Category Archives: Orphan Work

Year in review: our broader life


January:  delivery of some of the hundreds of footie pajamas we transported from generous donors in the US.


February: I love the red associated with Chinese New Year!


March:  3 wheeled cart transporting a sign


April: early morning run in Shanghaiimg_2557

May: Our occupational therapist visitor has a message from KFC “It’s not that bad” as we embark on an outreach to children with autism; we begin our English class outreach to minority children.

June: We tried to to go North Korea, but the door was closed and the boat was leaky, so we had to be satisfied with the view across the river.

July: our local dancing grannies, puppies on a ride, and two fathers helping their children during the talent show at the weekend camp for kids with disabilities.

August: Reindeer wedding.  Enough said.


September:  Chinese history and culture–Big Z’s favorite page in his brother’s 3rd grade reader.  This scene is from a story about a teacher who sacrifice his life so that his students could have books during wartime. We also had another visit from an expert in children with cerebral palsy giving pointers on positioning.



October: dried vegetables hang everywhere in anticipation of a long winter. Plus, it’s time for a cut and shave.



November: Thanksgiving came to the minority neighborhood as an awesome group of volunteers put on a feast and entertainment.


December: Foster parents, their kids and friends watching talent show performances of fellow foster kids. Plus, even on a blustery Christmas Day, it’s never too cold for a cut and shave.





5th annual fun run for foster care


Despite early morning downpour from a typhoon somewhere in the region, a huge number of adults and kids showed up to run 5 and 10K on Saturday morning! 

With amazing help from about  75 volunteers and several key sponsors, kids of all ages were racing, playing games and getting faces painted while adults helped fund the bake sale donations and cheer on the 150-200 runners. 

Life in China is always a bit unpredictable but everything came off even better than we had hoped for! 

My favorite moment was when Timotai crossed the finish line after running the whole 5k with his foster mom, despite legs that are kind of awkward from cerebral palsy.  This boy could not even sit up 7 years ago when he first came into foster care at age 7. 

Another highlight was when current and former foster kids handed trophies to the winners of the races.  

I saw many people very moved by the enthusiasm of the children, and I feel like the moment captured the essence of the reason for this event–to demonstrate that kids have inherent value and deserve a loving family–with or without disabilities.  

Of course, it was also fun to announce the second place of women’s 5k as my oldest daughter!  

Back for more fun next year! 

On being found


Papa Chopstix, Big Z and I took a little field trip this weekend.

Armed with an address from his orphanage file, a camera and Google maps we rode the subway to find the location where he was reportedly found shortly after birth just over 2 years ago.

As we came up to street level and looked around, we noticed the train station, a large bus depot and several large shopping markets in the area.

We ambled down the middle of the street since the sidewalks were crowded with vendors hawking tea eggs, corn on the cob and other traveler’s snacks, and found a building with the correct number on it.

“Found on the second floor,” our information had stated.

The building was a medium sized hardware/electric market, which means several floors of narrow aisles and dozens of tiny stalls and counters loaded to overflowing with bags of screws, coiled wire, electrical tools and other things I am not an expert on.

As we rode the escalator up to the second floor, I was filled with an indescribable painful stab in my chest as I wondered who had stood, possibly on that same escalator, with a tiny bundle in a fuzzy blanket and formulating a plan in their mind.

Was it the birth mother (although Chinese tradition dictates she cannot leave the bed for a month), or the father, or another family member or friend? We will never know.

As a mother now five times over, I cannot imagine the thought of leaving my baby for someone else to find.

Although since it was winter time, it seems like they wanted him to be found alive and perhaps allow for a solution to repairing his severe heart defect.

So many factors are at work that are outside the scope of my culture, understanding and imagination.

As I talk to more and more people about children, orphans, disabilities, health care, insurance, poverty, education….it only serves to make any quick pat answer seem trite and shallow.

But my heart aches for somebody who carries the burden of this secret around forever.

I have never met a person who told me that they abandoned their child.

It’s probably not dinner conversation for most.

Our joy in loving this special boy is intertwined with the harsh reality that somebody else’s heartache permitted it to happen.

We asked a couple of shopkeepers standing around, and even a guard, if they knew of a baby that had been found in the given time frame, but nobody seemed to quite understand the question.

We didn’t push, and wandered back out into the bright sunlight and noise of traffic, bus horns, and cute puppies for sale.

Bumper cars and more


As our fledgling foster program grows, one of our goals is to provide a community for children and their foster parents, where folks can have fun together and connect with those who understand their situation better than most.


This includes outings in the parks during warmer weather (which we are all longing for now…), with volunteers coming along to toss a ball, sit in a bumper car, or chat with the adults.

These outings always have an element of surprise, like most things do in China.

zhaoyan bumper

This particular time, I was hanging out with some people when a lady came across the lawn with her baby and her mother.

I recognized the child as someone I had seen in the clinic a few weeks earlier, to assess some developmental delays and provide some input.

I wondered aloud how on earth they ended up in our gathering, and a foster mother standing next to me said she met the family on the street one day and struck up a conversation since they both had a child with special needs, and had invited her to the park outing to meet some other nice people and share about the source of her joy and faith.


I was thrilled to see this young mother, who had moved from another province here with her child and mother to work, engage in conversation with her new friends.

Unfortunately parents who have a child with a disability here are often greeted with blame and feel intense shame because of their child’s condition.


The stigma is very tangible.

One person told me that a family lives in their apartment building on the first floor, and they have a son about 20 years old who has a developmental disability.

She said the parents only take their son outside after dark so they don’t have to face the looks and comments from their neighbors.

For 20 years.

eva esther

Maybe our efforts are very small, very grassroots, but we believe that in the apartment complexes and neighborhoods and parks where these brave men and women live who have taken in an orphan, even one with a “problem,” can be the stirrings of change.

Already we see the fruits of people encouraging each other, and connecting with others who are struggling.

Last month some parents who have children with cerebral palsy (not orphans) attended a support group meeting hosted by another group in town doing outreach to these families.

I attended, as did two of our foster families who are both caring for boys with cerebral palsy.


The most poignant moment of the day was when a mother of a girl who had been born prematurely, turned to a foster mother and said, “You’re so great, choosing on your own to care for such a child.”

The foster mother responded fervently, “You’re the one who’s great, since you chose not to abandon your child to begin with but decided to keep her.”

Picked up



This little guy was finally adopted by forever parents a few weeks ago.

I had the privilege of being a fly on the wall, since I have known his Chinese foster mother since we first came to China and she wanted me to be there.
She had begun to foster him after an American family went back to the US.

It was my first time to this city department, where marriage licenses are administered.

But that’s another topic.

He was running around the room, climbing on chairs and looking at the fish with his older “sister.”

Refusing to be held, like any 3-4 year old, and jabbering with everyone and coming back to foster mom for security.

She had a huge bag filled with his favorite blank, music player, stuffed critters, clothes, PJs, snacks and more.

She pulled it all out one by one and explained things to his new mom.

I spotted another young child also going through the adoption finalization process.

That child’s behavior was the stark opposite.

He was sitting on his new parents’ lap, silent.
Tolerating all the handling by strangers without a fight.
The two young orphanage workers spent about 30 seconds explaining his routine and then disappeared.
The child didn’t seem to notice or mind.
He was probably about 2 years old, but looked much smaller.

He was clearly raised in a typical orphanage environment, without the benefit of a loving foster family to instill trust and attachment.

I felt sad for his loss, even though I know he is embarking on a new life with adoring parents.

It could be so much more.

And our group?
We all parted ways on the sidewalk, bawling our eyes out as we waved Little Guy into his new future.



Look closely.


The beautiful tapestry of our little local orphan care community.

This month two of our beloved children are finally joining their forever families.

Bittersweet tears were falling at our foster family support meeting yesterday as Chinese foster moms saw the face of one adoptive mom here to pick up her child.

I read a quote recently.

“In general, to “do justice” means to live in a way that generates a strong community where human beings flourish. Specifically, however, to “do justice” means to go places where the fabric of shalom (peace) has broken down, where weaker members of societies are falling through the fabric, and to repair it…How can we do that? The only way to reweave and strengthen the fabric is by weaving YOURSELF into it. Human beings are like those threads thrown together on a table. If we keep our money, time, and power to ourselves, instead of sending them out into our neighbor’s lives, then we may be literally on top of one another, but we are not interwoven socially, relationally, financially, and emotionally. Reweaving shalom means to sacrificially thread, lace, and press your time, power, and resources into the lives and needs of others.” ~ Tim Keller (Generous Justice)

Seeing this tapestry in process in front of my eyes is humbling and proves to me, yet again, the existence of the Master Weaver–He is the Creator of the pattern and knows what the final image will look like.

We can choose to obey and be one small, yet essential thread of His masterpiece.

The finished product is more astonishing than we could ever imagine.

(I am trying something with WordPress for the first time, participating in this week’s writing challenge).

On Seeing


ZZ was blind and the orphanage asked if we could find a foster home for him back in January.

He also could not roll over, sit, stand or do anything else a 2 year old was supposed to do.

They thought he had cerebral palsy, like most other kids who grow up untouched and unstimulated in orphanages, with resultant developmental delay.

No workup had been done on him, to our knowledge.


We found out he had congenital cataracts and indeed was somewhat responding to light, so the doctors deemed him a candidate for eye surgery.

Then we found a heart murmur, with a resultant heart defect, and they wanted to fix that first, and then wait a period of time before fixing his eyes.

We’ve also found out he has no hearing, but is a candidate for cochlear implant surgery.

In the meantime, he has been receiving lots of one on one attention, and daily exercises to stimulate development.

He has progressed to standing, pushing a toy to walk, and reaching out to play with things on his own!

I am fairly convinced he does not have cerebral palsy at all, but has significant delays due to the combined visual and hearing impairment, plus the overall lack of environmental stimulation due to institutional care.

So finally in October he had his eye surgery, one eye each time, one week apart.


Inpatient the whole time (10+ days including the pre-op and post-op mandatory hospital stay here), with around the clock babysitting provided by his foster mother’s church group.

Now he is getting visual stimulation therapy, which includes holding a blinking light in front of his eyes to train him to focus on it, and stimulate that dormant area of his brain.



So far, he is liking it!
He’s even trying out new positions, just for show!