.
As an unloved little child, he focused all his energy in his studies. He survived through many days of empty stomach, and he insisted on going to school though he could not pay the tuition. Eventually he was admitted to a college in the city of Kunming to study computer information.
In his college days, he had to work much harder than anyone else. With a weak body and overloaded burden, his illness recurred in his third year of college. Lying in bed, the doctor told him he had only 3 months to live.
The end of man’s effort allows God to take over. Just at this time, a classmate shared the gospel with him, and he accepted Jesus as his savior. Putting his trust in God, he was healed. The miracles that happened to him were not just his recovery from his sickness, but many other things that are hard to believe. First, his eyesight went from 1,200 degrees myopia to normal, so that he did not have to wear eye-glasses anymore; second, the common flu from which he could never escape previously no longer came to visit him; third, from then on he never fell and hurt himself. The beginning of wisdom is the knowledge of the Holy One. After he resumed his studies he was ranked first in his class for all the subjects he undertook, and he got involved in ministry and gospel preaching. God used and blessed him greatly; although still skinny, he is no longer sick.
Upon his graduation, his hope was to find a job and pay off his college loan of the last four years, and then to serve God because of the blessings he received. He did not expect that due to his excellent grades the school paid off all his outstanding loans. He often prayed,
“Lord! You loved me so much, yet I am so lowly and unworthy. Even if I offer my all to you, I cannot repay your grace.”
To serve God better Mr. Wang entered a Bible seminary established by Koreans, to learn the Bible and to learn how to serve God. It was an isolated study environment; for one year he and other seminary students were away from this colorful and sparkling world, far away from temptation and interference, so that they could peacefully read the Bible, pray, to be filled by the Holy Spirit, and to grow in intimacy with God. One year later he grew closer to God and progressed in spiritual maturity, and his initial love “abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight” (Phil. 1:9)
After he graduated from the seminary, Mr. Wang became an information technology advisor in the Christian school organized by the Hong Kong pastor. Unfortunately the requirement for a ‘teacher’s image’ prevented him from teaching directly. After work he serves in the Home of Abandoned Children as a co-worker. Mr. Wang told me his wish is to be able to go to the remote country-side and help poor kids to study, and at the same time show them God’s great love, Christ’s selfless sacrifice, and to lead them to accept His salvation.
Mr. Wang said,“This is my wish. I came from a poor family in a poor village. I know there are many children who want to go to school, but they cannot afford to.”
May God bless Mr. Wang, keeping well his body, and grant him his wish!
The author came from Tianjin and is a computer programmer living in London.