There is something inherently joyful about looking for something, finding it, pointing it out to others, and then just staring at it together. Basically, that’s what you do at a zoo. The glory of this activity is that it does not really require shared language. While several of the volunteers, including myself, spoke enough Mandarin to get around, we mostly just reveled in the wonder of creation with ohs, ahs, and wows. What can surpass the chain reaction of joy ignited by a child’s excitement?
At the zoo, I reconnected with a child (Naomi) that I had been paired with the previous evening during the Christmas celebration. At first, I couldn’t tell if she remembered me or not. But after about 15 minutes, she grabbed my hand and we were on our way!
We watched the elephants, ostriches, zebras, lions, tiger, monkeys, and other animals. We formed an inside joke by saying, “Ni Hao,” (“Hello” in Mandarin, or literally “You Good”) to all of the animals.
One of my favorite moments was feeding the giraffes. I could tell that Naomi was immensely excited and anxious to have her turn, but she waited patiently and politely by my side as the other children and families fed the giraffes before us (truly an impressive feat for any 7-year-old, in my opinion!).
When it was finally our turn, she walked right up to the zookeeper with confidence and stuck her hand out, ready to receive some lettuce for our long-necked friend. As she reached up to put the lettuce before him, he stuck out his incredibly long tongue and swiped it into his mouth. Naomi was beyond tickled by this. She quickly figured out that if she held the lettuce a little farther away the giraffe would have to stick out his tongue even farther to reach it. Her joy was uncontainable. Just as we were walking towards the front of the zoo to meet up with the rest of the group, raindrops started to fall.
You know, God’s love really is a funny thing. I cannot imagine why He would have any reason to care about the weather on this particular Saturday morning in Birmingham, but it seems that He did. The day was warm, but not hot; the overcast sky keeping us cool. It was clearly going to rain, but it held off until exactly the moment we were gathering for lunch and leaving the zoo anyway. This small provision reminded me that our Father cares about His children dearly, especially the precious little ones that are visiting the other side of His beautiful earth. I can just imagine how His heart overflows as He watches and works and weaves all the goodness and love and joy that permeates this time. What a privilege it is to be a part of this powerful preview of eternity!
After the zoo and our picnic lunch, the whole crew returned to the farm for “naptime.” Three other volunteers and I stayed in the girls’ room during this time, and let me tell you, the kids did anything but nap. Naomi and I decided to play Candyland together. Some of the other girls noticed and wanted to join in. Soon we had about four children and one adult squished onto Naomi’s twin size bed, playing freeform (a.k.a. no rules) Candyland. This didn’t bother Naomi one bit, instead she immediately folded the other girls into the middle of our game so they could enjoy the fun too. (Side note: I should mention that during this entire day, Naomi was the leader. I was basically just following her around and occasionally asking her what she wanted to do. Including the other children, making up games, all of that was her doing.)
Finally, our day ended with dinner and a carnival/family reunion. During the carnival, the kids jumped in bounce houses, got their faces painted, enjoyed Doodles shaved ice, played ring toss and corn hole, took photo-booth pictures, and managed to turn Ping Pong Water Race into a spray-bottle-water-gun-fight. It truly was a joyous event, and I could tell each child was enjoying him- and herself immensely. A patchwork of families who have already adopted, families in the process of adopting, families considering adopting, volunteers, Lifeline staff, American kids and Chinese kids, the orphanage directors… we all came together to celebrate the precious opportunity we had been given to know each other and enjoy each other’s company and fellowship. Doesn’t that sound like the Body of Christ in all Her diversity and beauty? It sure looked as such to me. God was in that place; that is undeniable.
Granted, I’ve only known her for about a day and a half, but I am confident in these things:
Naomi is a brave, intelligent, creative, generous, intuitive, and compassionate soul. She is a natural leader and loving nurturer.
Throughout the entire day, I observed her taking care of the younger children, playing with them, making them laugh, sharing her food with them (and me). At some point, I felt compelled to apologize to her, because my Mandarin isn’t advanced enough to understand everything she would say to me. She tilted her head and smiled in response, and basically told me it wasn’t a big deal. At that point, I realized that she had figured out my language level much, much earlier and had been compensating for my sake. She had been focusing on simple words and sentences in our conversations, so we could laugh and joke together about the nonsense we were making up. Talk about love that transcends culture and language! What a holy gift that was for me.
“[For] Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.’” – Matthew 19:14