True Stories from Children that Need a Rescuer
The night air was warm as ever as I approached the balcony, where a 16-year-old volunteer from my hometown was peering seriously into the darkness over the valley. Chris had just finished a good week, as Bring Me Hope weeks go—five days of bonding with Wanda, undisputedly the cutest thing at camp. But it was also the end of a hard day. Goodbye day.
Several of the children in that particular group had come to us suffering from cerebral palsy, so it wasn’t far-fetched to imagine that was Wanda’s ailment when we saw her trembling hands and poor motor skills. She walked with a severe limp and her words were slurred, but her smile was unimpaired. On a hot afternoon, we had just finished eating lunch when Wanda looked up at me from the front steps of the restaurant. I stepped closer and she looked down timidly, a common reaction among the girl orphans.
I gently lifted her chin until she raised her eyes. I smiled; she followed suit—the most precious smile I’d yet seen—and said in her delightful, sweet voice: ni hao. It only means “hello,” but it might as well have meant “take me back to America,” as far as I was concerned. Right there on the steps she grabbed hold of my heart. Anything she wanted I would have given.
She was a popular little girl, to say the least. More than a few eyes were red watching her leave, but it wasn’t until that night, there on the balcony with Chris, that I really began to understand Wanda.
I had an idea of what abuse was, but I saw on Wanda’s face that she had some scars and I didn’t think anything of it. Then she told me about the sad times in her life. She doesn’t have any mental problems or physical problems—her shaking is from being beaten so much.
It was her mom. She told me she could remember when she was three and her mom beat her, and when she was five years old, she’d put her in a room and let her think for days—without food—about what she did wrong. And she’d beat her before she’d let her out.
I don’t know how they could get a mindset that it would be OK to do something like that. There had to be something bigger going on, I’d like to think. But I know there’s people out there who could just do that and think nothing of it—like eating breakfast, you know what I mean? How could things get that bad, that they’d have to resort to that?
She has touch-sensory issues; getting hugs kind of freaks her out, so when she was giving us hugs at the end of the week, that was really nice. Wanda just needed someone to connect with. She’s never had anyone to tell her, ‘I love you so much.’
When Chris was finished telling me her story, we both stood there, thinking the same thing in silence for several long moments. Cicadas hissed as the breeze picked up. The heat pressed in and our masculine emotions spun off a protective type of anger, intensified by our helplessness to do anything about the abuse inflicted by a mother on some other hot Chinese night years before.
Finally, slowly, I said, “Kind of makes you think. How can anyone do that…” And Chris finished my sentence: “…to such a sweet little girl?”
Here was an angel whose only imperfection was a tremor bestowed by her own mother’s hand. Chris went on to tell me that physical contact made Wanda jumpy, so even my attempts to communicate love by brushing her cheek or combing my fingers through her hair were instead communicating fear or intimidation.
I grew up in a family of a thousand hugs, and so did my wife and many of my friends and peers. So it can be difficult to distinguish a common embrace from an extraordinary one. Given Wanda’s history, the long, tight hug she laid on Chris while saying goodbye was an unforgettable moment. Time stood still while this little girl whose prior abuse triggered a reflexive dislike of touch wrapped her arms around his neck and wept. Then he stood by and watched while she boarded the van and took her seat, still crying, still reaching for him.
No doubt Chris was thinking about her that night. No doubt he was wishing he had her back. We both wished a different past for Wanda, a different future and even a different world—one in which all little girls get the admiring love they need and deserve, and never a backhand across the face.
Every morning during the week Nate chartered a city bus for three hours and we rode it down the hill to the pool. Packed in shoulder to shoulder, we’d listen to the same song on the radio a few times each way—a pop ballad many of the kids knew by heart. I’ll admit, it was catchy. I’d probably recognize the melody if you played it for me in fifty years. Ah yes, I’d tell you, I know that one, know it well. Let me tell you about Liann.
When Dorinda and I arrived on Sunday, we had been paired up as a team and assigned two girls. Camilla, a bubbly 16-year-old high school student, would be our translator. Having expected a week of rough-housing with a couple of boys, I quickly adjusted to my role as the dad of our all-female family unit. Anna was the quiet teenager and Liann was the feisty little one, the younger of our two girls and the loudest of all the orphans. She was what American educators would politely call “active,” meaning most likely to steal your camera.
The best thing about Liann was her singing. She knew that one Chinese pop song like my fingers know their guitar strings, and whenever it came on in the bus, she belted out the love-filled lyrics with abandon. Her sharp, off-key voice rose above the other children’s and the noise of the road when she sang, as if it was the only thing that made her forget.
Liann took to Dori, but not me. On our first trip to the pool, everyone jumped into the warm, waist-deep water and splashed around for a while. I spotted Liann, inner tube up under her armpits, harassing some defenseless orphan. I grabbed hold of the tube and began to tow her across the pool, smiling to let her know I was up for whatever kind of mischief she had in mind. But she panicked, struggling to pull away, so I let go and she paddled over to the relative safety of my wife.
What I hoped was simple shyness became a routine which played out each morning at the pool. Whenever Liann spotted me too close for comfort, her devious grin vanished and she would head the other way. It scared me, to be honest; I thought I’d done something wrong. Then I thought it was something about being in the water, since she seemed more relaxed during the long walks to lunch. But in reality it was a deep-seated distrust of men, instilled by an abusive father. Or should I say engraved?
It all came out on Thursday night, just as Nate had predicted. Life chart night. Dorinda, Camilla and I took the girls into a first-floor room and explained the exercise. Dorinda drew a chart of her own to demonstrate, and after some coaxing we finally got Liann to put pen to paper. What she drew was nonsense and she knew it, but after a subdued conversation in the music of Mandarin, Camilla induced a five-minute story of pain told with such flat candor that it took my breath away.
For the first time, Liann’s voice lost its edge, lowering to a beautiful lilt more suited to a little girl than the mask of bravado she had been wearing. Sitting Indian style on the floor, she straightened one leg and pointed to a smattering of light dots on her mocha skin. Scar tissue. Dori and I waited for the translation, but I already knew what we were seeing.
I uncapped my pen and flipped to the middle of my notebook, the journalist’s instinct to record taking over. But I couldn’t. I just listened. When she finished, I finally wrote, drafting a note to myself: Age 3—parents divorced, sent her to the orphanage. Father was a drunk, beat her. One time, hit her with a chair when she was asleep. Scars up and down her legs from his abuse. This is why she doesn’t trust me.
Through a complicated turn of events, Liann eventually wound up in an orphanage, an ironically beneficial change that wasn’t at all fortunate, just less unfortunate. She had never known the love children are supposed to know. She wasn’t orphaned out of a home she remembered fondly, as is the case with some; she went from worst to bad, from scared to lonely, from abused to abandoned.
So that was the backstory, that was the plot of her. It was the explanation for her wincing at quick movements, it was the hot breeze that had dried up her spirit. When she sang her song, the lyrics were probably the closest she’d come to experiencing love. In the end, what we gave her in five days was not even close to what she needed to begin her exodus out of the desert. It was a mirage.
And that’s how it happens sometimes. It doesn’t mean the week wasn’t worth it; if nothing else, she knew without a doubt that we cared about her. But her pain had grown roots that were too thick to sever, and she left us the same sad little girl she was when she arrived.
Oh, to hold the key to that heart.
The words came out jumbled in a dialect that even my translator didn’t understand. Jonny was repeating them, whispered and low, like you would recite a spell or chant a phone number you don’t want to forget.
Of my two boys, Jonny was the quiet one. I noticed that Kevin, his closest friend from the orphanage, helped him with almost everything he did, from eating to talking. Monday and Tuesday, as we played and colored and walked to the restaurant, I gradually caught onto the fact that Jonny was not all there. He was slow—completely normal in appearance, but mentally behind for his age, around nine.
It was Thursday night, the appointed time for coaxing stories out of the children. Not out of a desire for them to relive their pain, but simply to get them to acknowledge it and thus make the first step toward recovery. Kevin had gone first with his story, then excused himself from the mahjong table to use the restroom. Deron, my translator, turned to Jonny and asked a question three or four different ways before the boy understood. Then came the whispered mantra.
He said it once and Deron leaned forward. Twice and the young college translator looked up at me and shrugged. At the third repetition, Deron admitted he couldn’t understand the dialect. When Kevin returned, we asked if he could figure out what Jonny was saying. The two boys talked for a few seconds, then Kevin turned and translated the mystery into Mandarin; I awaited English. Deron arched his eyebrows, sat back from the mahjong table and looked up at me for several long moments.
They were the last words his parents spoke to him.
Wait here, and I’ll come back for you. There is no graceful way to say it. What is recorded here is not fiction. As I write this—and as you, gentle reader, read— these stories and more are yet festering inside the children who lived them. Somewhere in a dingy orphanage, Liann is humming the same old tune as always, and somewhere else not far away, Jonny may be whispering, to himself, Wait here, and I’ll come back for you. Or maybe not - perhaps he’s figured out that no one is coming.
The bottom line is, we love orphans and want to see them lead better lives. After the successful release of a novel and a full length documentary, a team of us are now ready to produce a film and move our message into a wider arena. We hope that our vision resonates with you and that your passion is contagious. But above all, we ask that you would consider helping us make this film because of the eternal consequences it will have each time a viewer decides they can no longer sit by while the spiritual struggle of our time threatens the innocence of children around the world.
If you would like to be apart of praying for the film or donating towards the production, please let me know.
Thanks so much!
For more information, please visit our homepage:
Bring Me Hope
© Bring Me Hope 2011
This film can save an orphan from a lifetime of pain, and that, in eleven words, is how it came to be.
At Bring Me Hope, our mission is to help Chinese orphans-to show them love, show them glimpses of a bright future, perhaps even match them to a family that wants to become theirs through adoption. Those are the direct ways we have been called to minister to China’s “least of these.”
Indirectly, we believe our mission compels us to motivate our peers. Bring Me Hope is a volunteer-driven organization, and we realize that volunteers are in turn driven by any number of altruistic feelings: sympathy, compassion, Christian duty. Something in the transaction between a viewer and a good story sparks these emotions, and that spark can ignite the flame that ultimately compels a compassionate act-or, as the case may be, an entire week or summer of compassionate acts. These are the big reasons for producing this film.
Another reason is that many Americans-too many-do not know what life is like for an orphan outside the U.S. We at Bring Me Hope have listened to hundreds of orphans tell their stories, and within their candid tales of evil and suffering we have heard powerful details-the kinds of things that force you to take life more seriously; to meditate on the meaning of salvation in such darkness; and to anticipate heaven not just as a reward, but as the end of pain. Having been influenced and changed by these incredible stories firsthand, we would be remiss to keep them to ourselves. The story of the Chinese orphan deserves to be told; what Bring Me Hope has to contribute to that story has been gleaned from nearly a decade of firsthand work with discarded children.
My name is David Bolt. I am the director of Bring Me Hope, and I have always wanted to make a film, although my motives have changed over the years. Originally, as a boy, my dream of filmmaking went hand-in-hand with the inventions and entrepreneurial ideas that consumed my days. (These included, to the amusement of my friends and family, a climbing wall in my bedroom and a proposed homemade roller coaster in our yard that, mercifully, went unbuilt for lack of funding and potential county code violations.)
Making a film seemed to me the same kind of pursuit: a creative project, challenging and fun. I spread the word and soon had gathered a group of mostly home-schooled friends devoted to producing a film. They were even required to sign contracts and to promise that they would attend my production meetings. Nothing seemed impossible, but this was simply because we didn’t know what to do. Editing was a foreign concept-if there was a bad take, I would rewind the camera and do it over. Guided by this production philosophy, we ended up recording one take over and over, of a gullible younger friend acting the part of a boy wetting his pants. Another attempt yielded a complete film, “Donna the Detective,” and I made a stern appearance at the beginning in a mullet, warning anyone who would illegally copy the tape that they would swiftly find themselves fined and in prison.
It inspires me to think that a movie could improve an orphan’s life; that a child could finally go home to an adoptive family; and that thousands of viewers might feel compelled to take part in the war that is raging across the globe, to take a stand against the evil that pursues innocent children and exploits them.
Personally, I was affected by an independent film to the point that I can say it changed my life. I left the theater different somehow, with the desire to for others to be changed, as I was. Only I wanted the change in others to become a force that would help orphans.
Who doesn’t love a good story? In the back of my mind, and in the memories of hundreds of our volunteers, are seven years’ worth of true stories that were either related to us by the children or experienced firsthand. We are commanded to speak up for those who can’t, and this is our culture’s way of listening. Several churches have met with success in filmmaking, and NGOs are certainly well-positioned to bring messages on film to American audiences.
The bottom line is, we love orphans and want to see them lead better lives. After the successful release of a novel and two full-length documentaries, a team of us are now ready to produce a film and move our message into a wider arena. We hope that our vision resonates with you and that our passion is contagious. But above all, we ask that you would consider helping us make this film because of the eternal consequences it will have each time a viewer decides they can no longer sit by while the spiritual struggle of our time threatens the innocence of children around the world.
For more information about us, please visit our homepage:
Bring Me Hope Foundation
© Bring Me Hope 2011
Mission: To meet the Chinese orphan’s four greatest needs-God’s love, families, education and medical care-through a combination of summer camps and year-round programs to raise awareness and deliver hope when and where it’s needed most.
There are at least half a million orphans in China. They are the unwanted, the unloved, the uncared for. They have been shunned.
And they need hope.
That’s where we come in.
Bring Me Hope is dedicated to improving the lives and futures of orphans. Wherever we are-at camp, at home, on tour or behind the cameras on a film set-one thing binds us: Passion for serving unwanted children. Bring Me Hope strives to convince orphans of their incredible worth, and inspire volunteers to use their influence, skills and resources to help orphans.
It began with one family, one adopted baby, and one summertime trip to China. Now Bring Me Hope is an organization that spans several continents: From its hometown in Fallbrook, California, it has branched out to the rest of the United States, as well as Canada, Australia, and various other countries from which its volunteers hail. Bring Me Hope’s staff also includes dedicated Chinese translators who make each summer’s work in the People’s Republic possible. But as the global scope of our mission expands, our focus on families and organic relationships remains steadfast.
We operate out of a small office in rural Fallbrook-no elevator, no phone extensions, no cubicles. Just a water cooler, a couple of workstations and a gravel driveway. We are a small organization by design, so that more of our resources are free to help the orphans we desperately want to reach.
We are Christians and believe that God created every person with value. It breaks our hearts when children are rejected, abandoned, and abused. Most of them-at least the older ones-understand that no one is coming for them. Who would? Parents who are dead, or who signed them over in the first place? Some of the little ones still cling to false hope of redemption. All of them need to experience love, and within that love, to find realistic hope of a future and meaning. We want to use the amount of time we have on Earth to instill those ideas. We want to find little girls and boys who are down on life, pick them up, look them in the eyes and tell them they have value and they are loved. Here at Bring Me Hope, that is a privilege we enjoy on an annual basis, and it is so potent that we spend the rest of the year working toward that single moment.
For more information, please visit our homepage:
Bring Me Hope Foundation
© Bring Me Hope 2011
Bring Me Hope Foundation
Phone: (760) 723-5885
Fax: (760) 723-4433
2169 Green Canyon Rd.
Fallbrook, CA 92028, USA
© Bring Me Hope 2011
Written by Brian Godawa (To End All Wars)
Directed by David Bolt (Hannah’s Story)
Consulting Producer Cheryl McKay (Screenplay: Ultimate Gift)