So we came to China, as we go everywhere, with a purpose: we came with the desire to love people, to help where we can, and to leave it a better place than when we arrived. However, even with our best intentions, when you can’t speak Chinese, it is extremely difficult to connect with local needs (because we can’t UNDERSTAND the local needs). So when some friends of ours mentioned a special needs orphanage in the Shandong province that may need assistance, we jumped on board and asked to go along on a small, reconnaissance- type mission trip that they were going to be taking.
We met up with Dave, Bruna and Frank, the driver they’d hired, early Thursday morning. Being a Chinese holiday, we didn’t realize how much that would already affect our morning, but since there were no taxis, we had to take a bus and walk half a mile to get to them. Then we set out for the small, rural city of Da Dian which was not too far away- only a three and a half to four hour drive. We got to cross a bucket list item off our list on the way there… crossing the longest sea bridge in the world. The Qingdao Haiwan Bridge, going from Qingdao to Huangdao, China, spans a whopping 42.5 kilometers!!!
Traffic proved to be much more problematic than we had expected. Since it was a holiday, not only were many more people on the road, but there were many more accidents. We hit one stretch along this seemingly never-ending bridge and we saw no less than 7 accidents: some small fender benders, others affecting 3-5 cars. Needless to say, the trip there took longer than expected.
Finally, after driving down tiny dirt roads through fields and pastures, we arrived at our destination. Just through the gate on our right side was the greenhouse, blooming with green, color, and produce; on our left were chickens and baby chicks running around squawking loudly; as we pulled around to park in front of their home, wild goats roamed and children played. Welcome to House of Mephibosheth.
Why Mephibosheth, you might ask. In the Bible, after King David’s (crazy) father-in-law Saul and his best friend Jonathan (Saul’s son) had been killed, he looked for a way to show kindness to their family. He asked around to see if there was anyone in their family who was still alive. By chance, there was one son of Jonathan remaining- his name was Mephibosheth. He had been crippled in both feet as a young boy and cast aside by society, but David took it upon himself to restore his father’s land to him and he promised to always let him eat at his royal table. In the same way, House of Mephibosheth was formed to look after those who were abandoned by the world and to give them a chance to eat at the table of a king (Jesus) forever.
After eating lunch with Steve and his 8 children (both adopted and natural), he showed us around the complex. Steve and his wife Xinwei had built this complex from the ground up (with actual planning and design assistance from the kids). It had taken nearly 8 years to construct, but what a place! Their vision for House of Mephibosheth was to make it a sort of play-land/ theme park for children with special needs, a place where these children could realize who they are and what they are really capable of, and where they could see themselves for their abilities, not their disabilities. We walked down to the house where their 8 special needs orphans live and watched as they were gently fed and cared for.
While we were on this first initial visit, we were astounded by one thing over and over again- people kept on coming; people from the village where they lived, people who had heard about their ministry and others who they had never before met. When we were down there, there was an elderly man who had come to make an offering and he held Steve’s hand and cried because he felt so honored to give to such a wonderful ministry. It was beautiful. That was the first time the tears started falling, but it wouldn’t be the last.
We spent the afternoon with Steve’s kids Faith, Ben, Helen, Azariah, Zuriel, Rain, Cocoa, and Raymie. There were more visitors in the afternoon. One large group came and brought toys for all the kids so we spent lots of time reading, playing with play dough, doing puzzles and coloring with the kiddos.
As the afternoon wore on, we jumped on the trampoline and watched the kids play in the water hole, making an imaginary boat out of a storage bin and playing “pirate” with each other. Zozo (Zuriel) caught a fish, the boat capsized with Cocoa onboard, and the boat was pelted with “friendly fire” of pebbles.
Then Steve sat down with us and showed us a documentary that the local CCTV (China) station had done on their ministry. We heard the adoption stories of Ben and Faith, both with cerebral palsy and of Helen, who had a cleft lip. We watched this mixed family interact and laugh and love each other and it was beautiful. We sang hymns before dinner and then went to bed early after a long and exhausting day of travel and play.
The next morning we woke up to breakfast made mostly of things from their greenhouse, along with some fresh goat’s milk. The boys (6 and 8) took us out for a run around the village. We fought the wind, uphill and down, through fields and along the back roads of the Chinese countryside. We encountered working farmers, toothless old men, lots of graves, and lots of smiles. I’m sure they were all wondering who these foreigners were!
After our run, we decided to go into the city to buy some fruit as a special treat for all the kids. We hopped in the van and went to a simple street market where we loaded up on cherries, strawberries, watermelon, apricots, mangoes… you name it!
We went back and made a big fruit salad and cut up the watermelon and brought it down to the kids. What a fun time! Watching these precious little ones enjoy the sweet fruit with juice dripping down their chins while begging for more was so cute. Little Moses especially made me smile… he LOVED watermelon… a baby after my own heart. Shawn too.
We were able to spend a lot more time with the kids this time around, and especially with a little guy named Tian. This little guy was born with deformed feet and had been discarded multiple times before Steve and Xinwei got to him. They paid for him to have a surgery where they literally cut his feet apart and put them back together correctly. But now he is able to walk and pull himself around. He loved to come sit in my lap and have me carry him places. He showed me the greenhouse and all the plants, he showed me the new buildings that were still under construction, he convinced me to let him jump on my bed (I couldn’t resist), and I pushed him around on a trike for a while.
Later in the afternoon, Steve finally put us to work. Bruna and I offered to help Xinwei, Steve’s wife (who has cancer) but ended up staying back with the special needs kids and his kids (they always play together and his kids are very helpful). We watched them play with the baby chicks and go down the slide. They were loving it!
The boys helped do some random house things- fixing doorknobs, doors, and then the big project, trying to help fix Ben’s “quad.” Yes, that’s right, Ben has a little four wheeler that he can drive and ride. He had told his dad when he was younger that he wanted to run fast, but since that is impossible with his condition, he decided to build him a machine that could give him the same effect. He is planning to make a Segway for Faith as well because it is her dream to dance. It is amazing the things he creates! And all out of scrap pieces that he just puts together! What imagination!!!
What I love about Steve is his practicality. His kids want something, he will make it happen. He sees things in them that others do not. Take Shawn for example. Shawn is an adult, Shawn is mute. Nobody thought Shawn was capable of doing anything… but Steve did. Later he found out that he was completely of sound mind, he just couldn’t talk… but he sure can text! So now Shawn has a phone and texts what he wants to say. He helps take care of the other orphans. Not only has Steve given him a job and a purpose, but he has also given him a voice. It is a beautiful thing. Not only that, but Shawn is so full of JOY!!! He is such an inspiration!
That evening, we sat down and chatted. The kids showed us some blueprints for things that they were thinking of making… and we watched parkour videos… random, I know, but they loved them! We simply enjoyed our last evening there with this inspirational family. It was a beautiful time of love and laughter!
The last thing I want to share about our time there was a private time when just Bruna and I were chatting with Steve. A family came in (one of MANY groups who came through there during our few day stay) and sat down with him to talk. The old man and his daughter were believers and they brought her husband along, who had a bad drinking problem. They asked Steve for help. So, as we watched, Steve talked with this man, using Ben as his translator (Ben is BRILLIANT), and you could see that the walls that this man had put up were beginning to come down. We watched this man come to Christ right there in his living room. It was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever had the privilege to see. The honesty in this man’s voice as he clearly recognized that he was a sinner and that he needed help to stop drinking was heart wrenching and as he poured out his heart to the Lord, I swear I could hear the angels rejoicing.
Our time there was such an incredible blessing! We spent one more morning around their table and it was such a perfect picture of what our Lord invites us into. We have nothing in and of ourselves that qualifies us to sit at the King’s table, yet he invites us, he clothes us with righteousness, and he showers us with kindness, blessings and undeserved love.
After breakfast, we hopped on one of several buses that would take us back to Qingdao. Bus riding in China is always an experience… because in China, there is no such thing as a “full bus” or “personal space.” So when the bus filled up, people began to fill up the aisle and sat on the floor or stood. One guy even whipped out a stool to sit on! Dave ended up with a Chinese man sleeping on his shoulder. It was a hot, sweaty ride, but it was the end to an experience I will never forget!
I wish I could say that I know how they are all doing now, several years later. I do know that Xinwei has since passed. I have no idea how Steve and all of those kids are doing, but I do know that the Lord is faithful and that He WILL continue to provide for them!