When Michael L. Richard met his sponsored child 17 years ago in China, he was offered a unique and meaningful glance into his world.
There was a young boy named Min who lived in China 17 years ago. We lost touch when he graduated from Holt International’s child sponsorship program at around age 18, well over a decade ago. He lived in Jilin, a province far in the north of China that is right next to North Korea. He likely still does.
What about you?
Do you see them, or care for them beyond a passing glance?
I wonder if Min is married now or works a steady job. Does he have children? Is his life good?
Such things seem impossible to know. But if we reach out a hand to help a child cross a stream, does it matter less if our kindness sometimes feels as old as leaves against the North wind? Scattered leaves of life in a Chinese wind. May Min become one precious green leaf LIFTED UP by the breeze. This is sometimes how I imagine child sponsorship to be.
When my family and I first sponsored Min nearly 20 years ago, we learned a little about his story. He lived in a village with his foster family several hours from the province’s capital city of Changchun. Min was born with a cleft palate. Another young man that his family identified as his brother was born with cerebral palsy and was found under a bridge. It can be easy to judge, without any knowledge of their backgrounds — of the poverty their family may have lived in, or the financial struggle they faced caring for these two boys with special needs.
I wonder, was it raining that day his mother placed the older brother down?
Having traveled and lived in Hong Kong and China only a few weeks, my knowledge feels like a stone skipping streaks across the surface of the water. Momentarily, I strike the water and glance down, only to be thrust back up into my Western viewpoint.
Moving forward, I am left to try to understand more deeply the next time.
In 2005, when our own kids were still young — Tim was 10 and Grace was 3 — our family had the opportunity to travel to central China while my wife, Chanie, taught English at a Chinese summer camp.
We met many amazing Chinese students and young people. And learned a little about their lives. Before leaving on the initial trip, I said to my wife, “Let’s go visit Min afterward. It’s only an ‘extra’ thousand miles or so?” Chanie smiled and we wrote the government to ask permission. The Chinese government graciously agreed. Consequently, after the first part of our trip ended, we boarded a plane to Changchun in the far north of China. The name Changchun roughly translated means, “Long Spring.” Interestingly, in this colder part of the world, they hope for what they do not yet have. As an author, I wanted to remember this trip. Later, I wrote a short story, then created a character with that name.
After landing and picking up our luggage, the Chinese Office of Civil Affairs gave the four of us a huge luncheon banquet. As a “westerner” in China, sometimes I feel a bit out of place. This gift was generous, enough to feed 15 people. I ate as much as I could. Only later did a friend tell me, “I’m sure they have many people in the Civil Affairs Office. They never expected you to eat all of it.”
Looking back on that moment I think, “I am a Caucasian author writing about China and Asia. A wet stone, getting slightly wetter all the time.”
The next day on the trip, our guide drove us several hours to the rural village where Min and his foster family live. The country of China is a miracle of miracles. I remember the car zipping down and through a modern mix of freeways and rural roads. My head constantly turning left, then right. On one side of the freeway, elderly women swept the roads clean with brooms of straw. While later on a rural road, a bull and cart passed ahead of us over a 12-foot-wide wooden stick bridge. We waited our turn since the hole on the right side of the bridge would have swallowed our car. Even as we zipped through, I could not imagine what it might be like at night.
An hour later, we met Min and his foster family. He looked different from the photos. Older certainly, but something else. We were greeted warmly with tea and gifts. They showed us their home. The house foundation was made of round stones that were masoned together to keep out the cold air. Yet there were many places where the outside air touched us. Politely, they showed us the platform beds on which they slept. We looked underneath, where they placed the heated stones at night to keep themselves warm.
Ten minutes later we gave Min the American red, white and blue football that we brought him as a gift. We visited for another 70 minutes, teaching him to throw and catch spirals in a front yard as free-range chickens ran wildly between us.
People are still people no matter what side of the planet we are on. We owe them a debt of gratitude we cannot repay.
NOW. The government official began to signal us it’s time to go.
“THANK YOU,” we nodded.
We smiled and said goodbye.
I slid in next to my wife, nudging her and whispering, “Did you see Min’s smile? They fixed it…”
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Michael L. Richard is an author, writer, husband and father. He hopes to see his novel, Chosen’s Beautiful Heart, in print, and that his readers are inspired by faith to pursue the courage of their dreams. He loves to write about parenting, adoption, Hong Kong, China and the horizons of our dreams and abilities. Sign up for his newsletter here.