The bus arrives, full of clamouring children. Wheelchairs are unbundled from the under-coach storage, children are passed through the door like parcels being unpacked. Somebody is reading out a list of names of children, volunteers and translators. Everyone is listening eagerly for their name, wanting the first glimpse of their children for the week, hungry for every memory in this week that is too short.
As they make their way off the bus, some of the kids are crying, some are laughing, but most just look a little overwhelmed by all the strangeness around them. I hang back a little, not sure of all that’s going on. Another name is called, suddenly I hear mine. My first little girl is handed off the bus, a beautiful, precious little girl; my translator April picks her up and we move a little away from the bustling crowd. April asks her name, but no response, I think she’s probably just feeling nervous or shy or anxious. I hear my name called again so I leave April with the girl with no name and head back into the crowd next to the bus. My next child is handed off the bus, she needs a chair to get around; we take one of the ones that were unloaded earlier. We make our way back over to April and see her holding hands with a now smiling little girl. Her name is Wen Jia and she’s been to camp before – some of the staff already know her, I am told a few times that we’re going to have fun this week, she’s a crazy one J. April tells me that the little girl in the chair’s name is Meng-ting (e pronounced like uh); she seems so excited to be around all these people. These two beautiful wonderful little girls have already stolen my heart and I know there’s no way it will ever be the same again.
As the fuss dies down and the bus leaves, we turn to make our way inside, a complete family group now. The first day passes in a kind of blur, getting used to everybody’s schedules, adapting to this strange but amazing place in which I find myself, even getting used to the fact that there is one lift for 80 people, about a fifth of whom are in wheelchairs (a game develops during the week to see how many people can fit into the designated 13 person lift; it turns out that the magic number at which the lift breaks is 22 adults who should have known better!).
Swimming is a wonderful exciting experience, Wen Jia’s lifejacket is so big, she has to look out the armholes to be able to see, Meng-ting just wants to splash and move about, have some freedom from the chair for a couple of hours. There’s no nervousness left in me, it all just feels completely natural, and the first moment that I am called jie jie is one of the best in my life. These little girls who took my heart only a matter of hours earlier trust me enough to call me big sister.
Assembly is crazy, funny, wonderful and all the kids love it. Those that are able jump to their feet, dancing, singing, smiling, laughing. Already God is touching their spirits, lifting them up. Storytime entrances them all, sitting there enthralled by a tale whose meaning will hopefully one day become clear to them.
The next few days pass by far too quickly; we are all trying not to think about Friday when they will have to leave us. Filling their hearts with love and showing them they are special and cared for and wonderful is all that is on my mind. Each day brings new laughter, games, amazing times; my heart breaks so often I cannot believe it still beats. Even a simple thing like being able to buy them milk teas after lunch brings me so much joy that I can hardly bear it.
Our talent show is a truly Irish affair – we have taught them Irish dancing, and one of the girls plays the tin whistle to huge applause. The face paint goes down a treat with the girls, especially once they see themselves in the mirror. Even the translators are asking to join in; there are a lot of Irish flags painted on cheeks that night.
Friday rolls around, and I can see on everybody’s faces that they have all been altered this week too. Breakfast is a somewhat subdued affair, although we all try to keep up the façade so that our kids might not feel so sad. Letter reading brings tears, emotional outbursts and sadness from practically everybody. Finally comes pack-up time, putting all the gifts we brought them into their bags; ‘just don’t think about later on’ my head keeps saying, ‘just enjoy this moment, show them you love them unconditionally with all your heart, and through that, show them God’s love, for they are so wonderfully loved and don’t even know it’.
Wen Jia is running around like a mad thing when the bus finally does arrive; she seems to slow down as she sees it, but I don’t know how much or even if she fully understands that she has to leave. I carry Meng-ting up the stairs and the two girls sit together on the bus, quiet now, possibly realising that camp is coming to an end. I had told myself all day that I wasn’t going to cry but at this point my resolve breaks into a million pieces. The tears stream freely down my face as I make my way off the bus. We wave and wave again and blow kisses until the bus is out of sight, and then the group of volunteers and translators each turn to one another, unwilling or unable to believe that our perfect families have been torn apart.
Such an outpouring of grief among this group of people brought together by a single idea, by the need to show God’s love to Chinese orphans, was incredible, and I saw so clearly at that moment that God’s plan all along had been to bring us to China, to serve, to do His will and to love these children.
As we sit in the corridor later on, crying, praying, singing quiet songs, everything seems so wrong but so right at the same time; that we should have been brought here to be poured out for these kids. They have taken root in corners of our hearts, and that love will never be destroyed. It really just brings home the message that God is great and powerful, and we need to trust in Him to bring us to where He has decided