It was a 100-page labor of love. For months, in anticipation of my visit back to my daughter’s orphanage, I had been collecting updates. I hoped for 25 families to be a part of the update book. In the end, there were 50. I had asked them specific things: their child’s Chinese name and the name he or she uses now, a referral picture or a picture from their adoption trip, some current pictures, and a few sentences of an update. I took all of those and put them together in one place, in the form of a hardback book of redemptive stories, to present to the director of adoptions, a man who could be seen in many of those adoption day pictures.
As is typical and expected when a team serves at this orphanage and others like it, the directors host a meal one night as a thank you to the team and in recognition of our friendship that crosses boundaries. There’s some hoopla and their version of a Chinese toast (where we insist on using soda instead of the normal stuff that might as well be airplane fuel.). At this year’s feast, I presented gifts for all 12 of the orphanage directors and then presented what proved to be the most significant gift of all — the update book.
Mr. B literally spent several minutes looking at every page. He would look at the most current picture of every child, covering up his or her name to quiz himself and see if he could figure out which child it was. Then, he’d say it aloud and uncover the name to see if he was right. He knew every. single. child. in. that. book. Not only could he name them all correctly, he knew details about each one.
How are his legs now? His feet were bad.
He had marks on his hands. Are they still there?
She was so active! Is she naughty for her parents?
Is her heart all healed now? She needed a serious surgery we couldn’t give her.
I didn’t have most of the answers. I so wish I had more. Every piece of information I could give was clearly treasured as if every word was a gift to him.
He told me that he has “short love,” explaining how he knows he only gets to love them for a short time but that he knows he is doing a good job when he sees their pictures and knows they have “happy lives” and “a future.” He keeps the updates parents have provided over the years in his office strategically placed so that they are the first thing he sees when he walks into the room so that he “remembers why this job is so good.” He explained that many Chinese people do not understand foreign adoption. Some do not “think it is good” and “have many questions about it.” When his path crosses with them, he takes them into his office and shows them the updates. He shows them the pictures and says, “you cannot argue with these pictures. Look at their happiness. Look at all the good.”
In between his words to me, all passing through my translator, he spoke gently to the two older boys he had invited to join us for dinner. The older of the two has a family, one we got to introduce to him through pictures for the first time only the day before. He’s a little scared about being adopted, but he knows it’s the best thing for him and that it’s going to be good. But, he says English is too hard. And, he’s worried about taking a walk and not being able to find his way home again. The younger boy’s file will be ready soon, and he’s a lot more scared. The day before when I spoke with him, he was digging his heels in a little and wasn’t willing yet to believe it was the best idea. He said it’s too much change—of course he did. Knowing their hearts, the directors brought them to dinner on their own accord, knowing that time spent with us would be good for them.
As Mr. B spoke to the younger boy, the other director smiled at me and nodded. No translation was needed. I knew what was happening but asked our translator to confirm.
Look at this boy’s smile. Look at this boy’s family. Oh, and look at this one too. Look how happy he is. See this child? This could be you.
By the time the last page was turned, the young boy spoke up, and the directors both nodded and laughed.
What did he just say? Somebody tell me what he just said.
He just said, ‘Okay, I want to be adopted. But, I want to live near CG. Can I live near him?’
I have always been an advocate for sending updates. I felt like it was another opportunity to honor my daughter’s history, that as she would hopefully help me eventually choose what photos to send and what words to include she would hear the message that her history matters and that we care about those who cared for her. As I sent them myself to the orphanage years ago, I sent them trusting that my daughter would be blessed and that someone on the receiving end would be blessed by them as well, that the women who cared for my daughter before she was mine would be blessed to see how happy she was and how beautiful she is.
And, I had seen that firsthand when I started leading teams to serve there. I had watched as ayis crowded around the book. I had seen one run quickly away for tissues and to hide her tears. I had heard their joyful laughter when they saw the pictures of a child they had loved looking older, wearing nice clothes, riding a bike, sitting on a horse, holding the hands of their American parents. What I had not seen before was how the staff had used the updates to educate Chinese people on what international adoption is and how the staff had used the updates to nurture children, to help them understand what adoption looks like and to help them prepare emotionally for the overwhelming change that adoption is for them.
Those 50 families — my own family included — hoped the ayis who cared for our children would enjoy seeing the pictures and reading the English words. But, the impact they made by contributing to that book was multiplied exponentially and we got to see just a glimpse of it.