I was with Daniel when he turned 9 years old. We bought him a small bag of M&Ms, the only birthday present we could find that I thought might be truly his and not group property, and we sang Happy Birthday.
His eyes lit up as he recognized the tune, and he ran off to show his Ayi his present – he smiled all day long. I couldn't help but wonder if it was one of the first times his birthday was acknowledged. His special need is cleft lip/cleft palate. Daniel has had the surgery to repair his lip, but unfortunately his palate hasn't been repaired yet, and it obviously impedes his speech. However, it certainly doesn't stop him! He is at the top of his class at his local school, and was proud to show us his grades. Also, in our week-long stay, he picked up some English and was able to communicate with us on a basic level.
However, it wasn't his being "bright" that drew us to Daniel… it was his sweet spirit. I could tell you multiple stories, but I'll share just a couple. One day, we took several kids to the ocean, a park, to McDonald's, and to Wal-Mart to buy a new outfit. Daniel was matched with Jacob for the day, and he had a wonderful time…he is a very obedient child and tries hard to please. When we went to Wal-Mart, through hand-motions he indicated he didn't want new shoes. Looking at his feet and knowing he needed them, we bought them anyway, and later found out through a translator that he didn't want us to spend our money on him so "excessively" in his opinion. They were about $8.
When we were at McDonald's – the first time in his life that he was able to visit the restaurant he had seen advertised on TV – he gave his sandwich to another child who indicated that she was still hungry, and Daniel happily sat down to eat his French Fries. Of course, we bought him another meal when we saw what he had done, and when he got a box of Chicken Nuggets, he insisted on sharing most of them with us and some of the other kids at the table – even though we had already eaten while he was waiting for his food! What I remember the most about him is that he had such a generous and kind heart. In the course of a few days, he clearly grew to love our group – especially my husband Jacob after the field-trip day. When he came home from school, he would immediately find someone in our team and haltingly pronounce Jacob's name. He'd be persistent until he found Jacob, at which point Daniel would sit as close to Jacob as he could (if not on his lap!) and just quietly be near another person who he sensed loved him as well.
The last day at the orphanage predictably broke our hearts. The orphanage sent Daniel and a few of the other kids to the airport to see us off. When we were saying our goodbyes, Daniel broke down into deep and rolling sobs. He hugged us tightly and wouldn't let go… especially when it came time to say goodbye to Jacob. Our visit to the orphanage drew a lot of media attention, and the reporters were touched by this small child and his open heart and deep love. In fact, his tear-streaked face made the front page of the newspaper in the article covering our last day. One reporter, who I know was just trying to help and comfort Daniel the best way he knew how, started telling Daniel something in Chinese. I didn't know what was being said, but I could see Daniel trying to stifle his tears and wipe his eyes. Daniel was nodding vigorously in response to the reporter's comments and clearly was trying to be strong. I asked a translator what was being said and was broken-hearted to hear that the reporter was telling Daniel that if he was good, didn't cry, and did well in school, he would be adopted by us. Thinking about that moment still makes me cry… I managed to get a translator to explain to Daniel that he was perfect just the way that he was. I told him that we loved him and that if we could bring him with us we would. I'm happy to say that a family is moving forward with his adoption now, so this story has a happy ending.
Daniel, while he is a single child, represents so much more. For those of you familiar with the special needs lists, you'll know that all too often when we are faced with hundreds of children's files who are available for adoption, their faces become a blur. It is impossible to help all of them, and I know we sometimes become paralyzed by the magnitude of the task. Every now and then, though, things slow down. We might get the opportunity to see past the anonymous faces and get to know one particular child for who he really is—We might get to see into his heart and get to know his personality. We might get a glimpse of her dreams and her sorrows. We might get to know one child like I got to know Daniel, at which point it becomes unfathomable to consider leaving them in an orphanage if one had the slightest opportunity to get them out, no matter how great the sacrifice required.
But sometimes getting to know a child becomes an act of faith; all we have is a grainy referral picture and we're left staring at a pair of sad and empty eyes, wondering if there's anyone behind them. All we have is a generic medical chart reporting their height, weight, and abandonment site. At this point, we have to believe that there is a child deserving our love and sacrifice in that photograph; a person who God created with joy and for a distinct purpose. We have to ask the Lord to help us see past our fears and reasons "why not" and ask him to help us move forward in faith. Sometimes, when we do this, the blur of faces stops and we focus on one child, and that encounter can change our lives.
Have you considered adopting an older child or a child with Special Needs? It is something I believe we should all pray about. God doesn't call us all to adopt, but He does desire for us all to care.