A few weeks ago I was contacted by my friend, Tabitha. She works as an International Sponsorship Coordinator at an foster home for visually impaired children in Beijing, China. She shared with me about her crazy ride of a life that has involved getting married, having a baby, moving to a third world country, getting a dog and a house… all within a year’s time. One year, five life-altering events. Dang. And while I could easily spend time sharing about what God is doing in her life and how He is meeting her right where she is at, it was the children at the foster home she spoke of that further revealed the truth of God’s word being alive and active and lived out in our world.
And no, and I’m not referring to taking care of the orphans and widows (for the scripture savvy who think they have pegged where I am going with this), like I said, this is not about the people taking care of the kids, this is about the kids themselves.
I am referring to the fact that Jesus said “I have come so that they might have life and have it more abundantly,” or to the full, depending on your translation. And what struck me as I read my friend’s email about the children who are orphaned is the fact that the orphans and widows are included in on Jesus’ offer to live a full life, they don’t miss out on abundant living because of their circumstances, left behind for us to come in and take care of them so that we can live full lives and pat ourselves on the back for doing good. Abundant life is not limited to people who have all all their sight and no family issues; and sure, that’s common sense, but I’ll be the first to admit I would not have associated a visually impaired orphan with abundant living prior to reading my friend’s email. How have I missed this before now!? Bare with me, I’m a slow learner.
I’ll take the honesty thing a bit further, I find it hard to write about this right now, currently living in La Jolla, California. It’s hard for me not to get caught up in thinking that the world in which I am living is the definition of abundant life and everything else is just sub-par. I sometimes try to bury my head in scripture in the morning, filling my mind with the truth about who Jesus is and what it means to live an abundant life, and then I lift my head, look around at all the glitz and glamour of Southern California, toss my Bible aside as I reach for my beach towel and join the ranks of the toned and tanned elite, disguising myself as one of them, while at the same time managing to judge them. I judge the people I am trying to look like… good grief, JJ, did any of who Jesus is set in before lathering on the sunscreen?
Oh right, honesty, I didn’t put on sunscreen, I just judged people in the name of Jesus. And while I believe in the authority of the name of Jesus, Jesus did not give me the authority to judge others.
Thankfully, picking that thought apart is for another day, as this post is about someone very specific, unrelated to the California coastline from where I write this, but I find it necessary to make the point that I am here and he is there, because he is living a life of abundance the likes of which some of even the wealthiest people could never purchase.
His name is Jian Yu, his English name is Jake.
Jake is four years old and he lives in Beijing, China at a place called Bethel (the foster care for visually impaired children I mentioned above). When Jake was four months old he was left in a ditch at a zoo. I feel the need to repeat that… at four months old, Jake was placed in a ditch and left there. Before I go further commenting on how dare someone do that to a child, I find it best to repeat the words of my friend, Tabitha, who shared the story of this precious little boy with me…
“I look at my son sitting next to me who is almost three months and I just can’t imagine it. I know it’s not my place to judge–who knows what that mother was going through. Maybe she figured that the zoo was a good place because there are so many people someone would find him quickly. Maybe she was so overwhelmed by his blindness that she thought he would be better off in an orphanage where perhaps someone would know how to take care of him.” Here is a baby boy, abandoned by his birth mother, crying helplessly until someone discovers him, which sounds crazy similar to the story of Moses, abandoned by his mother in order to save his life (story found in Exodus), and judging Jake’s mother does us no good in retelling Jake’s story seeing as how we don’t know her story, and abandonment is all together just not the point.
The enemy would love for us to focus on the fact that Jake was abandoned rather than focus on the fact that he was found, but much like Moses, abandonment will not be Jake’s legacy. When we think of Moses we don’t think of “that guy who was abandoned as a baby,” we think of the one who led the Jews out of exile. I can only imagine how different the history of Israel and even the Bible for matter might be if Moses had allowed the situation he was born into, even the situation he was adopted into, which he later had to chose to abandon in order to save God’s people, dictate who he was and what he was capable of.
And as Jake grows up I can only imagine that the enemy would love for him to focus on this as well, whispering lies of abandonment to try and define this baby boy’s worth, trying to blind him further to the fact that he was found, he was rescued, he was saved, and not just by the hands of man, but by the hands of God. The very hands that created the Heavens and earth saw his baby boy crying in a ditch and did not leave him there. Truth trumps the lie and Jake’s very existence is evidence of the message of the gospel, the good news that we all once were lost but now are found.
Jake was found and upon realizing his visual disability he ended up being taken to Bethel where Tabitha first met him. “When I first came to Bethel in 2012,” she said, “he was one of the first kids to attach to me. He would hear my voice in a room and would walk with his hands out till he could find me and then would climb up like a little monkey and wrap his legs around my waist. He liked to touch my face and hair and really loved to be tickled. He couldn’t communicate in English or Chinese, he just would say “ah ah ah” because he liked the sound, and he would cry in order to get the caregivers (called Ayi’s in Chinese, pronounced Eye-Yee) to do what he wanted them to do. At that time, he only liked one Ayi… and me. I confess that I thought he was mentally delayed or perhaps autistic. He had no real communication skills, he didn’t play with other children, and he didn’t really know how to play with toys.”
The beautiful thing about Bethel is the fact that they believe that each child is capable of living a fulfilling, independent life, not despite their “disability,” but with it. “One of the things I love about Bethel is that we do awareness and trainings for orphanage staff, teachers, and parents of the visually impaired. We have published a manual full of tutorials such as “How to teach a blind child to brush their teeth” and such… Hopefully someday we’ll be out of a job.”
Tabitha shared about Jake’s growing experience in which they brought in a speech pathologist to work with him. “When she (the pathologist) first started having sessions with Jian Yu,” Tabitha said, “he HATED it. He kicked, screamed, pulled a chunk out of her hair and I think he even bit her. After two sessions he started to warm up… and six months later, this kid is talking, laughing, playing and fully functioning at the cognitive level of his peers. It’s honestly a speech therapy miracle story. Today he runs around exploring and has even started preschool…
I can’t even tell you how incredible this was to me… a child I thought was mentally disabled is totally fine after six months of prayer, love, patience, and a little therapy. He’s a totally normal kid now!”
Jake was born into a situation that to the human eye would look like an accident, but I rebuke any such statement, thought or lie presented to us by the enemy. Jake’s existence, his being here on planet earth in this time frame, in China, made up of the DNA he is made up with is without a shadow of a doubt in my mind no accident, no random event, and his being found is no coincidence.
I think it’s easy to say to someone who has been adopted that they aren’t a mistake or an accident or a regret. It’s easy to say things like “you are chosen,” “you are valuable,” “you are worthy,” because it’s true, they are chosen. Regardless of our family histories and stories, we are all chosen, valuable and worthy, simply because even if it was a random act that got us here, even if we did grow up in a careless family, or no family at all, it is not a random and careless God who brought us into this world.
It’s easy to say that, but it’s much harder to believe, or at least to live in a way that we believe it. And I say we because I do not have a one up on Jake on living an abundant life simply because I wasn’t adopted or because I can see life a few shades clearer than him, which doesn’t mean I can see clearly at all.
Whether the rain is gone or not, my clarity of vision is skewed… I’m blinded by my own sin, my own humanity, my own broken story and time and time again I settle for less than what God has to offer because I allow the nature of my sin or the origin of my story to dictate who I am. I feed into the lie that I’m not chosen, not valuable, not worthy and I function out of a place of believing I am mistake of sorts instead of shifting my focus to the One who intentionally created me in His image…the same Creator who created Jake in His image. Jake’s condition is not a mistake, nor a punishment, nor an exemption from living abundantly. And so it goes with me, with each of us and whatever obstacles we might face, our conditions, our circumstances, our stories are never to be used as an excuse to merely survive this life.
And so I think about Jake… to have the story he has and the visual impairment that he has are only parts of him, they are not definitions of him and because of this he lives a full, abundant life that involves a great deal of learning and laughter and singing B-I-N-G-O, (which is apparently his favorite song to sing). Jake doesn’t need the abundance of what America has to offer in order to see how worth living life is.
My prayer for Jake as he grows up is that his identity is formed out of the truth that he was found and chosen. If we all functioned out of this truth, that no matter our circumstance or story, we all were lost but now are found, could change the world. Maybe that sounds a bit naive or extreme, but I don’t think so. I can’t claim to serve the God that I do, the creator of the heavens and the earth and sit idly by as if I’m not capable of being used by Him in mighty big ways, as was true for my brothers and sisters, Moses, David, Joseph, Ruth, Rahab, and continues to be true for my brothers and sisters today, including “those kids” at Bethel, including Jake.
If you want to step outside of your own world, your own bubble, your own set of issues (don’t worry, we all have them), and be reminded of the simplistic beauty to live each day to the fullest, which may look like different for each of us, some people may need to face a big fear today and others may need help just getting out of bed, but whatever baby step you can take today to live this life well, take it, and take a look at how others very different from you and me are taking that step to live their lives full, rich and well at Bethel.
You can find on Bethel’s website ways to add to the lives of Jake and his friends, be it through adoption, child sponsorship, mentorship, and sure prayer, but act on that prayer. I believe answered prayer is a combination of divine intervention and human initiative. Even if that human initiative is one dollar, that’s one dollar towards something huge instead of a selfless thought that never saw the light of day to make the day brighter for someone else. If only we acted on loving others half as much as we thought about what a good idea it would be to do so.
As for Jake, well, my little friend, you and I have never met, but I hope someone relays to you one day the impact you made on a 30-year-old American girl living the “high life” in Southern California. You see life a few shades clearer than most of us could ever hope to imagine, and so your story has reminded me to never stop imagining, no matter how cloudy some days may get. Your story has reminded me that the “high life” is an inside job and that I can live life well no matter where I am when all is well with my soul. Your story has reminded me that love not only saves people but it helps them thrive and grow and become who they were meant to be. Your story has reminded me to laugh harder and sing more no matter how old I get. Your story has reminded me to look harder for things that matter most in life.
And may you know that you possess inside of you the potential to change a village, a nation, a generation, even the world. As you grow up, read about our brother Moses… abandoned, adopted, rejected, disowned, insecure, speech impediment, not to mention a murderer, and yet (I love those two words), it was he who set a whole nation free from slavery. May you grow to know our Lord and know He chose you not just to survive this life, but He chose you for big and mighty things. He needed the DNA you are made of in order to create you and He knew you would thrive better planted in different soil.
Your story is one of great, great victory.
You are chosen, and so I say to you as one of my high-school students recently said to me, do you and do you well!