In September of 2016, Mrs. Cheung-Ang Siew Mei, Executive Director of Christian Action, contacted my family and asked if I would be interested in joining a pilot program called “Back to Serve” that God had put on her mind; inviting former adoptees to return to Qinghai and serve for six months. Bingjie Turner and I answered her call, and we arrived in Hong Kong early last year on April 29th to begin our one-month orientation and training, to be better equipped to provide the orphans of Qinghai the care they deserve and need.
“Back to Serve” has been an emotional and self-healing journey for me since from a young age I learned to keep all my feelings to myself because I had no one to talk to about them. It was an emotional journey because it meant that I had to come face to face with my past, the past that I had buried so long ago. It meant that I had to relive all those memories, the good and the bad. During this entire journey, sharing my story with other people has been the most difficult part for me. During my first sharing in a public gathering, I started to cry even before I began sharing. In the end though, it turned out to be a good thing, as my crying during the presentation left a huge impression on the audience.
When I started this journey, I thought that service at Qinghai would be easy breeze for me; I would reconnect with old friends, meet new friends, brush up on my Chinese heritage and just enjoy my time there. I was not prepared for the emotional roller-coaster that followed. At first, I was very excited to meet up with all my old friends, especially my foster grandmother and the young adults that live at the Bridging Program. But I broke down completely when I met my foster grandmother for the first time, as I was shocked to see how her health had deteriorated over the past ten years. In fact, I was so scared and sad to see her in that condition that I did not go back to see her again for several months to emotionally prepare myself before I saw her again.
When I met the young adults for the first time, they could not believe their eyes that I was physically there and were super excited to hear that I was going to spend the next six months with them doing volunteer service. Due to my petite size and my love of art, they placed me at the Special Education Department in the Xi Ning Children’s Home (XNCH) and the Social Welfare Institute (SWI).
At the Social Welfare Institute, I really connected well with the young adults. In the beginning, we just talked and tried to reconnect. As time passed, they opened up more and shared some of their more personal stories with me; some of their stories just broke my heart. It was difficult for me to leave them again, knowing how much work needed to be done, even though I felt like I hadn’t accomplished anything during my stay. I suppose my being there physically gave them some comfort.
The more time I spent at the Social Welfare Institute and Xi Ning Children’s Home, the harder it got for me. I was constantly retelling my personal story to strangers in order to promote and advocate for the children at the children’s home. Everywhere I walked, I recalled roads that I used to walk on with my two foster grandmothers during my childhood. The memories of their unconditional love and devotion they showed me brought me to tears every time I thought about them.
At the children’s home, there were memories both happy and sad, especially the sad memories that I had buried so long ago. It was very difficult for me to reopen those old wounds after all these years. My greatest takeaway from this trip is that I ended my journey with a lighter heart than when I first began, having summoned the courage to come face to face with my past, and coming to terms with it by sharing my story with other people.
After my time at the Social Welfare Institute with the young adults at the Bridging Program and the children at the Xi Ning Children’s Home, I am more determined than ever to lend a hand to those in need. Despite all the emotional baggage that I encountered on this journey, it was a wonderful experience. It was a truly self-rewarding feeling to be doing something good for those in need. This trip gave me the opportunity to reconnect with my Chinese heritage, my foster grandmother, old friends and connect with new friends along the way. Most of all, it was an unforgettable experience, and a constant reminder of how blessed I am with the life I have right now.