We are so quick to fill in the blanks, aren’t we? We get one part of a story, and we use our imagination to complete the rest.
But it’s too simplistic to do that with the care of orphaned children halfway around the world… to see an image and create a tragic narrative, hear a testimony and judge an entire community, read an account of a single incident and make assumptions about an entire system.
We want to have eyes to see the good.
And there is most definitely good to be found. So this month we are sharing stories that exemplify the good. The lovely. The things that remind us that there is always hope.
Join us this month as we share stories of love in the unlikeliest of places.
Underneath are the everlasting arms.— Deuteronomy 33:27
It was a November afternoon when I saw the five-year-old Hui for the first time. By then I had been working for over two years in an NGO specializing in orphan care, especially orphans who are critically ill. My job mainly focused on their educational and emotional needs, for example, Music and Movement Classes, social skills classes, crisis intervention, sex education, preparing them for major transition (e.g., international adoption). I was working very closely, and supervised by, an Australian psychologist who specialized in childhood trauma.
Although I had worked extensively with many of the children, it was not until I worked with Hui that I fully appreciated the healing power of relationships. That afternoon, a colleague of mine asked me to observe Hui and see if I could help him. I did. And I was astonished. Hui was born with Down syndrome, and abandoned shortly after birth. He was brought to us when he was five years old, because of a kidney problem.
At the age of five Hui was unable to walk, talk, or make direct eye contact with people. He was malnourished and he had supposedly never eaten solid food, showed no facial emotional expressions, and never laughed or cried. He constantly poked at his right eye and, from time to time, banged his head on hard surfaces. He had no interest in other human beings or objects in his immediate environment and dreaded any physical contact. He only felt safe and in control when he sat in his crib or on the floor mat in the play area.
Looking at his blank face, my heart cringed. Who is this boy in front of me?
There is nothing in his eyes. No spark. No life. No nothing. Is there anyone in there at all? After five years of emotional deprivation, would it be possible for him to bond at all? Even if it was, then what?
Our organization operates in the way that we bring orphans for medical treatment and once they recover or become stable enough, we transition them out so that other orphans can come and have their medical needs met. Would it be too cruel to bond with him and then take it away from him, leaving him feel abandoned again?
Moreover, he comes from a place where people generally do not believe anyone, domestic or international, would want to adopt a child with Down syndrome. Therefore he does not have a file to begin with…
His prospect seemed rather bleak, and it was a hard decision to make at the time. However, it felt only right that I work with him to the best of my ability, because I cannot control the future, what will happen to him, nor can I watch him live like that without doing anything. So we began.
I started working with him for 30-45 minutes every morning. It was hard. It was hard to see how scared he was to be picked up and carried, to feel how stiff and tense he became in my arms, completely unable to enjoy or even tolerate human contact. It was hard to see the vacant and numb look on his little face, to detect no joy, nor sadness, nor anger, nothing except occasional fear in his eyes. In the beginning, I played at a safe distance from him — toys, musical instruments, puppets —to draw his attention. He never looked at me, as if I was invisible, or the whole world was, for that matter.
Then one morning, while I was tapping on a drum singing “Pop, Goes the Weasel”, tentatively, he peeked out of his little world, looked up at the drum, put his fingers on it and started tapping. It lasted for only a few seconds, but it a remarkable moment for both of us! I wanted to scoop him up, kiss him again and again, but it would scare him, and so I said, “Thank you, Father God!” a hundred times in my heart, for I saw hope.
I saw that deep down beneath the sullen eyes and stone fortress of a little body, there was life, and there was a heart for love to get through.
Since then singing has been an integral part of our work together. Throughout the course of our contact we always began with me holding and rocking him and singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”. After that, I would whisper in his ears, “Hui is such a good kid! I love you so much!” During the first weeks, his little body felt like a very hard rock in my arms, and it usually took more than 20 minutes before he could relax a little and lean on me.
It was completely new and strange for him, this whole cuddling thing, so much so that it made him nervous and scared. At the same time, he continued hurting himself and ignoring others. For me, personally, it was hard too, to love someone without any kind of reward, to feel guilty for feeling it was hard to love him, and to see him live like he did.
Again and again, I burst into tears in my prayer. I was exhausted emotionally, and I was mad at God.
Why don’t you do something?
Why do you allow this little kid to suffer?
He doesn’t deserve it!
He is hurting himself! Do something! Please do something!
Until one day, I suddenly realized that was why Hui was brought to us. That was what our organization was for. We were doing exactly what we cried to God for, and God was using us to do His work!
“As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.” (Psalm 84:5-6)
Our work continued, and slowly but surely, Hui made progress. We connected through music, especially “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”. He still ignored people (including me) and activities around him, however when I sang this song I gained his attention and he would crawl towards me.
Ah, yes, he crawled! He also started to enjoy being held and sitting on my lap. Then one day, he looked at me! Over the following six months, he became more and more curious and sometimes even mischievous. Voluntary exploration of his environment replaced his past robotic and repetitive movements. He laughed, he cried, he became jealous when other children came and sat on my lap. He expressed anger, he explored toys by putting them in his mouth. He became curious and opened drawers to look for treasures. He learned to open the door, to turn on the tap, to try on grownup’s shoes. He filled the children’s sink with water, dipped a ball in it, threw it at me, and laughed hard. He grabbed my hands and put them around his waist to show me he wanted to be picked up. He gestured to tell others what songs he wanted to hear. He learned to blow kisses. He not only recognized me, but preferred me when I was around. When I was not, he was able to find a nanny whom he preferred for comfort.
Together, we celebrated his sixth birthday. I looked at him, his face chubby, his eyes glistening, his legs strong enough to walk. He might not look like a typical six-year-old, but he was, developmentally, a toddler on the right track! I remembered how far he had come since he was brought to us. Please do not take me wrong.. his change is by all means a group effort! The nannies adored him and took great care of him every day. The medical staff monitored his health closely. I was doing my part to help him heal emotionally.
With all the care and nurturing, he has become the little boy that he was meant to be.
Now, Dear Father God, would you move mountains and prepare a family for him? A family that loves and accepts him no matter what. A family that sees him as a valuable human being with potentials and created in Your image, and not intimidated by the diagnosis “Down Syndrome”.
Hui was transitioned back to his orphanage after recovering from his kidney issues, and I have not seen him since then. He appears in my thoughts, my dreams, and, needless to say, in my prayers. I often think of him and wonder how he is doing. I remember that one time when he wrapped his arms around my neck and kissed me on my face, smiling. I dream about tickling him and making him laugh.
I pray that God will arrange someone special for him in his orphanage, that he has a file, and eventually, a family of his own.
A while ago, I was told that Hui had a file. The staff at his orphanage who did not believe that anyone would want to adopt children with Down Syndrome was really impressed with the huge change in Hui and was convinced to prepare his file. Now what he needs is a family, one that I pray God will arrange for him!
I think of Hui very often, and I think of the other children there, abandoned and dragged through mud, those little ones who do not have a voice, not a special person to remember them or pray for them.
It can get overwhelming, and I do not have an answer to it. We are all limited in our power and ability, but I guess we can all do small things with great love, one child at a time.
– guest post by Maria Meng