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.
On our recent trip to adopt our son from Harmony House, a foster care center under the ministry of a Christian organization Harmony Outreach, Lily, the director and the official foster mom asked me this question: “What is charity?”
She was referring to the care for Frank, the youngest of 16 kids residing at Harmony House at the time. He was only 9 months old, and probably had suffered a lot more than most adults had to suffer: multiple hospitalizations, seizures, breathing difficulties, not to mention being abandoned in the first days in his life and not having consistent caregivers. Lily knew in her heart that Frank didn’t have much longer to live.
I first heard of baby Frank from our Harmony House parents WeChat group, a social media group where we share our children’s photos, keep up with our kids’ childhood friends, and learn about and pray for current Harmony House children. Baby Frank was sent to Harmony House in early 2016, when he was 2-3 months old, and had lots of medical issues. In late spring when we and the Children’s Pastor of our church took a mission trip to Harmony House (where we’d adopted our daughter the year before) I was kind of relieved that I did not see Frank for he was in the hospital again.
I knew I could not bear to see a child in front of my eyes suffering so much, yet there was very little I could do to help.
Lily did show me an email correspondence from John, the head of Harmony Outreach in California, and his physician friend. Although I couldn’t understand all the medical terms, the bottom line was very clear — Frank’s condition was beyond medical intervention. Only a miracle could save his life.
Yet it was the ministry’s decision how much effort (and money) to pour in. John didn’t want to give up. So within their limited budget, an oxygen machine was purchased, a specific nanny was assigned by Lily to care for Frank at his bed side, and prayer warriors were called out to intercede.
I quickly put him to the back of my mind after our mission trip, as we were busy finishing up our paperwork to adopt our son. In July came a Harmony House reunion in Chicago. It was a great time for the kids and parents to catch up with each other, and for Lily to see the children she used to care for, and were still very much on her heart. Most of all, it was a wonderful opportunity for us to have a sense of belonging — we were part of this big family, our children shared part of their early life history, and they all had the same foster mother!
In the midst of this “family” reunion, Frank was still frequently in our conversations — many people were praying for him and trying to figure out how to help and care for him. In this community he was like the youngest and most fragile child of the extended family.
We occasionally saw pictures and updates of Frank on the WeChat group, but not much new was happening. The doctors could not do anything more to improve his condition. But a Harmony mama started to become so in love with him. Pam had adopted her daughter from Harmony House years ago. Annabelle had a neurological disorder that rendered her paralyzed from the neck down. But everyone knew Annabelle was well-loved, for Pam posted pictures of Annabelle with all sorts of cute expressions, outfits, and even the cool gadgets that help her to use her eyes to operate computers!
Pam felt Frank could be thriving like Annabelle and deserved a loving family. She loved Frank. She said if the Lord asked her to adopt him, she’d say yes! She was waiting for God to direct her to step out, but she didn’t feel called. Still, she always responded to any post with Frank’s picture, and vowed to pray for him. So would many Harmony parents.
Slowly my heart started to soften. I began to have hope for him and thought perhaps someone would adopt him and he could not only survive, but thrive.
The next time I visited Harmony House I could try to use my connections (and since I speak the language) to get him seen in the best hospital in Beijing for a second opinion.
When fall rolled around, we got our travel date to adopt our son. Pam asked if we could bring a couple sets of outfits to Frank, just to express her love for him. Of course we said yes. When we reached Harmony House we made sure to find the time for Frank. This time he was not in the hospital.
As soon as we stepped into his room, my heart sank.
I’ve never seen such a small, fragile body, with the oxygen machine hooked up, yet still having difficulty breathing. The nanny Lily designated for Frank was right there by his bedside taking care of him.
“Can he be picked up at all?” I asked.
“How can any baby not be picked up and held daily?” she said lovingly.
She massaged Frank’s body, gently put on the outfit Pam bought, and for the first time I picked up that fragile boy and felt his warmth and the life in that tiny body.
I was afraid I would break him. Here was a life in front of me, yet I felt this life could be passing at any moment. I uttered some prayers over him as the nanny quietly wiped away her tears.
During our time there I often stepped into that quiet room while other children were playing, crying and giggling elsewhere in the house. Somehow I felt in that room, by watching this little life being cared for, I could have the serenity to reflect on the meaning of life. I knew the nanny cared for him with her whole heart; so did Lily.
I began to understand why Lily asked that question, “What is charity?” They allocated money within their limited budget for the oxygen machine so Frank could stay alive, which probably meant other parts of the ministry and even children had to suffer. I asked her the possibility of bringing him to the best hospital, an hour and half away. But I learned it was extremely hard to be admitted there. Even if the doctors had better treatments, who would pay the tremendous medical bill? Lily said if Pam (or anyone) adopted Frank, she doubted he could make the long flight home, as she often worried if Frank could even make the ambulance trip to the local hospital.
I didn’t know what to answer Lily. I said maybe each of us could only faithfully do what we were called to do.
John is a man who believes in the power of prayers. He did not give up on Frank, so he called out intercessors to pray for Frank’s miracle.
Lily was called to be a loving and faithful foster mother (and all the Harmony parents can testify that she has done a great job).
The nanny was doing her job taking care of every detail of his needs.
And Pam, was her heart called to be broken for Frank? I could not give an answer.
After we came home in December with our new son and a new season of having two toddlers in the house, life was noisy, joyful and often overwhelming. Then one day a WeChat message came from Lily saying Frank had to be sent to the hospital because of a high fever and cough.
Immediately the parents and some Harmony alumni kids sent out prayer messages all over the group chat. People were hoping that, like previous times, he would be OK. Then devastating “Please pray harder” messages came from Lily. Pretty soon the feeling turned very serious.
It seemed that without a miracle Frank would be no more.
A short time later John sent out a message saying he believed Frank was dying, according to the reports he received. “Please pray that he would be comforted in Jesus’ arms whatever the result,” was his word.
Pam’s response was still the most heartbreaking: “Lord if at all possible spare little Frank’s life. I would so love to be his mommy and would jump if the Lord asks me to. I love this little boy, Lord, but have never set eyes on him in real life. My heart is breaking and I know that sounds crazy, but I have already adopted him in my heart….”
A few hours later Lily’s message came: “Frank is in heaven.”
Immediately the prayer/condolence/comfort kind of messages flooded the group chat. For the first time I found the emoji was so useful – for I had no words to say. All I could type was the tearing, crying, and heartbroken emojis.
I thought I would feel a sense of relief for Frank, for Lily and all who physically cared for him. But I didn’t. All I felt was heartbreak and sadness.
“At the crematory now.” Lily sent the next message. I felt that I would really like to say a few words before that tiny body became ashes. I finally mustered, “Goodbye Frank! It was an honor to get to meet you, hold you and see you being loved and cared for, because you’re God’s beloved child!” As I typed “See you in heaven,” I had a vision of Jesus holding little Frank’s hand, taking a walk the boy never took on earth.
Tears gushed out of my eyes as I realized that this little life was not in vain.
All the charity was not in vain.
He was just as precious to God as any other child He’s ever created.
That was why John did not want to give up on him.
That was why Lily and the nanny could not help but pour out all that they had to love and care for him.
That was why Pam, the most passionate mama Lily said she had ever met, was moved to “adopt him in her heart.”
He was not an orphan. He is a child of God. And each of us were just God’s hands and feet (and heart) to execute what any loving parent would do.
John said in his message right before Frank’s passing, “It is not always given to us to save the lives of the children that came to our care, but it is always given to us to love them.” I recalled a story in the Gospels of a woman anointing Jesus with very costly perfume, and the disciples asked: “Why this waste?”
But Jesus replied, “She has done a beautiful thing to me.”
Some might think the charity done to Frank was a waste. But I believe it’s a beautiful thing done to God Himself.
I believe God did not think it was a waste to lavish His time, resources, love and care on Frank through all of us.
I finally got a satisfying answer for Lily’s question, “What is charity?”
Charity is God’s love expressed on earth.
– guest post by Yih-Pai