CHINA -- What's a child with cerebral palsy worth? From a Communist standpoint, he's merely a drain on resources. But from a Christian perspective, it's hard to find a clearer opportunity to follow Christ's teaching that whatever we do for the least among us we do for Him.
One 37-year-old I met here, Yang Hui (I've changed her name to keep officials off her case), spoke of how during her 20s she "did a lot of wrong things, had wrong relationships." When she was 29, she attended a friend's wedding and thought it was ridiculous when the bride and her new husband said, "God brought us together." Still, when the husband gave her a tape of a Chinese evangelist, she listened to it while driving to work.
Yang kneaded her hands and seemed to focus on her crossed ankles as she haltingly went on: "That preacher spoke to my heart, because I knew my life was a mess. My friends kept calling me, inviting me to their Bible study. The more I was with them, the more I felt I was so dirty. Christians were so different from the friends I had." She expressed her faith in Christ.
In 2001, when the company she worked for laid her off, she traveled to northwest China and, on her way home, stayed at a hotel by the railroad station. A hotel clerk mentioned to her that several orphans were in a room upstairs. She looked for them and found behind a locked door four barely-clothed children -- one a tiny baby, the others 1, 3 and 6 years old -- crying in a cold, moist, dark room featuring a floor streaked with feces.
Yang learned that the babies were stashed there until a government orphanage had room. The next morning, instead of taking the train home, she told the hotel clerk that she wanted to clean up the room and the children. The baby had died during the night, but she worked on the other three, all of whom had cerebral palsy. When she was finished they looked "angelic."
Yang stayed at the hotel for one month, until the government finally took the children. She returned home but "couldn't forget those children." She volunteered at a government orphanage, yet she wanted to help particularly the children with cerebral palsy whom Chinese experts said had "no social value." A Chinese woman who also wanted to aid disabled children eventually offered her life's savings, $30,000, to buy an apartment that could become a refuge for them.
In 2002, the shelter opened, with Yang as its director. Now she runs two foster homes for 31 children aged five months to 10 years, most with cerebral palsy but others with autism and cleft palate. Six full-time workers and seven part-timers staff the homes, supplemented by volunteers on Saturday, the regulars' day off. Pay ranges from $50 to $138 per month.
Some of the children come from government orphanages, and others were left in train stations or abandoned in other public places. Six have been adopted, and Yang hopes that more will be, although arcane rules determine which children can be adopted only by Chinese nationals and which can be adopted by foreigners.
Charitable groups are rare in China, in part because government officials resist admitting that they need help in caring for the poor and oppressed. Chinese Christians, though, would like permission to establish homes for the elderly, hospitals, Christian schools and programs for recent migrants to cities.
Perhaps officialdom will change, but in the meantime, Yang has seen benefits not only for the children she serves but for those who serve. She says she is "experiencing God. The body of Christ seems real to me since I've been here. And some neighbors believe in God because of what they see here."
Marvin Olasky is editor-in-chief of World and a senior fellow of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.
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