West Meets East

A Trip That Changes my Identity. . .

The bus turns a sharp right and pulls into the driveway bumping over potholes and it's right then that I first saw her.  She was sitting on a bench and waiting for us.  She is holding a basketball in my memory that is tattered and worn and she quickly drops it under the bench and runs towards the bus.  Her black braids are flying behind her and I see her motioning to the other children that we are finally here and then I see them run out and up to the bus and I am feeling a little overwhelmed looking into their dark eyes through the window and wondering what their stories are.  Wondering and yet a little afraid to know.  But there is something about this girl that later on prods me to ask for her story but when I do, her story brings a depth to my grief I have never known.

Truth be told, when he said "We're here!" I didn't want to believe him.  I don't know what I expected but I think I thought it would be a little more modern, that there would be running water and I was not expecting an outhouse.  I think I thought that the rooms would have beds and blankets and such and yet they showed us their rooms and the concrete floors were cold and hard.  They showed us their little mats and how they sleep 3 across and I can tell they are pleased and proud of their small amount of personal belongings and I wondered if they knew what our homes looked like or how many pillows and blankets alone we have in our home and I hung my head a little bit remembering that we have 10 pillows and how I was just considering getting new ones for our bed because ours are "older" by my standards and lost their fluff.  And I hung it a little bit more remembering my home shopping list that I have been working on to finish settling our new home and how many times I have gone to Ikea for home supplies in the last year.

The kids wait with patience and eagerness for our family to get off of the bus and I look each child in the eye as we exit the bus and enter into their world, and with a groaning heart I pray for them to know how special they are and to experience love and acceptance.  I pray for the chains of shame to be lifted and for each child to be unshackled and released from the pain and the loss and the grief.  To look at them and play and jump rope and have them beat us at HORSE with that tattered basketball, you would never know the pain and horror of which they have seen and experienced.  I ask for the stories.  I listen to the stories and I hear the unspoken.

And here in this tiny corner of Asia, I am undone. Just like that.  Completely. Totally. Utterly undone.  If I could find a quiet place to sob my tears and to absorb some of the loss I see in each set of eyes I would but there is no such option right now and I ask for the strength to set them aside and to bless these precious ones while we are here and to bring joy and escape from the ache that I am certain haunts them.  Some have watched their father die and then their very own mother be dragged away from them with wires piercing their hands and shoulders, drug away to be "repatriated" into a country they themselves can never go - alone, unwanted, deserted.  Some of these precious ones have been abandoned as their mom returned to care for elderly, starving parents and grandparents and can not return for her child.  And one sweet 8 year old girl with the haunting black eyes, a toothless grin and two black braids that fly in the wind when she runs, watched the process of poverty and need after her dad's suicide turn her mom to desperation as she sold her self to buy clothes, food and supplies.  One nights sale led to a little girls worst nightmare - a tragedy leaving her alone. Completely alone in the world now.  Every family member that she has ever known has been buried and there is no one to call, no one to call her.  And as I hear this story. . . I.  Am. Undone.

We step inside and the smell is so overwhelming and uncomfortable for me, I can not describe what it is.  I know the house is clean. I can tell it's clean and orderly and that the house mom and dad do the best with what they have been given.  But a all 24 of these sweet kids, ages 6-17 and my family of five, and 3 of our hosts plus the house mom and dad gather, there are 34 of us in this small entryway/living room and the smell is overwhelming.  My kids have found their places nestled on mats close to me.  Hudson wants so much to be a brother to these kids for a few hours but he speaks neither of their two languages well enough so he smiles at each boy he has eyed up to be closest to his age and waves with one hand.  They smile and wave back and I learn that friendships can begin without words if love is present. And he loves them.  I can see it in each cheeky grin and they can too.  I think they love him back just a little bit.  The girls have sized Abby up and the ones closest to her age volley for position on the cold concrete next to her.  They smile shyly and out of the corner of my eye I see one 7 year old girl quietly touch Abby's long golden locks.  It's the first time she has seen an American girl her own age.  Abby shyly looks at her and they both giggle.  I learn that laughter crosses all language and cultural barriers and that when 7-8 year old girls laugh together, friendship is born.  They jumped rope together and laughed more later each time they missed the rope and shared that deep belly laughter together when it got tangled around me!  They would cry and hold onto each others hands when they parted ways  just 3 hours later.

But Levi, he comes to me from across the room and says in Chinese, "Mama bao bao." Which means, "Mommy, hold me."  and he snuggles up on my lap and is overwhelmed by the amount of people looking at him and maybe by the smell of the room we are in and he burrows his head into my arm.  I look up and I see his sweet ,dark eyes watching.  I know that he heard those words, "Mama, bao bao." and I imagine he is remembering the last time that he said those words to his Mama.  Later I ask for his story and I find out he was 3 when he came to this home, the same age as my Levi is now.  I wonder what he remembers.  His Dad bought his mom. She was purchased with cold, hard cash.  Did you catch that? He bought her, like one might buy a couch . . . or a car. . . . or a. . . a. . . . an animal.  He wanted a wife so he paid a small fee and bought himself one and they were "married" or had an arrangement at least.  Their son was born and life was dysfunctional but life was the 3 of them.  But his father got sick or maybe it was the drugs or the alcohol that made him sick but too much one night and he was gone, leaving his possessions to his family.  Somehow their arrangement was not upheld after he died and she was left as an illegal alien with no one to claim her.  No details of her repatriation were given but I'm sure it was not kind or pleasant and she was returned "to the proper place" inside her native country.  But the proper place should have been right here next to her little boy.  He was just three at the time and his world was turned upside down that day.  He is here now, and the people are kind, they are nice, they care for his needs but the kids at school tease him sometimes.  Not loud enough to get caught but quiet little whispered teasing words wound his fragile heart but he knows better than to tell on them.  He would pay a deeper price if he did that so he takes their whispered words and tries to forget.  But, I know. . . I KNOW. . . I can tell by looking in his eyes, although I didn't ask him, that sometimes he cries.  Sometimes all he wants in this whole wide world is for his mama to walk through that farm gate and bao bao (hold him). And he wishes even harder that she had never had to go in the first place.  I have never in all my life wished to be someone else but today I wished that I could be his mama. If only just to tell him how special he is and to hold him, to look at his art piece and to be amazed as only a mama can be over her sons work and I wanted to be his mama so I could tell him how I see his grandfather or his grandmother  in his eyes when he smiles.

I wanted to be his Mama whispering powerful words of hope and healing into his ear.  I wanted to have the history with this child to bring comfort and hope to him for his future.  To play a silly game that he likes, like the alligator game and tickle him silly when I caught him and to hear him call out "Mama" and to see the joy in his eyes return when I was there.  Again, I am undone today.  For as far as our world has come in international relations and technology and a million other things, my heart can not settle itself that these kinds of things still happen to  real people and to innocent children anywhere in the world!

We drive our little bus with all 34 of us on it to a restaurant and my husband and I team teach a short lesson on how they are beautiful and special and unique as image bearers of God.  He tells them they are deeply loved and how they are lovable children.  How there is no one else in the world exactly like them.  He has given each one of them different gifts, abilities, passions and burdens.  From their physical bodies down to their finger tips they were created with love and with purpose.  He tells them that God has  purposes for them and different roles for them to play in this world.  He tells them that they are each gifted and unique and special in many ways and how He wants them to use their special gifts and to live out their purposes.  They seem to eat up my husbands words the way my children eat up a bowl of popcorn on a Friday night movie night.  They are engaged.  When he is done talking, I bring out the paper and paint - lots of colors to choose from and I show them how to use their very fingerprint to fill in the leaves and framework for a tree.  Then I talk briefly about how our gifts and talents and unique contributions were not meant to keep to ourselves to to be used and shared in the context of community.  They each use their fingerprints on each others papers and walk away with a beautiful "friendship tree" that symbolically will remind them of how special and loved they are and how their willingness to live out their calling in the world with others in community creates beauty and is life giving like a blossoming tree.  And then the sweet little girl with the braids comes up and she brings me a beautiful painting.  They made me a "friendship tree " too and I am moved to tears that these precious ones who have (in their short lifetimes) been betrayed, abandoned, neglected, left without hope, and unwanted, would treat me (who they have just met) as a friend.  I was told "trust" is a slow process because of what the  have been through and because of the cultural issues surrounding them.  So, I am once again undone that they would trust me enough to call me a friend.  Maybe "undone" is becoming a new identity for me because in my state of being and feeling "undone",  I have not felt so alive and so full of purpose and hope.

It starts to rain on our way back to their home and they slowly get off of the bus, there are tears as my kids say goodbye and one cute little girl with those two black braids just won't let go of Abby's hands.  The doors begin to close and the driver turns the bus around.  Abby is crying.  Levi has his nose pressed against the window trying to make the boys laugh at his squished up nose and farting noises and Hudson is waving with that cheeky grin.  As we pull away we all take one last look and as we do, they begin chasing our bus and waving to us.

And I don't want to leave. I have not felt so alive and so full of purpose and hope in a long time.

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