Forever Changed

Shila Henderson reflects on the Holt Ambassador Trip to Beijing and how it changed her. While in Beijing, Shila and her two daughters got to meet and spend time with 6-year-old Ione. Now home from her trip, Shila advocates for this sweet, shy girl to find a permanent, loving family of her own.

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“Orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names. They are easier to ignore before you see their faces. It is easier to pretend they’re not real before you hold them in your arms. But once you do, everything changes.”

The words above, by Pastor David Platt, echoed in my mind as we taxied down the runway heading home from Beijing. My world was forever changed. I had the honor and privilege of participating in Holt’s Ambassador of Hope Trip to China along with my two daughters, who were adopted from China just a few years ago. It was an amazing experience to see my daughters come full circle — from being the orphans that were advocated for, to being the ones advocating. We had the opportunity to spend four days in an orphanage with amazing children who are all waiting for families. It’s hard to describe our experience; it was so full of hope, heartbreak, love, laughter and tears.

On our first day with the kids, their special needs were noticeable. But as the days passed, so did their differences, and all I could see were their individual hearts and gifts. The kids radiated a desire to love and be loved. Each and every child was precious and I kept thinking again and again about how each and every child deserves a loving home. Each child’s gifts far outweighed their challenges. In fact, it was amazing to see the determination and grit that so many possessed. It was incredible to see how kind the kids were to each other — how they shared everything they had, even though they were used to having almost nothing. What a life lesson for us all.

During our trip, one of the children we spent the most time with was “Ione.” Ione is such a precious girl and she is currently on Holt’s photolisting.

11 2015 2Ione is six years old with a sweet smile, sensitive spirit and deep curiosity. She has developmental delays and had surgery on her spine for what is believed to be Spina bifida. Ione is what I call an “old soul” in that she seemed to have deep feelings and inner wisdom. She laughed watching the monkeys at the zoo and she worked patiently to make a beaded bracelet. I imagine the happiness her future family will have when she presents them with her creative jewelry!

Ione has very good fine motor skills, a long attention span and lots of determination. Although she walks with a stiff gate, she can walk, run and even climb stairs! While at the zoo, she walked everywhere and loved to push younger children in the stroller. She is partially incontinent, but her nanny said she does well when she has a schedule. She enjoys eating and especially loves KFC cherry pies!

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Ione pushes her friend in the stroller while walking around the zoo.

She lit up when we took her shopping — maybe she will be a girl who loves the mall when she is older! She was excited to push her own little cart through the store and filled it with a doll and some tasty snacks. Ione is very sweet, kind and liked to give high-fives to other kids

Ione needs a family who will love her and help her bloom. With the love and support of a family, Ione will surely flourish and reach her full potential! Her future family will need to be prepared for sweetness overload!


What really broke my heart throughout the trip was how all the kids seemed compelled to prove to us how wonderful they were. They want a family. They want to belong. They want love. It sticks with me in a way I haven’t experienced before. I am changed in a way I can’t explain. I have been to orphanages before, but this is the first time I’ve had a chance to really get to know specific orphans before leaving them behind. I am brokenhearted. And it makes me want to do more.

Our time in Beijing was unforgettable. I hope that someone reading this article will recognize their heart for adoption, and move forward with action.

Not everyone is meant to adopt, but everyone can do something for an orphaned or vulnerable child. Each one of us can reach out to a homeless child somewhere, in some way. We can find a way to make a difference.

This action might be through sponsoring a child; donating to the Special Needs Adoption Fund; advocating for children in need, or offering support to someone who has recently come home with an adopted child. We can work in family preservation programs to keep children from becoming orphans in the first place. We can offer our time, treasure and talents. We can offer our hearts.  WE CAN PRAY!  We can join together and we CAN make a difference!

Please remember the children who are waiting for families. See Holt’s Waiting Child photolisting here to see many of the children we met in Beijing.

And please remember Ione and help her to find a permanent, loving family.

Shila Henderson | Holt Beijing Ambassador

For more information about Ione and eligibility requirements for adopting her, contact Jessica Zeeb at

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