Category Archives: Orphan Care

Outreach to orphans in the United States and around the world

Help is here!

There’s a book in the Bible called Exodus. It’s all about God’s faithfulness and grace towards a people who didn’t deserve it and His power to do the seemingly impossible. In it, God saves the Israelites from slavery bringing them right through the Red Sea, they wander the desert with God providing manna from heaven to meet their needs, God gives them the ten commandments, and He comes to dwell among them in the tabernacle. In chapter 18, Moses takes a breath from it all and has a heart to heart with his father-in-law Jethro. Moses tells him all the good stuff that’s been happening, all the things worthy of celebrating, the stories he never imagined he’d be able to tell. He also tells him all the challenges they’ve faced along the way and where they’ve seen great victory and where they hope to see victory still. Jethro listens and affirms and encourages and then he challenges.

Why are you doing this all alone? You’re going to wear yourself out and if you do, what will happen to the people you serve? Moses, this job is too heavy a burden for you to try to handle all by yourself.

Here in our little corner of a suburb of Philadelphia, in our brand new office, that’s the message we heard. We need some help to both carry our burden and increase our capacity for whatever burden God trusts us with.

Last week, help arrived pulling a U-Haul trailer with Texas plates.

When our favorite physical therapists weren’t able to make our orphanage team trip this past October (new babies have a way of affecting plans), I told them I understood entirely…and that they’d have to recruit two doctors to take their place. One of those doctors was Erin. They told me she was faithful, mission minded, an excellent pediatric physical therapist in Texas for over 6 years, and delightful. They knew she’d been feeling a nudge for something but she didn’t know what. China was never on her “bucket list,” but she was willing. They told me this was the perfect trip for her, that it would meet our need and Erin’s as well. They were right.

The October orphanage trip moved her profoundly. That place she had never been particularly drawn to now captivated her. She was overwhelmed by how hard the staff worked in attempts to meet the needs of the children. She was humbled by their servant heartedness to do this work for years on end with little to no recognition. She was astounded by the resilience of the children to overcome. Life changed for her. A second trip with us to a new orphanage only a couple months later sealed the deal for her and for us.

A few weeks ago, Erin finished her last day practicing physical therapy in Forth Worth, Texas and started packing up her bags. Last week, she packed those bags into a trailer with her little dog Calvin by her side and started the journey to the Northeast to join our team!

While practicing physical therapy privately here part time, she’s going to be a part of everything that The Sparrow Fund currently does to provide support to adoptive families and children without families and their caregivers as well as seek out and pursue growth opportunities to do all that better.

Join us as we celebrate all the parted waters and manna He’s provided, and join us as we welcome Erin!

Planting seeds

When I made the call to travel with The Sparrow Fund to serve at an orphanage in China this past October, I knew that I wanted to get my kids involved. They weren’t boarding a plane with me to go…at least not this time! But, this trip was their trip too. Mommy was leaving and for no short time. The best way to prepare them for that was to engage them and help them grasp the vision for engaging their friends too.

So, I went to their teachers. I told them about The Sparrow Fund and about the trip and asked if they would consider being involved in two specific ways: (1) allowing me to send home a letter written by my children asking if families would be a part of the effort by sending into school specific items from our team’s wish list and (2) letting me come into the class when I was back to share about the experience. We were thrilled when they were thrilled by the ideas.

Over the next month, we collected stickers, toy cars, stickers, play dough, stickers, beach balls, and more stickers! When I finally left for China, I had a suitcase literally half full of stickers (which were a huge hit) and came back with a suitcase literally half full of little Terracotta Warrior excavation kits I picked up along the way that I thought my kids’ classmates would like chipping away at when I came in to share.

I was so excited to go into that class with those excavation kits in hand as well as lots and lots of pictures of those stickers in action. Kids recognized the same stickers they had picked out themselves stuck on the faces and fingers of children on the other side of the world. It was if those stickers made the connection between them.

I shared about China and the kids and the orphanage building and how we helped. One little boy’s hand went up right away when I explained how nearly every child who lives in the orphanage has some sort of special need.

“I have ADHD and ‘personal space’ issues. Are there any kids like me there?” he asked.

Another child almost fell out of her seat trying to get my attention. She signed with so much facial expression that I felt I understood even while I awaited her ASL interpreter’s explanation.

“All the kids in those pictures are orphans?”

My yes only spurred more questions from her that she continued to sign with her face full of feeling.

“None of them have a mom or dad? Why would their parents ever want to give them up?”

I did my best to answer their questions. I don’t know if I satisfied them with my answers. I felt at peace regardless. My answers were a window into my own process as I have faced the realities of broken relationships. I hope they planted some seeds as they start their own process and were made aware, some for the first time, of children just like them on the other side of the world who do not have families.

I have been back from China over 7 months now. The effect of my experience isn’t growing smaller as time passes; it’s growing bigger as opportunities to share continue to arise. Each of these opportunities is a gift because they serve to remind me and keep it all close. Every time, I get to relive those moments that changed my life forever.

Beauty Compounded

We knew this was good.

We handed tools to children living in an orphanage in the middle of China and told them You are uniquely made. You are capable. Live it out and let us celebrate the beauty you create and you are. 

We knew this was good.

We handed tools to children living in an orphanage in South China in a public park, before a crowd of passerby, and told them You are uniquely made. You are capable. Live it out and let us celebrate the beauty you create and you are. 

We admired their choices of color and willingness to try something new and something kind of hard. We praised the ayis who teach them to make and pointed out how good they are at what they do. We collectively marveled over how God made us to be beauty-makers like Him.

We trusted the good wasn’t finished when those weeks in the orphanages were over. We left with great expectation of good things growing, of beauty compounded.

An art exhibit isn’t the end goal to do that; but it one tangible way we get to see it happen. A few of their pieces were displayed as masterpieces along with their sweet faces, and the team of people marveling grew from 15 to literally hundreds. And, I took pictures of their pictures and sent them back to those same ayis and said, “Look at what your children can do because of what you do!”

So, so good.

In My Heart Forever {China Trip}

I’m home.  And I’ve been awake since 3am thanks to jet lag.  I gave up trying to fall back to sleep at 4:30am, and finally got out of bed.  With the children from the orphanage taking over my dreams, and their precious little faces dancing across my closed eyelids, I knew it was a lost cause.  While everyone else on this side of the world rests, I am wrestling with what I experienced and captured through my camera this past week.

Thinking of the children and the reality of their daily lives brings me to my knees.  While I can drink coffee without boiling water first, and write a blog post without a sometimes-working, buggy VPN, the children are most likely finishing up dinner halfway across the world.  While I will soon hug and kiss my beloved little ones good morning, and tell them how much I love them, the children will prepare for bedtime with no mama and baba to tuck them in and tell them how much they are adored and so very worthy.  While they sleep, my day will carry on in the peace and warm serenity of my home and church, surrounded by my treasured family and friends.  And some variation of my comfortable life will play out every day while the children in the orphanage remain inexplicably grateful and joyful and happy, despite all that they’re missing.

The incredible disparity of our worlds is almost too much to fathom.

I was invited into a community of His people that I didn’t know before.  A community that’s real, even though it’s easy to ignore because it seems so distant and far away.  A small community of His children who are hurting and longing for mamas and babas of their very own.  A community of His nannies who give their very best every day to help the children live and grow.  But even their very best simply isn’t enough because there are too many children and not enough of them.  Because nothing replaces the love and belonging of a family.

I think of precious Wayland and the way the Father literally put him in front of me, despite my ability to remain emotionally unattached behind my lens.  My job as photographer makes it easy to observe from a distance.  It’s a role that I’m comfortable playing because it allows me to stay focused and complete the task at hand.  It’s the role that I signed up for when I said yes to this trip – to document our time and bring home pictures of waiting children to help them find families.

Though I wanted to be open to what the Father had waiting for me during this trip, I did not expect to fall as hard as I did.  He wrecked me.  Not just for Wayland, but for all of the children.  For the nannies.  Although I was the designated photographer on the trip, the Father used the short time in mighty ways to show me why I was really on that trip.  Despite myself, I got to see a small glimpse of His love for all of His children.  To understand what’s truly important.  Not medical diagnoses or adoption files or questioning whether a nanny is feeding children the right way.

But people.  Loving people is what’s important.  No matter their status or special need.  Orphan, nanny, or otherwise.  That’s what He wanted me to see.  Because the Father wants all of us to be adopted as His sons and daughters.  And He’ll use anyone to accomplish His mission, if we just humbly offer ourselves to be available.

As Mike Foster wrote in his book, People of the Second Chance, “Bring what you have, no matter what it looks like.  His standards are embarrassingly low, and he will work with everything you’re willing to put into his hands.  You are imperfect, but you can be perfectly loved and perfectly used by him.” (pg. 30)  I’m resting in that truth this morning.  As I reflect on this past week and try my hardest to make good on my promise to Wayland, my prayer is that He perfectly loves and uses me and all of my team members, despite our imperfectness.

_____________________________________

NicoleNicole is a daughter to the King and a wife to an amazing man. She is a classical homeschooling mama to four, by birth and adoption. She is a part-time newborn photographer, a founder and adoption photographer at Red Thread Sessions, a contributing blogger at No Hands But Ours and an advocate of orphan care and adoption. When she’s not with her family or behind her camera, she loves to blog, create, give life to old furniture, spend time at the beach and read. She strives to live her life to glorify our Heavenly Father.  With His love, all things are possible.

Art for Ayis

I had an idea.

I was up early this morning, making a list and checking it twice. But, this list wasn’t a Christmas list; it was the list of gifts we are taking to China when we leave on January 6th. We’re heading to South China on this trip, to an orphanage in Guangdong province that has never had a team there before.

It’s considered a small orphanage with about 150 children in their care. And, while they are not new to adoption, they haven’t placed many kids until now. But, they’re partners with a good agency now and are on board with making children paper ready, even kids they thought were too old or too sick or too something. And, we get to go in and encourage them in what they are doing.

As I was counting out the gifts for ayis and the ladies who work in the office and the directors and the foster moms, I had an idea. Wouldn’t it be neat to give them something from a child adopted from China? Something that sends the message that children adopted from China are okay and that what they do to serve those kids now matters…wouldn’t that be great?

I’ve come to discover that good ideas don’t always come at convenient times. And, today is hardly a convenient day as mamas everywhere are scurrying around to Target for stocking stuffers and making cookies for class parties and using up all their Scotch tape wrapping boxes. But, some things are worth some inconvenience. This might be one of those things.

Here’s what we need:

a piece of artwork on card stock, an index card, or watercolor paper no larger than 5″x8″
a printed photo of the artist with his or her name written on the back, the year he or she was adopted and from where (e.g., “Sam Smith, adopted from Guangzhou in 2010”)

Mail no later than December 31st for an arrival of no later than January 4th to:

The Sparrow Fund Art for Ayis
124 3rd Ave
Phoenixville PA 19460

Questions? Email us. Help us bless these people and magnify the good.

____________________________________

Want to do more? You can.
Order a few of the supplies from our wish list for us to take with us.
Order an Oh Happy Day shirt and wear it with us on the first day we serve on Monday, January 9th.
Sign up to pray for the team HERE.
Find out a bit more about joining a future team.

____________________________________
Kelly-NHBO1-150x150

Kelly founded The Sparrow Fund along with her husband Mark in 2011. She works alongside Mark in his full-time purposeful work in China and works part time as a therapist at the Attachment & Bonding Center of PA, Kelly has a particular interest in (a) encouraging parents who are struggling to attach with their children, (b) helping parents walk with their children in understanding their own stories, (c) helping couples continue to pursue each other and grow together while they parent their children as a team, and (d) training and supporting orphanage staff in China to build relationships with children and each other. Kelly and Mark have been married since 1998 and have 3 biological children and 1 daughter who was adopted as a toddler from China in 2010. You can learn more about their journey on Kelly’s blog.

A Beautiful Girl

zheng-yaqin-1-2

They told me she was introverted, easygoing, compliant. They told me that she gets sad sometimes but that she is easily comforted when her nanny, who clearly cares for her well, explains right and wrong. They told me that she can write her Chinese characters quite well, that her receptive knowledge is good, that her expression is okay. They told me she is good at math compared to other children in her class. And, they told me she really likes music and dancing and that she is remarkably talented.

I nodded my head and smiled. I believed them. Sure, I’m sure she enjoys music and likes to dance. And, it was endearing to hear her nanny say that she was talented in dancing…so sweet.

And, then they asked if I’d like her to show us.

This little girl hasn’t had her papers submitted yet. She has Down Syndrome, they told me, as if when I heard the words I’d agree that she would not be wanted.

She has Down Syndrome. And, she is beautiful and marvelous in every way. And, oh, how I hope that someone has room in their family for her. If you think you might, let us know. We’d love to talk to you about how to make that happen.

____________________________________
Kelly-NHBO1-150x150

Kelly founded The Sparrow Fund along with her husband Mark in 2011. She works alongside Mark in his full-time purposeful work in China and works part time as a therapist at the Attachment & Bonding Center of PA, Kelly has a particular interest in (a) encouraging parents who are struggling to attach with their children, (b) helping parents walk with their children in understanding their own stories, (c) helping couples continue to pursue each other and grow together while they parent their children as a team, and (d) training and supporting orphanage staff in China to build relationships with children and each other. Kelly and Mark have been married since 1998 and have 3 biological children and 1 daughter who was adopted as a toddler from China in 2010. You can learn more about their journey and the October orphanage trip on Kelly’s blog.

Serving the Servants

We didn’t come simply to hold babies.

gigi-with-babies-1

We didn’t come simply to play with cute toddlers with pigtails.

chi_8402

We didn’t come simply to pat older children on the back and sing EIEIO.

chi_8017

We didn’t come simply to assess waiting children so that when their papers pop up somewhere, we’re ready to help find families for them. All of that is good, very good.

We desired to do even more. We came for this. We came to serve those who serve. everyday. those who are paid little to do the most significant work. who are simply called “working staff” and are often criticized for not doing enough while they work in a system that often doesn’t support much more. We came to bless them.

handwashing-set-up-1-2

handwashing-set-up-1-1

It took much less time than we anticipated for curiosity and uncertainty to become eagerness to be vulnerable and pleasure to become honored guests of ours.

chi_8257

chi_8221

chi_8155

chi_8379

chi_8216

chi_8178

As children toddled around us and looked on, we washed the hands that serve. We spoke to each woman as we did, in words many of them did not understand and yet somehow understood.

You work so hard at what you do. You are so good with the children. Look how much she wants to be close to you. You are so important to her and to this place. We are so thankful for you. 

We saw a lot of smiles, more than we had ever seen there before. And, everything just seemed somehow brighter and lighter. What had felt like them and us just felt more like we, all women honoring each other and serving together for big big things…a spirit that was contagious.

Their smiles and sense of honor must be contagious too because all of us can’t stop smiling and feel like we were the ones served.

____________________________________
Kelly-NHBO1-150x150

Kelly founded The Sparrow Fund along with her husband Mark in 2011. She works alongside Mark in his full-time purposeful work in China and works part time as a therapist at the Attachment & Bonding Center of PA, Kelly has a particular interest in (a) encouraging parents who are struggling to attach with their children, (b) helping parents walk with their children in understanding their own stories, (c) helping couples continue to pursue each other and grow together while they parent their children as a team, and (d) training and supporting orphanage staff in China to build relationships with children and each other. Kelly and Mark have been married since 1998 and have 3 biological children and 1 daughter who was adopted as a toddler from China in 2010. You can learn more about their journey and the October orphanage trip on Kelly’s blog.

Glimpses from Oh Happy Day Day 2016

While we sported our shirts on the first happy day serving, you did too.

oh-happy-day-day-pics-2-1 oh-happy-day-day-pics-3-1-2oh-happy-day-day-pics-5-2oh-happy-day-day-pics-1-1oh-happy-day-day-pics-2oh-happy-day-day-pics-6-2oh-happy-day-day-pics-9-214695390_10154664843786468_7314150540871744420_n14708207_10209723539338034_8575924647306744366_noh-happy-day-day-pics-2

Even some furry friends wore their colors for us.

oh-happy-day-day-pics-3-2

As we finished out our first happy day, it sure did encourage all of us to see your pictures and read your words cheering us on.

Oh Happy Day Day 2016 was a big international success.

oh-happy-day-day-pics-1

So much a success that we’re celebrating again on January 9th when we have our first day at another orphanage in Guangzhou!

Head over here and order your Oh Happy Day shirt to support our programs and so that you’re all ready for the next Oh Happy Day Day.

OH HAPPY DAY Day {October 24th}

It’s officially countdown time. One week from Wednesday our team of students, doctors, teachers, advocates, and lay people will meet up in Chicago and get on a plane for a very long time. We will have one full day in Beijing and then a travel day to Xian before we drive another few hours by van to the city where we are serving. On Monday the 23rd, we will load into a white van with a driver who can only say “Hello? Hello? Hello? Howareyou?” in English. We’ll wind through busy streets where Mercedes drive beside old bikes pulling trailers of vegetables we don’t recognize, all of them honking at each other to make themselves known. We’ll take deep breaths as we pull up to a big accordion gate where we will be waved through. And, there we will start Day 1 at the orphanage.

We’re almost there.

There will be 15 of us in that van behind our driver friend wearing OH HAPPY DAY shirts. But, our team is so many more than that. There are literally hundreds of people a part of this team–financial donors, doll makers, art supply buyers, parents who sent pictures of their children to show the staff who cared for them, children who participated in sticker drives so that we could cover little fingers and hands with kitty cats and smiley faces, women who donated hand scrubs and instadry nail polishes. The 15 in that van are just the ones who actually get to GO.

As we enter into those gates on Monday the 24th, we want to do it as a Team with a capital T not just as our little team. We’re setting something up so that we can do that–something we have declared OH HAPPY DAY Day.

oh-happy-day-day-graphic

On Monday the 24th, our team will be donning our blue OH HAPPY DAY shirts as we go. We’re asking that you join us in your OH HAPPY DAY shirt. Think of us, pray for us, be one of us as you wear it. Maybe even share a selfie with #ohhappyday to give us that reminder that you’re with us as we go. We’ll be hopping online as a team looking for those pics to encourage us at the end of our first day. We’d love to see yours among them.

Need a shirt still? Order yours HERE, making sure to give us your first and second choice of colors since we’re getting a bit low in stock.

Want another way to come with us? Sign up to pray for us HERE. We’ll send out some prompts this week to get you started. Want to go even deeper? Order a guided prayer kit that will guide you through 5 different activities to help you engage with God in creative ways specifically focusing on the needs of China’s orphans.

Beyond Folded Hands {a guided prayer kit to take orphans to the throne of God}

I’m not an artist. I’m better with words. At least, that’s what I’ve always believed, that’s what I’ve always told myself. I feel at home with a pen in my hand. It’s familiar and comfortable. I know what to do with it, and I am confident that the ink on the page will eventually produce something I can be content with. But, a paintbrush, not all that different in size and shape from my pen, feels utterly foreign and somehow makes me feel like a child again. That’s how this project started.

There’s no technically correct art. No syntax, grammar, logic, spelling. No thesis statement or 5 paragraphs. Art is free expression, spontaneous and authentic expression. Perhaps that freedom is what unnerves me. I prefer rules and order. But when I embrace that freedom, I am able to see things that all my rules and definition block out. I am able to pay attention to things that are often silenced.

Last spring, I started talking to Erin Leigh. I asked her to help me. I asked her to help me discover how I could use artistic expression that I knew made me weak to engage with God in new ways. I wanted to learn how to pray beyond folded hands and closed eyes. It was risky and scary, but I loved it. It was good, and I wanted to share it and bring others with me.

IMG_3680

Months later, Creative Conversations With the Creator is the result. It’s a kit that comes with an 8-page guidebook and everything you need to complete the various activities in the guide, including a quality watercolor palette and brush, pens, practice sheets, watercolor paper, a photograph focal point, and beautiful artwork by Erin Leigh created exclusively for this kit. Using the pieces included, you are invited to learn new ways to engage with God and put them into practice through projects that build on each other to bring the fatherless to the Father. Included is even an opportunity to return a piece to us to be handed as a gift to a child in China who waits.

Valued at approximately $50, we are making it available for those who make a suggested donation of at least $45 to The Sparrow Fund. If you are local and would like to pick up your kit, the suggested donation is $35. Donations beyond the cost of producing the kits will be used to fund orphan care initiatives in China. Get your kit now while supplies last HERE. We are so excited to link arms with you as we go deeper together.

IMG_3681

____________________________________
Kelly-NHBO1-150x150

Kelly founded The Sparrow Fund along with her husband Mark in 2011. She works alongside Mark in his full-time purposeful work in China and works part time as a therapist at the Attachment & Bonding Center of PA, Kelly has a particular interest in (a) encouraging parents who are struggling to attach with their children, (b) helping parents walk with their children in understanding their own stories, (c) helping couples continue to pursue each other and grow together while they parent their children as a team, and (d) training and supporting orphanage staff in China to build relationships with children and each other. Kelly and Mark have been married since 1998 and have 3 biological children and 1 daughter who was adopted as a toddler from China in 2010. You can learn more about their journey on Kelly’s blog.