Ayi for a Day: {50 for 50 in 5 weeks}

September 1, 2015 by nohandsbutours 1 Comments

They are oft overlooked much like the children they care for. They live in a place where what you do and how much you make is everything which means they have very little. Watching over and meeting the needs of children with no known roots is hardly considered a career; it’s a job. Some of the ayis do their best to do that job well despite the meager pay they’re given. They braid little girls’ hair, make funny faces to make babies giggle, pursue the child who looks different. Others simply do their duty. All of them are in the hard and obviously broken corners of our world, and they cannot help but be impacted by it.

They go by the name Ayi or, in some places, are all called Mama in painful irony of the purpose of what they do. Their purpose is to ready children for new mamas, to care for children well enough so that they can leave to be cared for by another, living in a seemingly endless cycle of nurture and departure. Surely, most ayis are glad to see a child leave as it means he has a future and will become something he could never become where he is now. We’ve seen ayis clap their hands and laugh aloud at the news that one of their children has a family coming for her. But, we can only imagine that their hearts bear scars as well from all the goodbyes. Those scars run deeper still for those who were once little girls there themselves but never got to say goodbye.

We intercede for vulnerable children, but we often overlook these vulnerable women. His hearts breaks for them as well, as should ours. It is impossible for us to truly know what their days are like, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to enter in. This effort launched today is to move us towards that and give us an opportunity to crack that door open and enter into the experience of a woman whose heart is not unlike our own.

ayi for a day kit 4
Ayi For a Day.

The team at The Sparrow Fund has thoughtfully and carefully assembled 50 kits, each one slightly different in shades and tastes, to engage and unite 50 women in interceding for the ayis in China The Sparrow Fund serves at an orphanage in Shaanxi as well the innumerable ayis all over China. The kits include various items to use over the course of one dedicated day—shoe covers, sleeve covers, tea, chopsticks, Chinese snacks, Chinese money, and more—with specific prayer prompts to lead you in prayer as you do. But, the experience isn’t over at the end of one day. Enclosed in each kit will be a postage-paid envelope you will use to return the sleeve covers to The Sparrow Fund in time to be hand carried to China on October 7th. The sleeve covers you will wear and pray over on your Ayi Day will become an ayi gift and placed on the hands of an another woman on the other side of the globe.

The Sparrow Fund needs 50 women who desire to join their hearts and prayers for the sake of 50 other women in China.

50 kits for 50 women for a donation of $50 in 5 weeks. That’s the goal. The money raised will be put into The Sparrow Fund’s orphan care and ayi care fund. And, the prayers raised will change the world.

baoji orphanage in park with ayis

Click on the “Donate” button below to become one of the 50. It’s linked up to The Sparrow Fund’s PayPal account and will go directly to them. Please note #ayiday or “Ayi For A Day” in the notes field when you donate. Your kit will be sent to you next week with clear instructions on how to use it to engage your family and your own heart.

Only 50 kits are available, so don’t wait to join us. And, just to encourage you a little more, the first 10 women who join the effort will find a little extra gift in their kit.

Going to China: Gotcha Day Expectations

August 31, 2015 by nohandsbutours 3 Comments

Today is the last day of August, which means it’s the end of our two-month feature, Going to China!, as well as our final post in the series. We’ve spent July and August covering everything from travel tips to orphanage behaviors – 23 posts in all. We hope it’s been a great resource, whether you are simply considering adoption or already home with your little one. Our September feature is Coming Home and we look forward to all the wisdom that will be shared in the next month.


It’s been over 10 years since we stood in a wood-paneled, smoke-filled Civil Affairs office – palms sweating and hearts racing – waiting to experience our first “gotcha day”. And, despite my constant consumption of anything and everything adoption related in the months that precipitated that day, I was clueless.

I was handed a child who, because of her heart defect, had been hugely understimulated. And despite her 11 months, appeared to be half that age. Her hair was stiff and coarse and tightly shorn and her eyes fixed on anything besides our faces. Her body was strangely lean – so unlike every baby I’d ever held – and yet she fiercely devoured every bottle we offered. She flopped over when we tried to sit her up, and she screamed when we tried to hold her close.

It was not what we expected.

But amazingly, as only God can, He began to knit that tiny, terrified being into my heart and in those ten years since, we’ve truly become a family.


Looking back, though, I realize that it really could have turned out so differently.

My hope in sharing my thoughts – on gotcha day and how children respond to this day – is to encourage you to set realistic expectations for your first moments with your newly adopted child. Because really, at first glance, it seems simple enough: take a child who needs a mom and dad and add a mom and a dad who want to adopt a child then put them together and stir. The reality is not so simple. If everyone were walking into this scenario with a clean slate, maybe. But we all know, this is never the case.

Looking at the realities of what an adopted child carries into that Civil Affairs office, as well as what we unknowingly carry, is the only way to reset our expectations for this bittersweet, long-awaited, and often heartbreaking day called gotcha day. And having realistic expectations upon your very first moments together is the best first building block in a solid and healthy foundation.

To be honest, I don’t know the full load even one of my children came to me carrying. So I certainly can’t presume to know what burdens the heart of anyone else’s child. But I do know a few realities that will undoubtedly reside in the heart of a child who has joined a family through adoption.

Realities for an adopted child:

1. They have been abandoned. Each child that steps foot into a Civil Affairs office to be adopted has been orphaned either purposefully or circumstantially – tragically separated from their birth family. Think about the significance of that for a while. Imagine a child you know and love – and then imagine them having to endure the loss of their entire family. The magnitude of this cannot be lost on us, the very ones that are to love and nurture these kids. They have lost everything that should be the most basic right of any child.

2. They endured the circumstances that lead to the abandonment. These could have included (but certainly not limited to) parental death or illness, the child’s special needs, insurmountable familial stress, overwhelming poverty. The child may have experienced only a minimal amount of trauma between birth and abandonment, or a great deal. But because child abandonment is illegal in China, there are rarely birth notes and absolutely never a birth record, medical background or family history. So we are left to only speculate what our child might have experienced. The possibilities are overwhelmingly endless, but that doesn’t mean we can disregard their significance.

3. They incurred trauma between abandonment and adoption. If your child is 12 months or 12 years on gotcha day, they’ve experienced trauma, whether they were cared for in a poor, rural orphanage or a loving foster home. This can be purposeful, like abuse (physical, emotional, sexual), circumstantial (too few carers, too little funding) or just simply because they are orphans. But it’s all trauma, and trauma in any form needs to be considered significant.

4. They have most likely suffered in some way due to their special need. This might mean PTSD due to poor pain management and/or neglect during month-long hospital stays. It might mean trauma from incessant teasing due to a visible special need. Or it might mean malnutrition and oral-motor issues caused by an unrepaired cleft palate. Almost all of the children being adopted from China currently have a special need and if you are adopting a child with a special need, you can expect that they’ve probably struggled in one (or many) ways because of it.

5. They have lost a second family. Orphanages and foster homes are only a temporary solution for orphans in China, but the children being raised there rarely understand this grim reality. Most don’t know what a real mom is, either. But in the mind of the orphan, mom is the one who brings them their bottle, and that orphanage is home, despite the endless rows of cribs and eery silence at night. And losing that – even in it’s inadequacy – is a substantial loss to a child. It’s what’s known, what’s familiar. And if the child has been cared for in a place they’ve received physical and emotional nourishment, they’re going to grieve this loss even more.

6. They have been thrust into the absolute unknown. No matter how well you brushed your teeth and how many layers of deodorant you applied (at least 4 for me on gotcha day, thankyouverymuch) you will smell strange to your child. You will most likely look pretty scary. And you will sound completely crazy. Know that you might be your child’s first experience seeing someone who does not look, sound and smell Chinese. Most children rarely spend time outside, even more rarely do they experience “life” outside an orphanage, and almost never do they spend time with Americans. So leaving this familiar place and traveling to the Civil Affairs Office to meet “mama and baba” will be potentially terrifying as well as heartbreaking.

Poppy, just moments after being placed into my arms

I know, I know. It sounds so overwhelming and heart-wrenching to focus on all this loss. We don’t like the way it makes us feel to think about these hard things and so oftentimes, we just don’t. We brush over it, without sitting with it, really allowing it to settle into our hearts. But that can be a relationship-breaking mistake. If we say we are called to adopt, called to love one of the least of these, then we have to be willing to do what it takes to love them – all of them. And this includes the parts that aren’t so lovable.

Attachment-wise we must treat these children like brand new babies: carrying, coddling, wooing. But we cannot ignore the baggage they carry, which is more than many of us accumulate during a lifetime. So I’m not encouraging you to lower the bar for what you expect your gotcha day to be, I’m asking you to throw the bar out the window. Allow room for your child, their grief, and our God to be present, and know that no response is out of the realm of possibility. This day is just one of thousands you will have together as a family and whether you find yourself floating on cloud nine or wishing for it to be over, this day is not indicative of what the future holds.

Your child is grieving and has every right to do so.

There are also a few variables that can affect your child and how they respond on gotcha day – things that can significantly impact a child and, despite the above realities, make this day more challenging, or surprisingly easy.

Variables that can impact an adopted child:

1. Foster care or orphanage care. Our family has grown by adoption eight times in the last ten years and with each child we have witnessed the significance of the care our children received in their early months, whether in a rural, poorly funded orphanage or an outstanding foster home. Yes, being in a foster family has played a huge role in helping our kids understand more deeply the meaning of family, love and care. But we have also seen some of our children come home from very poor orphanages with carers that loved the children well, and seen them flourish emotionally, too. We’ve also seen the effect of long-term neglect and malnourishment and its impact. It’s impossible to predict the outcome of these realities on our children, but we do need to give weight to its potential significance.

2. Age at adoption. Typically children adopted at a younger age have an easier transition. But I have seen 13 year olds come home, jubilant to be in a forever family while an 18 month old is completely shut down for months, grieving the loss of a foster mama. So I know this is not a rule but more a broad stroke, based on what I’ve witnessed in my own experience and that of many adoptive families I know.

3. Single caretaker or multiple caretakers. To me, this is so important. One of our daughters was cared for at an orphanage, but in a Half the Sky program. She was 2 1/2 at adoption and had been loved on by one very special woman since infancy. She did not see her nanny again until we visited the orphanage and this is when, for this daughter, the real grieving began – as far as she knew she was being taking from her mama. But this is also where the healing began – because the imprint of having one person to love and call mama had made her heart familiar with the mother-daughter dance. And allowed me to step into this role, so much more easily than if she had no experience with one-on-one love and affection.

4. Preparedness. There is such a spectrum here. Despite all we do to send pictures of our families emblazoned on teddy bears, and letters painstakingly written and translated, sometimes our kids have no idea who we are when we first meet. I am pretty sure at least two of my children had never seen even one of the many photos I’d sent. But, blessedly, some children are well prepared. I traveled with my sister in 2008 to bring home her son who was cared for at New Day Foster Home, and he’d been prepared in every way for his new family. When he met his mama on gotcha day, there wasn’t even a hitch in his step. He saw her, recognized her and never looked back. I am not sure how they did it, but we were immensely grateful for New Day and the foster family who had loved this little boy so well – enough to prepare him to leave their little family and joyfully into his forever family.

5. Personality. This is the biggest variable of all. I know of children at the same orphanages, with similar special needs, close to the same age, cared for in the exact same way for a similar length of time and they’ve responded completely differently to what their life’s experiences. Some children are more sensitive while some are more stoic. Some can handle fearlessly what would make a grown man cry, while some (like one of mine) are terrified of seemingly nothing. So even if it seems like your little one has many things that might make your gotcha day a scary proposition, know he just might surprise you in the best way.

Sophie, visiting her orphanage and crying at the sight of her beloved nanny

These realities, you cannot control. No matter how hard you try, you cannot keep your child from experiencing trauma before they are in your arms. You cannot wish away the pain or difficulty or suffering. But there is something you can do to make your gotcha day – and beyond – more joyful. It’s not easy, though. In fact, it might be even harder than considering and making room for your child’s past.

It’s considering your own past.

Your child isn’t the only one walking into that Civil Affairs Office with issues, sweet friend. Yep, no matter who you are, I can say without a doubt that you have issues. We all do. I recently came across a study about adverse childhood events and was struck by the reality that, despite my relatively normal and loving childhood, I have several experiences that are considered to be traumatic enough to affect me for life. We live in a broken world and we have to be honest about our own brokenness.

Because sometimes coming face to face with a traumatized child – who is in the midst of a trauma (yes, gotcha day can be considered a traumatic event for many children) – can cause us to respond in that brokenness. In ways we would have never expected. (But that’s a whole ‘nother post.)

My point is this: there is always more than one traumatized person in the room on gotcha day. We, as those promising to love and care for the least of these, should carefully and prayerfully consider our own past, trusting the Lord to reveal the things that might hinder our relationship with our adopted child, and praying for grace and wisdom to process them before stepping into parenting a child who has endured as much trauma as an adopted child.

We must also prayerfully consider all the trauma our child has endured – from their very first days right up until, and including, the day we meet them for the first time – and allow room for it. We cannot welcome one without allowing space for the other.

He is Father to the fatherless, and in the process of asking us to bring home one of His children, He will also do a mighty work in our hearts if we will allow Him. He will shine a light on those broken places and ready our hearts for the moment we finally get to meet our child. He will fill us with His compassion and mercy, and equip us with His love. No, not perfect, but sufficient.

Because, despite our brokenness, His sufficiency is more than enough.


And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. – 2 Corinthians 12:9

Life on Pause: Thoughts on Orphan Hosting

August 31, 2015 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments


The best way I can describe the way my life feels right now is that it is on pause.

On pause because I met my daughter, spent five beautiful weeks with her, and then promptly returned her to the airport just like I had guaranteed I would do.

For me, the whole idea of orphan hosting is a double edge sword. On the one side, I found my daughter and without her little face displayed on that hosting site I would have never discovered her. After all, she had waited six years in an orphanage hoping for a family. Six years. Without one single person willing to love and care for her as if she were their own. I myself probably would have passed right over her file to pick a child who was younger.

And that in itself is what makes the orphan hosting program an amazing opportunity. Children who have been passed over day after day, year after year have a fighting chance at getting a family. Because the minimum age requirement for hosting is six years, some of the children’s only “special need” is that they are an older child. My daughter happened to be one of the younger ones. And her special need is Down syndrome.


In the six months leading up to that emotional first meeting at the airport, we had prayed for, dreamed of and planned for the month we would spend together as a family. We decided early on (early as in the day we were locked in as her host family) that we wanted to start our daughter’s adoption right away. The thought of loving her and then sending her back to China seemed daunting enough, but add to that a year of wait time before we would see her again and we just couldn’t imagine the thought. At least by starting our paperwork and homestudy months before we met Lucy insured that our time apart would be shortened. And that should make this separation time easy, right?

Wrong. No matter how you look at it, having to say goodbye to your child, even a child you have only known five weeks, is gut-wrenching. Standing at the airport the night Lucy left us, I felt like screaming, “My daughter has just been taking from me! And I have no idea when I will see her again!”

Maybe another reason this time apart has been so difficult is because we attached to our daughter so quickly. Because sweet Lucy was born with an extra chromosome she had more than enough love overflowing from her little heart. It only took one hug and she knew I was her mama, making us pretty much inseparable from that moment on. She slept between my husband and I (thanks to some great advice on NHBO). She only walked when absolutely necessary and usually was carried around propped on my hip. She loved it when I would feed her and in exchange let her feed me. Her favorite game to play was for me to lay on the floor and let her ‘doctor’ me with toy shots and stethoscopes and blood pressure cuffs. Our bond was strong and it was clear our daughter was finally where she belonged.

So how do you let go and return to a normal life when your child is half a world away? How do you fold that last load of tiny clothes that were left in the washer the day she left? How do you eat her favorite meal of fried rice without wishing she was there to savor it with you? How do you lay your head on your pillow at night and imagine that sweet little face, a face that had pressed against yours for five weeks and now she is gone?

You focus on getting her home.

You turn that energy that could be spent on grieving what was lost and focus on your future. Together.


Being stuck in the middle between knowing my daughter and now not having her for a period of time has taught me a lot of unexpected things. I now know I can do this. I can bond, I can parent and I can be good enough for my daughter. Maybe the most important thing is she now knows love. When we come busting through the doors in China to greet Lucy (and we will) she will know we came for her. She will know that her life matters and she is important to somebody. She will know the home and the family that she returning to. Forever.

I could keep my life on pause until the day we finally fly to China and reunite with our little girl, but I am choosing to use my time to prepare for the life she will get to experience. God has beautiful plans for my little one, even if it took six years for us to get there.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11

— guest post by Audrey

Belinda Waits for Her Family

August 30, 2015 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments


Belinda is a BEAUTIFUL little girl (Born January 2008) with pink rosebud lips and wispy hair. She gets along well with other children and has a quiet, gentle personality. She especially enjoys playing with other children her age. Her caregivers report that she is very sharp! She is able to count, name colors and shapes, …Read More

The Back to School Post

August 29, 2015 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments


I don’t think our school district fully grasps the whole paperless concept. I’m staring at a stack of forms they’ve called “children’s homework” that I must complete. Somehow, the paperwork required to send our children to public school each year feels like we’re assembling an entire dossier. There’s even a fingerprinting form somewhere in this …Read More

Going to China: Feeding Concerns

August 28, 2015 by nohandsbutours 1 Comments


When we were adopting our two new daughters we were not really well prepared for what they could or could not eat. We knew one of the girls was severely malnourished, but we did not understand that it was entirely possible that nobody taught them how to eat or drink. Neither of our new daughters …Read More

Find My Family: Aspen

August 28, 2015 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments


Aspen is an adorable one year old who has deformity of both legs. He is part of our orphanage partnership program. His left leg seems to more affected than his right leg. His file also reports some mild heart conditions. Aspen can stand holding onto something (as you can see in his recent video) and …Read More

A Back-to-School Letter

August 27, 2015 by nohandsbutours 2 Comments


Dear Teachers, Here we go! The start of a new year! First of all, you both have my great admiration. I do not know how you do it. The energy, patience, and creativity it takes to shape, mold, and sometimes just wrangle a whole crew of almost-three-year-olds is something I do not possess. I’m so …Read More

Aging Out: Sophie

August 26, 2015 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments


Beautiful Sophie was born in February 2002 according to parts of her file. This makes her 13 years old already and she will age out next February. Other parts of her file indicate a date that is two years younger. She needs a family who is willing to rush to her before she ages out, …Read More


August 25, 2015 by nohandsbutours 10 Comments


From the time I was a young girl, I always felt the Lord’s presence and His pursuit of my heart. However, I did not begin regularly attending church or consistently studying God’s word until a while after my husband and I got married. In the spring of 2007, we joined a “small group,” and every …Read More

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