Beginnings of The Bright Connection

Learning a foreign language, at any age, is certainly a challenge. Our son picked it up really fast and began making new friends in our neighborhood. We had several Chinese teachers assigned to teach us. They were actually very pleased to have their own foreign students. I am sure we provided many humorous limes as we stumbled and mumbled through basic Chinese lessons. But it has been worth the struggle.

As time moved on, some of our new Chinese friends already had acquired English speaking skills. This certainly made life a little easier for us too! One special person we became friends with was a nursing instructor with responsibilities at the local hospital. He is a good man, married with two sons, and very eager to improve his English skills. We got to know each other, visiting in our homes, holidays, and birthdays and enjoying his home-cooking skills. One evening he telephoned us and gave us some interesting news. In a way it was sad news but also good news, depending upon your point of view. It seems that a little baby had been discovered, having been carefully placed on a nearby pathway leading to the university. Whoever had made the discovery notified the officials and the child was placed into the hospital, the same hospital our friend served in. “Would you like to come and see the little baby?” he asked us. “..There seems to be no mother or father available to care for her.” How could we not go see this little helpless one?

She was so tiny and so precious, waving her little arms in the air as if waving at un-seen angels. She was very quiet, and so beautiful. Weeks went by as we continued to daily go visit her, making new friends of nurses and doctors. We know just from raising our only son how it is to be a parent, the responsibilities. As news spread of this “Little Lamb”, a few Chinese families came to see her. There was talk that some may want to adopt her. But as her special needs became more apparent, the realities of having to raise such a child frankly were not appealing to even the best of intentions.

But there was something that we could not ‘walk away’ from. It was a feeling of despair and hopelessness that we did not wish upon her little life. We wanted the best for her. Whatever we could do. As several months went by, bonding was happening. Maggie would crawl up and onto the narrow hospital bed, and I would kiss them good night and pull the mosquito net over the bed. Sometimes Maggie would even bake cookies for the pediatrics staff. They became our friends as well.

The handwriting was on the wall. We had to make the right decision. The doctor laughed and said “no way will the director allow the foreigner to take away this child”. I can still hear his laughter echoing through the dark hallway of that hospital. But we were certainly not discouraged because we know that all children are a gift from God and that His plans for this one must indeed be very special.

Surprising to us was that news reporters and television crews had come to tell of her story. We stayed in the shadows of this, not wanting it to become a foreign spot-light event. Even many companies and students donated money to off-set her hospital costs. One day, quite soberly, the doctor said that unless she does go to a family home, she will die in the hospital. They had no way to sustain her life.

We soon appealed to the Mayor of Tongza (Five Finger Mountain City) and he took proper steps toward helping her to be released into our care. Also the area Women’s Federation and Social Services department stood with us on our appeal. Permission was soon granted. The day after Christmas, 1997, the Women’s Federation director and a few others lovingly and graciously brought her into our home apartment in Tongza. The picture of her in the baby basket still hangs in our home.

It’s amazing how a little precious but yet strange and fragile child can turn you into famous people in a community! Being a white foreigner strolling to the market is a curiosity of it self in a small town in China. But adding this little package of a Chinese baby, well, we became literally, ‘the talk of the town’. Now the work of love begins. “Little Lamb” the name neighborhood girls had given her, was in obvious need of attention. She was not speaking, crawling nor walking. She was estimated to be around 8 months old when found. So not to be walking was maybe no concern.

Two years later, we realized she needed special attention to learn how to walk. She also had many sleepless nights... therefore, so did we. It was a part of Autism which we began to understand. She also had no speech and very little desires to do anything at all. She was also diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy so we began to learn about this. But one thing for sure, she had and still has a wonderful and special look in her eyes and a smile on her face. In sharp contrast to typical Autistic traits, she can look long and deep into your eyes, with a straight face, then her smile begins and often she will nod her head as if to say “It’s okay, I am what I am and am loved for who I am. I’m OKAY, I have been placed in good hands.”

At about age three, we really began reading and studying about her special needs, doing all that we could while living in China. Local therapists gave us special advice and massage therapy. It was obvious we must design our own home therapy for her. She hated very much for her feet to touch the ground. We could not take her outside and place her feet on the ground! She would curl up like a little ball to avoid touching the ground. Many challenges for all of us. Then we were introduced to a very caring therapist in another city. He worked with special need children in the larger city of Haikou. So, for six months, Maggie and Qiong Jian lived in one room of a small hotel which did have a little kitchen. They would ride in a 3 wheel bicycle two miles to the therapist. We became good friends with this kind man. He gave us many good tips on caring for her. We met many other families with special kids at his center. It was a good experience. John made many four hour bus trips on weekends from Tongza to be together as a family.

Sooner, or later, the “adoption” word would arise. We had to face the fact that whether or not we would remain in China made no difference. Qiong Jian deserved to “belong” to a family. We loved her. She loved us. Such a joy!

In 2002 we completed the adoption of Qiong Jian Grace. Her name was changed along the way by officials; the name “Little Lamb” just didn’t seem appropriate to them. However we came to realize her name means “chosen from the island”, which was very correct and meaningful to us, for indeed she was ‘chosen’. We were foreigners already inside China with an abandoned child already living in our home. Totally opposing all normality’s of adoption processing. It was not easy. But all along the way, these wonderful Chinese people who had come into our lives previously also became very beneficial in the adoption process. “Who you know” along with “what you do know” became very obviously correct. (The adoption of Qiong Jian is a story in itself. If you want to know more, we are happy to share with you).

Knowing the adoption had to be finalized first in China, then in the USA to complete, we made plans for her double-hip surgery for December of 2002 at Portland, Oregon. This was because she was born with hip defects of the femur and hip sockets. Her hips would often dis-locate. Very uncomfortable. Following this major surgery, after being in a full body cast for six weeks, began physical recovery and back on the road learning to walk. Prior to this she could only walk if holding on to our hands or walking around the apartment holding on to things. She also received dental surgery pro-bono by a Portland dentist. This required her to be put to sleep. She went through a lot.

After three months in the Portland area, we returned to our little USA home town in Colorado. That is, we stayed with good friends in their home where we lived in a comfortable and cozy basement apartment. It became our station of planning for The Bright Connection. We did a lot of research, spent lots of time with professional therapists and school programs for Qiong Jian. We learned a lot. We put together a home therapy program which we could easily use as amodel for other children. A Chinese friend we had met in Tongza had married and moved to the USA. She translated many documents and programs for us into Chinese. We packed up our suitcases, our newly made notebooks for The Bright Connection therapy center and were now ready to return to China.

In the Fall of 2003 we moved back to our apartment which we now had in Sanya City. We began calling our Chinese friends and telling them about our plan to open a Center for Special Needs children. We would focus on those with Autism, Cerebral Palsy and hearing impaired. Again, these friendships and many good- hearted people agreed with our plan. So we put the word out that workers and children were needed. We began with our own daughter, assigned our former nanny to now take the role as her therapist. She had been with us several years and already understood many ways to teach our daughter. We applied for the business license and rented a 3 story villa, opening in February 2004 with six children and five workers. The vision was now in place!

The young lady we had assigned to be Qiong Jian’s therapist also learned that kids are kids no matter their condition. Our little precious one, now in 2004, now seven years old, still could not walk without holding on to your hand, or a walker. This did not bother our therapist. She trained her patiently but often sternly to walk with two sticks, simple bamboo sticks. Then using only one. This was a real scary challenge for our daughter. Then one day we noticed that the walking stick was not always touching the ground as she moved along. From this point it was clear that this ‘crutch’ wasn’t needed. She began walking simply by holding on to a short stick, then a banana, then an apple. She didn’t need these things. She had developed balance and began feeling more secure with herself. It was a day of rejoicing for all the staff to watch Qiong Jian have her own victory!

The Bright Connection was busy everyday, working out weekend schedules, caring for our live-in children. Some are orphans, some from local families who leave their child with us for the week or some even day- by-day. We try to be flexible and creative but within boundaries, to provide a home-like atmosphere for the children and staff. Some staff also live at the Center. Recently we began renting a second house, a few doors down from our main house and office. We now have room for more children and workers. We are not just a ‘care provider’. We have a daily program for each child, unique to their needs. Our goal is to have one large facility for 100 children and almost as many staff. We are all just ordinary people doing our best to help ex-tra ordinary children.

As we enter into a New Year, 2009, our goals and dreams hold steady. 0ur staff gains more experience, and for some, if it is not quite ‘their thing’ then they move on. We pay a fair salary. Reliable and productive staff should be paid well. We need your help. We need committed donors, who can help us financially on a monthly basis. We need large donations which will sustain over a period of time. We need small donations too because every dollar counts toward positive results. Our kids are happy and our staff fulfilled about doing a very generous, giving and demanding service. Our community is very supportive of what we all are doing. But for most of them, the financial responsibility to support us somehow remains un-awakened to their thoughts. So we appeal to you, to whom ever is reading this.

We have faith to believe for the finances we also know that it takes people like you to give. The Bright Connection has been in operation for 51/2 years and has made a world of difference in at least precious 20-30 young lives. Please give so they and others may continue to have a decent life also.

We thank you for taking the time to read our story and may you be enriched and encouraged knowing that with a dream and hard work, good things still happen in this world.