Recently I had the opportunity to visit a number of orphanages and schools for special children in several Chinese cities. Some contained mostly infants, the majority of whom would be adopted by families outside China. Others had children ranging in age from toddlers to teens. Several specialized in caring for children with disabilities, while others had residents whose only shared characteristic was simply that their parents were nowhere to be found. Despite such wide diversity, several common factors stood out in these small communities of hope, all of which were run by Christians.
Compassionate entrepreneurs. Each facility was started by someone who saw a need and responded creatively. Similar to the story of White Dove in this issue of ChinaSource, they did not necessarily set out looking for an opportunity to help others, but when the need presented itself, neither did they shrink back. In one case the mother of a child born with a disability realized that no support system existed for families with similar children, so she set out to build one by starting a school for children like her daughter. Other institutions were started by foreign Christians whose acts of compassion created the space for other believers, both local and foreign, to step in and get involved.
Partnership. Whether started indigenously or by foreigners, each example involved partnership between Christians inside and outside China. The foreign component was not limited to funding, but could involve staffing, professional expertise (often through visits by short-term specialists), or consulting in areas such as fund development or strategic planning. In most cases there was a three-way partnership, with the government providing some funding, personnel or facilities.
Public recognition. Over dinner with friends in a large city we began to describe an orphanage in an obscure suburb we had just visited. "Oh yes," our hostess interjected, "I just read about that place in the paper this week."
Beyond their immediate benefit to the children they serve, these orphanages and schools also provide an example of caring and generosity to the community at large. The fact that those doing the work are motivated by the love of Christ is usually not hidden.
"Complicated"official relationships. Despite widespread public affirmation, these institutions do not necessarily enjoy unqualified official favor. In a legal climate where the regulations governing non-profit organizations are still being written, officials operate out of a variety of motives, and boundaries for foreign involvement are often fuzzy at best, one's status vis--vis the government cannot be guaranteed. Tact, discernment and much grace are necessary ingredients in successful official relationships.
Changed lives produce changed communities. While widespread transformation in China's megacities may seem at times to be a discouragingly remote possibility, these small communities of hope provide a reminder of what can be done when God's people heed Christ's command to "let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).
Image credit; Journal Entry (Joel Montes de Oca) by Chris Lott, on Flickr.
Brent Fulton is the president of ChinaSource and the editor of the ChinaSource Quarterly. Prior to assuming his current position, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding US director of... View Full Bio