My dark-haired, dark-eyed son sticks out in our otherwise light-haired, blue-eyed family. So, we can attract a little attention and just a few questions in the grocery store checkout line or our neighborhood park. Usually the questions range from “Where is your son from?” to “Is he adopted?” or something along those lines.
As long as the question is asked politely, I don’t mind sharing that yes, he is adopted from China. The follow up question to this is most likely, “Why did you adopt from China?” A good question and the usual answer of “Because we used to live there” was enough to satisfy many people’s curiosity of our mismatched and beautifully-created family.
Some will prod further and asked where in China we lived, to which until last month I would say, “A big city most people have never heard of, somewhere close to Shanghai.” (Which is like saying North Carolina is close to Florida!) Now, however, I just open my mouth and say,
You’d think I just said “Mars” the way most people have looked at me this month as I uttered that once heart-warming word. Because, for me, “Wuhan” is home, my China home. We lived there for two years and have gone back to visit whenever we can. But most people don’t know “my” Wuhan. They only know the HazMat suits and masked-faced crowds Wuhan. The hospitals-built-in-ten-days-and-teeming-with-people Wuhan. The “dirty”-wet-market Wuhan. And whatever-else-is-floating-around-on-social-media Wuhan.
Now, I don’t blame the average person for hearing and believing whatever the most popular story shared a million times on social media. I personally try to refrain from diving into that world unless it’s personal stories from our friends in Wuhan or articles they share, however I know the average American isn’t able to access their news from boots on the ground. However, what I am shocked about is the general attitude about Wuhan and China. I try not to avoid all the negativity, but sometimes the criticism finds me and I have to face it square on.
Like the person who suggested that my precious son is infectious, just because he is from China. (When in reality, he has never been to Wuhan, but I, the white American, was in Wuhan a little over a year ago.)
Like the people who tell us aghast “You should never go to China! It isn’t safe!” when we say we’re adopting again and hope to bring our next son home this summer.
Like the comments on social media about how all wet markets should be abolished.
Like the ideas floating around that Wuhan is a dirty city and therefore somehow deserves this.
It always amazes me how, when disaster strikes far away from us, we can be so quick to judge. To lend answers instead of listening. To criticize instead of have compassion.
Because, the coronavirus could have started in your hometown or mine. It could have started in the grocery store I shop at weekly or the butcher’s market you frequent. None of us are immune or deserve tragedy, especially my sweet friends in Wuhan. Let me tell you about these precious, caring, and kind-hearted people. Because, once you see faces amidst a crowd, it isn’t a crowd anymore…they are humans. Humans just like you and me, with families and dreams and worries and joy and pain.
Meet my friend Eva. She was my TA (teacher’s assistant) the first year I taught at an international school in Wuhan. I came to China with a (ridiculous!) preconceived notation that all Chinese people ate was fish and dogs, neither of which I could stomach. Within the first few moments of meeting her, I learned she doesn’t like fish and she thinks no one should eat dogs...and then I realized I knew nothing about actual China! She took us to restaurants to try yummy authentic Chinese food (which is the best cuisine on earth I quickly discovered!), helped me shop at the local grocery store (because I couldn’t figure out which meats were cow or chicken or something completely else!), and led us in adventures all over the beautiful city of Wuhan. When I was sick, she made sure I got the right medicine, when we flew into the airport very late, she’d come pick us up, and she even visited me this summer in America. She welcomed me into her life, this crazy and helpless foreigner, almost ten years ago, and we still talk to this day.
Meet my friend “The Fruit Guy.” I vividly remember going to the market for the first time and trying to figure out who would be kind to this clueless girl who didn't even know her numbers or "I want that" in Mandarin. At the first fruit stand inside the market, I pointed to a pile of apples and held out five fingers, hoping the man would somehow understand. He pulled out his calculator (a sure sign of someone's kindness) and the rest was history...he was my official fruit guy for our duration there! Through his patient encouragement, I went from hand signals and calculators to "wu ge" (five) to "wu ge pingguo" to "wo yao wu gu pingguo." (I want five apples.) This only happened because he would always greet me with a smile, correct my tones and pronunciation, and teach me new fruit names to expand my vocabulary. He also let me practice small talk, which usually revolved around the weather. (Usually, "It is so hot" or "It is so cold!")
And meet our friends, the chefs/owners at “Grace Place” and “Jiaozi Place.” Outside our apartment complete there was a “walking street” (a street lined with shops and no cars were allowed on) with probably twenty mom-and-pop, greasy-spoon, hole-in-the-wall restaurants. However, the group of expats living there only frequented two of them, mostly because we couldn’t read the menus, but could memorize the five or so dishes we loved there. And so we all ordered the same five dishes with the same instructions: “bu la” (“no spice”-when in a city known for it’s ultra spicy food means taking the heat level from on fire to very spicy!) These sweet, hunched over grandmas and grandpas would warmly greet us each time we entered their abodes, listen through our painstakingly terrible orders, and shower us with the most caring hospitality. They would make sure we had the best table, all the “mifan” (rice) we wanted, and remember our favorite dishes for future orders. One time I couldn’t remember exactly which “jiaozi” (“dumplings”) we normally ordered and this sweet lady pointed and said something along the lines of “you always order that one.” When we went back to Wuhan for one day last year, we made sure to eat at these two delicious and sorely-missed places and while our tummies were bursting with yummy goodness, our hearts overflowed even more being treated like a “regular” back at our favorite spot.
And these are just a few of the caring souls who made our time in Wuhan so welcoming. I could tell you about Julia, a sweet co-worker, who invited us to her hometown outside of Wuhan for Chinese New Year (which is equivalent to inviting someone who’s never celebrated Christmas home for the holidays!). And then there’s the taxi drivers who would patiently listen to my broken memorized directions where I wanted to go. And the precious girls at the nail salon, who would transform a pedicure into a two-hour long pampering session while we each taught the other a few words in our own language. (I quickly mastered “I want a white flower on my toe please!”) And, we will never forget the long-suffering milk tea guy, who would oh so kindly listen to my order (“I want one small cold milk tea and one large cold milk tea with tapioca pearls”), smile, and make our milk teas the same way he did bi-weekly (or sometimes tri- or more weekly!). He didn’t have to listen, but his pleasant grin each time I bravely blurted out the words encouraged me to keep on speaking.
So, why do I want you to meet my Wuhan friends? I wish I could introduce them to you in person, but for now, paper will have to do. Because, when the news or that social media post is speaking about Wuhan, it’s talking about them. About Eva and the fruit guy and my nail salon friends. They aren’t a nameless mob, to be thrown together and generalized “dirty” or “sick” or anything else. And my mama bear’s heart rises in anger when someone is being racist or xenophobic, assuming that since someone such as my precious son looks Chinese, he therefore is infectious.
So, instead of criticizing governments and people, what can we as Christians do instead? Well, there’s the obvious answer “pray”…but for what? Here’s a few ideas to get you started:
- Pray for those infected to be healed, as well as for strength and wisdom for the family members and hospital staff caring for these precious souls. I watched a video of a husband, tenderly caring for his wife, a nurse who contracted the sickness while taking care of her patients. His sacrificial love for her perfectly mirrored Jesus’s love for His bride, the church, literally laying down His life for her.
- Pray for all those being quarantined in Wuhan and around the world. Although our friends in Wuhan have plenty of food, being confined to your apartment for an indefinite number of days is frightening. One friend openly shared how she is struggling emotionally, fighting fears of hoarding food and keeping her family safe. Others who have be quarantined around the world have suffered through days of being alone, sometimes whole families in small rooms for five days straight. Pray for the mental and spiritual health of those who have lost their physical freedoms. Also, expats are finding that after being quarantined, some family members and even churches will not give them a place to stay. Imagine being displaced from your home abroad, only to not be welcome back to your home country, even though you are healthy and have been through a traumatic experience.
- Pray for all those waiting families adopting from China, as well as for all the orphans and nannies on lockdown in orphanages across China. This is a selfish request, really, since our adoption is on indefinite hold until the government gives the green light to start processing adoptions again. Families, after counting down for weeks, months, and years to bring their precious child home, with bags packed and days away from travel were told they could not fly to China. So many of us have already been matched with a handsome son or beautiful daughter and it’s killing our mama and “baba’s” (“dad”) hearts knowing that our children are perhaps in harm’s way, yet there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. We are so grateful to hear from our son’s orphanage, that he is healthy as of a few weeks ago and that they are on lockdown so that the children remain healthy. My heart goes out to the super-hero nannies who are literally locked in a building with eight hundred children for twenty-four hours a day for over a month now!
- Pray that through this terrible time of tragedy, God’s light will shine through. This coronavirus does not seem or feel “good” in any way. As I talk to my friend worried about her dad working in the hospital, as I read about another friend’s battle with fears, as I hear about a friend’s parents who passed away but she could not get into the city to give them a proper burial, and as I think about my own son locked in an orphanage waiting even longer for his forever family, my mind cannot fathom how this can be “good.” The only thing I can do is be reminded that
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Is. 55:8-9 NIV)
Please join us in praying that though we do not understand, though we grieve at the heartache this virus has caused, we remember that His ways and His thoughts are much bigger, much more amazing than anything we can comprehend.
If you want to show compassion in practical ways for those affected by the coronavirus, here are a few ideas:
- Share uplifting and true stories on social media. Remember the golden rule to “do to others what you would have them do to you”…would you want someone sharing that about your hometown? About your family? About you? Find stories that are inspiring, like about how the husband is caring for his wife or about all the funny ways the people are entertaining themselves during quarantine (think prom dresses made out of toilet paper, Mickey Mouse made out of nuts, and Minute-To-Win-It type games!).
- Talk about it with those connected to China. I read recently that trauma happens when the brain traps difficult experiences and isn’t able to process them. Even if your friend lives in America, he or she might have family in China. Don’t be afraid to frequent your favorite Chinese restaurant and give the waiters an even bigger smile than normal. If you hear of someone being released from quarantine, welcome them with open arms and let them share their story. Because even if someone hasn’t been sick with the virus, the deadly emotional, mental, and even physical effects of this virus can still hurt rthem.
- Support those on the front lines trying to aid the most vulnerable. There are so many organizations working hard to get masks and medical supplies to those who need it. Here are a few outstanding organizations that work primarily with orphans collecting money and donations: CCAI , Love Without Boundaries, and Open Hearts for Orphans.
You might be on your couch or in your car, fully healthy and able to go where you want. You might be at the store and able to walk right in and get exactly what you need when you need it. You might be sick and have to go to the hospital, but not fearing it to be overcrowded or under-supplied. For these and so many other reasons, we have so much to be grateful for. And we owe it to our brothers and sisters in China and around the world to show as much care and compassion for them during this unprecedented time of tragedy. My friend Eva told me, “I’m afraid the world thinks of Wuhan as a dirty or bad city.” Can you help me prove her wrong? I told her that I know the world is full of kind-hearted people, who have compassion and care about the precious people of Wuhan.
Because it could be me and you laying in a hospital bed or stuck in our home for days or rejected by those we love most. How would you want others to show compassion for you? When speaking about the Good Samaritan, Jesus asked who was the true neighbor to the vulnerable man. “The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’ “ (Luke 10:37 NIV)
So, “go and do likewise,” whether that’s from your phone sharing truthful and encouraging stories. Whether that’s just listening to those affected in your own neighborhood. Or whether that’s giving what God has generously blessed you with to those in need. We can’t all go to China right now, but we can all do something for these precious people, my dear friends millions of miles away, but so close to God’s heart and my own.
Chinese New Year decorations in our friend Julia's hometown, just outside of Wuhan.