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It’s Not What I Thought – Heart Change

It’s not what I thought. In 2007 I wanted to take a group to serve at one of the three orphanages where my girls spent the first year of their lives – and received three consecutive “No’s.” I wanted to give back somehow and to expose others to the plight of the orphan in China. Then our liaison in China told me about a place called the Philip Hayden Foundation. After a phone call to Tim Baker and Leah Zimmer, our team of 25 was set to spend two weeks there. That trip turned into, I believe, 16 more trips, with about 300 different people and 300 different life-changing stories.

A lot of the stories were just fun – launching mega-fireworks from the front parking area on the 4th of July, hosting our own 2008 PHF Olympics, throwing Sara Zhou into pools of water, drenching Teacher Wang with our super soakers, camel fights with the kids and Gregg’s leg falling off, dance-offs as Cody did Gangnam Style again and again, and sweating profusely in the Langfang sun as we chased kids with water balloons.

Some stories were just needed – cleaning the houses at the original PHF as they moved to the new site, sorting clothes, moving boxes from one attic to another, sweeping the Vocational Center day after day, and painting … lots of painting.

Most of the stories brought tears – holding newborns that would not be alive on our next visit; feeding all of the nannies and staff at our dinner extravaganza, and seeing the joy in their eyes; witnessing adoptive families come to pick up their child, and then hearing the next morning that another child was left at the gate; and watching a child celebrate their 14th birthday, knowing that they just aged out of the adoption process.

But the greatest part was the life change I saw in the people I brought with me. Let me share a few of them with you:

Clay and Jewel. They approached me one night in Spokane wondering if they could come along on a trip, having lost their two sons in a boating accident a few years prior. I’ll never forget Clay’s words, “I don’t have anything to offer, but I know how to work hard and serve.” After meeting one of the kids, Stacey, at Shepherd’s Field Children’s Village (SFCV) in 2008, they returned home and started the process of joining the team at SFCV. For several years they served faithfully before returning home, having adopted two girls with special needs. Apparently, Clay did have much to offer!

Joni. As her team was about ready to go to Thailand, a political coup happened and they needed a new mission. Within a few days I had them connected with SFCV. As she was there with her two biological children, they met Philip, an older boy in a wheelchair. They knew in their heart this was to be their son and brother. A few months later – once dad got on board – Philip became part of their family, and today is a world-class wheelchair racer!

Kirsten. She brought seven of her friends on one of the teams. Though I barely knew any of them when this started, they quickly became my friends too. Upon returning home, Kirsten launched an adoption ministry through her church, which has introduced hundreds, if not thousands, of families to adoption and the foster care program. Story after story comes out of families who decided to say yes to a child.

Emma. A friend of a friend who came along on an early trip, who was young and impressionable. And the trip sure made an impression! She not only convinced her parents to adopt one sweet SFCV kid, she ended up moving there to intern – and then her sisters followed suit. Then her family adopted two more beautiful kids from China! One young girl who said yes has greatly impacted not only her family, but also her future as she sets a new course for her life.

Jordan. She came with her mom and grandma on a trip. Upon returning, she decided to major in Chinese Language and Broadcasting and got a job in Beijing doing television.

These are just five families and five stories. Who you don’t get to know are the students (and parents) who threw up on the airplane during their first international trip; a yelling match when one of our members drove his golf cart into a Chinese couple at the Langfang Amusement Park as they demanded an “inconvenience payment”; having to change buses in the middle of the highway (28 people and 56 suitcases) during rush hour on a blistering day; full searches at security check points getting into Tiananmen Square in 2009; singing “Living on a Prayer” at KTV; or the walks for fried bread in the village adjacent to Shepherd’s Field. But you also may have missed the hundreds of hugs, hours of laughter, tons of encouragement, smiles as we arrived, and tears as we said good-bye.

The good-byes are just as hard today as they were in 2007, even though so much else has changed. When we started these trips, China was a leader in international adoptions, the One Child Policy was alive and well, people still traveled by foot and bike more than by car, and they were about 12 months away from introducing themselves to the world in the 2008 Olympics. The people were as incredible then as they are now – hospitable, caring and generous.

Shepherd’s Field has also changed quite a bit. When we first arrived, the kids were in houses in Langfang, a nearby neighborhood, and Shepherd’s Field consisted of only about five buildings. We were just the second group that got to sign the wall in the kitchen of the Inn. Each morning, the kids would be transported from Langfang to SFCV in overcrowded vans for the day’s activities, and taken back tired and worn out, but happy. Looking at 7Acres today boggles my mind, with the playground, the Vocational Center, all the children’s homes and the Community Center – all truly a work of the Lord and so many generous people. In the midst of that change, the kids are all the same: wanting love, wanting to play, and showing love that melts our hearts.

For me, the greatest changes are not the millions of cars in Beijing or the beautiful buildings at 7Acres – it’s the heart change in the 300 people represented above. To think that two weeks in Langfang – a town none of them had ever heard of – could change their hearts so profoundly. I remember my first time driving in – I was the leader of 24 people who looked to me to guide them, and I was a wide-eyed kid again seeing something magnificent in the middle of nowhere. I think of all of the tears in our nightly debrief, of people confessing selfishness, confessing pride, confessing entitlement. Teenagers and adults, men and women, all seeing God’s hand at work in a staff that loved well, and kids that just wanted to be loved. I’ll always remember what I wrote on one of my trips. I got on a ladder and wrote Hudson Taylor’s words in the open space between the first and second floor: “If I had a thousand lives, I’d give them all to China.” I know I’ve personally seen 300 lives that were given to China, and they’ll never be the same.

~By Steve Allen

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