Built on a Solid Foundation

Holt’s Family Preservation program in Ethiopia

“The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”–Matthew 7:25

By Ashli Keyser, managing editor

In the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus uses a parable to speak about faith and trusting in Him. He discusses two builders, a man who built his house on an unsteady foundation of sand, and the other who built his house on a rock – a firm foundation of faith and trust.

While the two houses in Jesus’ sermon serve as metaphors for obeying the word of God, I couldn’t help but ponder this parable as I observed two very different houses set atop a small piece of land in southern Ethiopia. Standing in front of one structure was *Ejamo, his wife, *Almaz, and their five children, waiting for our team, including Holt President and CEO Kim Brown, to arrive.

I had seen this family in a photograph, just over a year ago, and was taken aback by how different each of them looked today. The parents no longer had gloomy expressions of hunger on their faces. The children no longer wore tattered rags of clothes. They each stood, happily, in front of their new house, a strongly built hut, made of durable wood and thickly packed mud. Flowerpots lined the windowsills – a mother’s special touch to a home that she could be proud of.

To the right of the family stood another house – a weak and dilapidated hut made of eucalyptus leaves, straw, and misshapen pieces of wood and branches – a house that looked to be more of a nest than a home suitable for two parents and five children. Today that nest-like shack serves only as a devastating reminder of what this family’s life once looked like and what it will hopefully never be again.

What an amazing moment for Ejamo, I thought. Showing off his family’s new and improved house to Kim Brown and the rest of our team. “Look what I’ve accomplished, look what you’ve helped me to accomplish.” The smile on Ejamo’s face matched his equally large 7-foot frame. This family, no longer weak and wanting – like the broken-down house they once occupied – has made a fresh start and stands strong beside their house, a new beginning and a renewed hope.

“We are going to help this family,” said Phil Littleton, Holt’s senior vice president, standing with Ejamo in 2009, in the beginning stages of Holt’s intervention. “We are going to give them what they need to build a better life for themselves.” Continue reading “Built on a Solid Foundation”

A Strong Will

by Robin Munro, senior writer

Meihekou, China – At the end of a winding dirt road in Meihekou – a city in Northern China’s Jilin Province – behind a green door decorated in red for luck, a teenage girl spends her days engaged in the usual teenage activities. She text messages her friends on her cell phone. Chats online. Listens to music. Paints her long, manicured fingernails in sparkly purple polish. And dreams of her future.

At 19, she should be preparing to leave her childhood home – to pursue her goals, and explore the world. But for Jie Lin (name changed), dreams remain just dreams. And independence a fantasy. Born with a condition that causes severe muscle atrophy, Jie Lin is, essentially, paralyzed in her arms and legs – they are thin as reeds, skin to bone, and folded beneath her like marionette sticks. As her body grew, it became too heavy for her to move from laying to sitting on her own. Her foster mother carries her to the bathroom. To leave the house, she must be pushed in a stroller.

“Sometimes I feel like I have no future,” she tells Sue Liu, who has known Jie Lin since 2000, shortly after Sue joined the Holt China staff in Meihekou.

Jie Lin has soulful, sad eyes, but her expression is often overtaken by laughter. Her hair is short and shag-cut, her face lovely and wise.

Holt has sponsored Jie Lin’s care since 1999, when she was 8-years-old. That year, as the Meihekou Ministry of Civil Affairs struggled to meet rising expenses, Holt took over funding for the local foster care program. To date, Holt and sponsors have invested more than 3 million Chinese Renminbi, or nearly a half million dollars, into local foster care, which has provided for as many as 60 children at once. At present, Holt sponsors care for 38 children in Meihekou and 22 in neighboring Tonghua. Sponsorship covers basic necessities, including food, shelter and clothing, and is often the only source of income for foster families.

When children turn 18, sponsorship ends. But special needs are common, and many children continue to depend on their foster families – and Holt – for care and support beyond the age of 18.

“What can we do?” Sue asks, worried about what will become of the children who “age out” of sponsorship. Continue reading “A Strong Will”

What Faith Can Do

July 31st marked the 10th anniversary of Bertha Holt’s passing.

When asked how she would like to be remembered, Bertha Holt’s request was a simple one:

“[Remember me] as that lady who loved the Lord,” she humbly replied.

On the tenth anniversary of her passing, it’s fitting to reflect on Bertha “Grandma” Holt’s love for the Lord, her faith in Him, and how that faith has inspired many people around the world to carry on Holt’s mission of finding families for children.

Brian Campbell, Holt’s creative services director remembers Bertha Holt, and how she has inspired him:

I remember watching Bertha Holt at a Holt picnic, one year, as she sat and had her picture taken with hundreds of children of all ages.  I stood there, amazed, listening to her recall the names of the children and sharing a brief story about each one of them. Older adoptees also came up to her, giving her hugs and thanking her for the work of Holt International.  The younger children referred to her as “Grandma.”  She had prayed continually for all of these children while they were in Holt’s care and traveled all over the world to serve them; they were always her top priority.


During a quiet moment, between the visiting and photos, I caught Grandma by herself.  A look of peace and blessing was on her face.  Not a look of pride or pleasure in knowing that she was important to all these people, but rather a look of peace that comes from knowing that she was doing what God had called her to do.

Now, more than 20 years later, I recall that moment with Grandma Holt. I imagine her with me in places like Ethiopia, surrounded by children, listening to their giggling and crying, laughing with them, and cradling and comforting them without hesitation. I ask for the children’s names, take their pictures, touch their little hands and pray for them. Today, inspired by Bertha Holt, these children are also my priority.

After the death of Harry Holt, many thought Holt International would close its doors. But Bertha always had faith that the agency would carry on. “This has always been God’s work,” she said. “If He wants it to continue, it will.”

And it has. What followed, and what remains today, is a 55-year legacy of caring for and providing loving homes to the world’s orphaned, abandoned and vulnerable children.

Evidence of Bertha Holt’s faith can be seen today through Holt employees, working diligently and joyfully for children all over the world, to the hundreds of adult adoptees who were touched by “Grandma’s” life and, most importantly, through the smiling faces of children now home with their loving families.

The mission of Holt International has carried on, and will continue, all because one woman had faith that it could.

The Road to Oliver

a son from the Philippines

“There’s Oliver!” The social worker beamed, pointing toward the living room where two little boys were playing. My husband Sam and I walked inside the small, concrete house, forgetting about the stale, humid air of the tropics. I held my breath as I looked for the boy that resembled the photo we received from Holt. The photo showed a toddler dressed in over-sized clothes and a hat that covered his hair. His round face had eyes shaped like almonds and lips that were round and full.

One of the boys in the room wore an old, red shirt and had thick black hair. His eyes and lips were the same as the photo. I sighed quietly. He was more beautiful in person. Sam and I knelt down to Oliver’s level and took a long look at the child we had prayed for, dreamed of and longed for.

One afternoon in February of 2006, I stood in front of a mailbox and said a little prayer as I dropped our application to Holt International. At our ninth year of marriage, Sam and I had walked a long road of false hopes and fertility tests. Coming to a fork in the road, we picked the path of adoption. Little did we know that in the same month I dropped that piece of mail, our baby boy was born across the Pacific in a humble town in the Philippines. Continue reading “The Road to Oliver”

Lines

A father’s poem to his daughter, Quinn—a child in Holt’s Journey of Hope Program

by Robert Flanders

When people ask me to prove that God exists, I show them your picture and tell them about lines. The lines on which our lives travel along the points plotted by the choices that we make. I reflect upon all the choices, some good, some bad, that have led me to the place where I stand now holding your picture. I can only imagine the decisions that your birth parents have made, especially your mother. In an act of desperation and hope, she severed a sacred bond and your lines diverged. Yours led you to the orphanage and, years later, to me. Your birth mother’s life line drifted away, as silent as a ghost carried along by the force of circumstances, into her future and your past.

I remember the day that our lines, and our lives, intersected. I saw your picture and two lines, out of the six billion lines moving through time and space, came together at one point. That point is called love. I’ve seen many pictures of older, waiting children traveling on their journeys of hope but our lines did not intersect. When the Holt worker asked me, “why you?” I did not tell her about lines, I told her about love.

Now the lines of our lives will travel together, parallel to each other in love. I feel certain that God was lovingly drawing our lines so that they would one day come together. I look down at your picture in my hands and I believe.

Older children in Holt’s care need families….click here to view the photolisting for Holt’s Journey of Hope children in China.

or visit our Waiting Child page

“All Things Are Possible”

Senior Writer Robin Munro discusses her experience at a Holt-supported foster care program in Northern China.

by Robin Munro

Jilin City, China—Today, we drove to a small farming village just outside of Jilin City, a forested, mountainous region of Northern China where Holt sponsors foster care for 39 children. Here, amid lush green acres of corn stalks, rice fields and gable-roofed homes, we meet several of the children in our sponsorship program. Ducking out of the rain, we step into an unoccupied house – recently built by the village – where the families have gathered, anticipating our arrival. I am with Sue Liu, the Beijing office manager and assistant to Jian Chen, Holt’s China director; Jessica Palmer, Holt’s Waiting Child program manager; and a couple officials from the Jilin City Social Welfare Institute, with whom Holt has partnered since introducing a foster care project to this region in 2006.

I find a windowsill in which to sit and observe the scene – foster mothers sitting in a circle on the floor, cooing over babies swaddled in blankets as Sue and Jessica assess the children’s development and the foster care manager distributes formula and food. One boy – an older boy of about 9 or 10 – comes over to talk to me. “Hello,” he says in English, smiling. “Hello,” I say back, followed by a couple more simple phrases. He shakes his head, not understanding. “Ok,” I say. And he repeats. “Ok.” He wants to learn, wants to engage me with any means of communication he can find. I give him a thumbs-up. And he lifts his hand to mimic me.

But even this – this universal symbol for a job well done – he can’t use to communicate.   Continue reading ““All Things Are Possible””

Telling Their Stories

Holt Senior Writer Robin Munro is traveling with Waiting Child Manager Jessica Palmer to learn more about a new group of children in Holt’s Journey of Hope program, as well as other Holt-supported programs.

by Robin Munro

At the Jilin City Social Welfare Institute – the third orphanage we’ve visited in China – the beds are empty. Except for one tiny newborn who recently came into care, no children occupy the cribs and beds that line the rooms. It’s a lovely building – a home for the elderly, and orphaned and abandoned children, with a central atrium that lets in abundant natural light. It’s a wonderful sight, all these empty rooms – it means all the children who’ve passed through this orphanage are now in Holt-sponsored foster care, a program that serves 39 children in partnership with the welfare institute.

After a short stay when they come into care, the children occasionally visit the orphanage for physical and developmental exams, and rehabilitation training for those with special needs. But their homes are apartments and houses, where they get to experience family life.

Today, we get to meet five children in Holt sponsorship, a program that funds their clothing, food and other basic needs for 350 Chinese Remnibi, or about $55, per child per month – a cost shared equally by Holt and the Jilin City Social Welfare Institute. We enter a room – the only one emitting any sound – and find four boys in motion, bouncing on giant balls or rolling around in soft tubing, teasing each other and making faces. Two of the boys, dressed in matching striped polos and shorts, look like twins. They are foster brothers, though not related, 8 and 9-years-old – happy, hyper, outgoing boys with telltale scars on their lips from cleft lip surgery. Their foster mom tells us they are both their teachers’ favorites in their 2nd and 3rd grade classes, both very popular with other children.

I can see that right away. The older boy, Shen Ying (name has been changed), has a great sense of humor. He jokingly puts on a scarf and exaggerates his smile for the camera. I bet he’s the class clown – sharp, easily bored, requiring constant stimulation. When he lacks engaging activity, I bet he creates it, entertaining everyone in the room. I like him immediately, and think about how lucky the family is that gets to adopt him. Continue reading “Telling Their Stories”

Who do you see?

Holt Senior Writer Robin Munro is traveling with Waiting Child Manager Jessica Palmer to learn more about a new group of children in Holt’s Journey of Hope program.

Robin Munro, Senior Writer—Today, we visited a beautiful orphanage in Northern China – a place full of color and life.  Each room opened onto another group of faces – curious, apprehensive, wide-eyed faces.  Most of these children have special needs, conditions beyond which most birth families have the capacity to provide medical care – conditions like cleft lip and palate, CP, Down’s Syndrome, Spina bifida, feet and hand deformities, as well as a few cases of pneumonia.

In the first room we enter, metal barred cribs line the wall.  In each, a child sits or lays, staring at the ceiling, the wall, or nothing in particular – into middle space.   These children have some of the most severe conditions.  Most don’t seem to notice our presence in the room – don’t jump up, or cry, or reach out to us.  I walk over to one boy, who lifts his head when I touch his back.  His head is swollen from Hydrocephalus, a condition in which water gets onto the brain.  In some cases, this condition is minor and won’t interfere with the child’s life.  But this boy’s condition is serious, says Sue Liu, the Beijing office manager.  As I rub his back, he begins to smile.  When I stop, he stares at me blankly.  I gently touch him again, and his smile returns.   Continue reading “Who do you see?”

Season of Love, Gifts of Hope: The Peace House, A Place to Heal and Flourish

In July of 2010, Holt’s senior writer visited the Peace House, a haven for sick children who come from all over China to receive medical care in Beijing — many of them suffering from serious medical conditions. After leaving the hospital, the children recuperate at the Peace House. Many go on to join adoptive families. Since this article was written, Holt took over operations from Peace House founder, Teresa Huangwu. In that time, five children have received surgeries, and a sixth will soon come to stay at this nurturing and peaceful sanctuary in the heart of the city.

This holiday season, help more children in Holt’s care receive needed medical procedures. When children receive the care they need, they also have greater hope of finding an adoptive family. Click here to browse Holt’s Gifts of Hope catalog online.

Teresa raised funds for Jhi Lin's heart surgery. He is now recovering in her care at the Peace House.

Robin Munro, Senior WriterAt the Peace House in Beijing, the floor is where the action is.  A ball flies at me from one direction. From another, a baby comes crawling to investigate.  The children seem intrigued by my foreign blue eyes.  My camera.  My notebook.  My purse.  Especially my purse.

While otherwise occupied in a game of catch, I feel a sudden tug on my shoulder straps, and look down to find a sticky-fingered hand first unzipping, then probing the contents of my bag.  Here I find Jhi Lin (name has been changed), who’s discovered a little bottle of hand sanitizer. Clutching it in his hand, he makes for the bedroom and tries to shut the door.  I catch it, and follow him in.  Dismayed, he takes my hand and ushers me back out.  I follow him in.  Back out we go.  The look on his face says, “Silly lady, don’t you see – I want to be alone with this bottle of green goo, my new-found treasure!”

Finally, a caretaker comes to intervene.  Jhi Lin graciously accepts his defeat, and hands the bottle back.  “Xie Xie,” I say. Thank you.  He smiles, and moves on to explore other frontiers.

Jhi Lin will turn 3 in August.  Full of life, full of moxie, he is a dark-haired, bright-eyed mischief-maker – a typical toddler.  He came to the Peace House one year ago, where he stayed while Peace House foster mother, Teresa Huangwu, raised funds for his heart surgery.  His condition was severe – a congenital heart defect that causes what’s commonly known as “blue baby syndrome.” This surgery cost over $100,000, which healed him completely – a feat accomplished by love alone.

“Teresa finds the resources to do the surgeries,” says Jian Chen, Holt’s China program director.  “It’s not her work. It’s purely out of love.”

Teresa Huangwu started her unofficial work as a foster mother after inspiration struck, eight years ago, while working as a volunteer caretaker in an orphanage.   While washing a malnourished baby with a cleft lip, she thought how much better a child could be nourished to health in a warm, cozy home environment than in a sterile institution.  A small home, where a sick child could get constant nurture from a loving caregiver.  “I just thought, ‘If we could just take the baby home and nurse him,’” she says.  “And then bring him back.”

In August of 2003, she founded the Peace House – a haven for sick children from all over China who come to Beijing for medical care.  A clean, cozy apartment cluttered with toys, the Peace House is just that: a peaceful place of healing and nurture.  Its location in Beijing is critical – it enables the children to get the best medical care in the country.  After surgery, they stay here until their condition stabilizes – until they are ready for adoption.

Continue reading “Season of Love, Gifts of Hope: The Peace House, A Place to Heal and Flourish”

In Hopes of Finding a Family

Holt Senior Writer Robin Munro is traveling with Waiting Child Manager Jessica Palmer to learn more about a new group of children in Holt’s Journey of Hope program. On her first day in country, she met 3 of these beautiful children.  The following is her thoughts on this meaningful day.

Robin Munro, Senior Writer

Wuxi, Jiangsu, China—Today, we arrived in a town called Wuxi, in the south China province of Jiangsu. We are here to meet a group of children the Chinese Center of Adoption Affairs, or CCAA, designated Holt to find families for. They are all children in Holt’s Journey of Hope program– a special program for older children, or children with special needs in southern China.

On our first night, we meet three children. Their orphanage is in Zhenjiang, a great distance from Wuxi. But the caregivers know traveling to meet us will heighten the children’s chances to be adopted. Here, Waiting Child Program Manager Jessica Palmer will interview the children, assess their conditions and post their pictures on Holt’s photolisting, in hopes of finding them families.

*Yan Lin is 12. She is tall, in shorts and a T-shirt, a Mickey Mouse button on her yellow Crocs shoes. She seems shy among strangers. When summoned, though, she quickly snuggles up to Sue Liu, the young, sweet-faced manager of the Holt office in Beijing. In care since she was a baby, Yan Lin was born with a minor condition which made it difficult to control her bowels.  She underwent surgery to correct this condition.  Now healed, she is more confident in school. She wants to be a teacher, like her favorite caregivers. She feels discouraged when children find families. And fears for the day she turns 14, when she will no longer be eligible for adoption.

*Yan Bing is almost 5. He likes to pose for pictures – to throw up his hands as though about to summit a roller coaster ride, a big open grin on his face. He climbs on Sue’s lap and makes himself at home there, stealing her bracelets to try on his wrists.He is adorable, and seems perfectly healthy. When Yan Bing came into care – as an infant – his head was swollen from communicating hydrocephalus; he had water on his brain. Now, his symptoms are gone. He has developed into a healthy, high-energy charmer of a child. I can’t imagine he will stay in care much longer, and feel confident about his future. Continue reading “In Hopes of Finding a Family”