Originally published at the end of December, regular NHBO contributor Kelly Raudenbush shared a letter to an orphanage driver who was searching for information about the child he had once fostered over a decade earlier.
Given our April theme of Love Stories, we wanted to share this post once again as well as a remarkable update.
Soon after her letter was originally posted, Kelly got a message via Facebook from the mother of the little girl he had been searching for. She explained that despite two return trips to China that included visiting her daughter’s home city and orphanage, they had no idea that she had been fostered. They had met who they thought were her daughter’s nanny and her nanny’s husband but had never been told that they had actually been her foster family.
With her mother’s blessing, the young girl he said goodbye to over 10 years ago is back in his life.
And, she has a fuller understanding of her own story.
I know you as the orphanage driver. When our teams arrive to serve there, it is you who they meet first. It is your smile and hearty head nods that put them at ease. It is your offer to take their heavy bags and have a rest that lets them know they are welcome before they ever arrive at the orphanage gate. And, when they do, it is you who has safely brought them there.
You serve a very important role everyday. Everyday, you drive, taking leaders to meetings and taking nannies to trainings. You also take children to school as a parent would, scurrying to make sure they are on time and nudging them along when they are dragging their feet.
Of all the streets you drive everyday, I know there’s one route you know very well — the drive to Xi’an. Many Sunday mornings, you drive a seemingly ordinary way for extraordinary purposes as you drive a child to meet his or her mommy and daddy for the very first time. I wish I could sit down with you over a cup of milk tea and ask you lots of questions and listen to your stories. I’m sure you have so many to tell.
I also know there’s one story that you’d tell me first and come back to over and over again. I know because it was on one of those drives to the orphanage one morning when I learned that you hadn’t always been the orphanage driver. You had been a Baba.
I saw you hand a photo album to our translator. And, I heard her Chinese “ahh”s as she flipped through it and then read some English words silently and told you something in Chinese. I saw you wipe your eyes as you smiled in response. I’m sure you had heard those words translated before. But, you clearly wanted to hear them again, the words she had put in the photo album she gave you a few years ago when she visited China as a girl: “Thank you for taking care of me when I was a baby and treating me like your own daughter. Love, Erin R. (Z—- Chun Min).”
It was years ago, more than 10… maybe 12, that you said goodbye to a child you loved. She was still a baby when she left, just over a year old, you told me. And, for that year, she had been yours. In fact, you told me you had nearly held her in your arms for an entire year, you and your wife never letting her feet touch the ground.
Your face lit up when you talked about her and as you showed me pictures you had of her on your phone, pictures of pictures I’m sure hang on your walls at home. You waited with bated breath when you asked me if I knew her.
From the way you talked about her, I wish I did because she sounds like she was an amazing little girl who is now a young lady somewhere.
I know you want me to find her family so you can talk to her again. And, maybe, just maybe, I will. But, if I cannot, I want to make sure you hear a few words from me.
I’m not Chun Min’s mama; but, I am a mama to a little girl who was also nurtured by others until she was my little girl. I often think of those who bathed her and bounced her when she was fussy. I think of those who smiled when she cooed and tried their best to give her all she needed while doing the same for more than 20 other babies in her room.
I think of those who propped her up on a pillow and took her picture for a file of papers that would be sent to Beijing so she could leave with a family. And, I think of the man who shopped for a pretty little going away outfit for her when the time was right and of the woman who tied all the strings on it that morning as they got into the orphanage van to drive on the same roads you drive now to meet us for the first time.
Oh, if I could gather all those people in one place at one time, I’d show them pictures after pictures of our little girl and tell them that all they did for her everyday mattered. I’d tell them that what they do everyday for every child matters.
I know it is hard to not know where she is and what she is like and if she remembers you. I know you wonder if her family would ever welcome you in just to share a meal. I hope they would. But, I don’t know that. It can be hard for some parents and for some children to bring all the parts of their stories together. And, having a relationship with you, even from the other side of the world, might not be what is best for her and for them right now.
But, I want you to know that what you did for her mattered, how you loved her well for that first year of her life truly mattered. You have played a part in her becoming the young lady she is now even if she doesn’t remember you the way you remember her.
When saying goodbye to her broke your heart, you decided not to foster a child again. That makes sense to me. But, even now, you have opportunities everyday to love children who are not your own well. Press on in that and know that every smile, every head nod, every “have a good day at school,” every quiet or not so quiet drive to and from a hospital, and every goodbye is an opportunity to do something that matters.
As you show a child that he or she matters and can change the world, you are changing the world.