Home for the helpless
A Chinese foster home cares for sick babies society has abandoned
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International winner: New Day Foster Home
BEIJING—On a hot summer’s day in Beijing’s outskirts, 2-year-old Jack carefully studies the plastic water gun in his hand. A New Day Foster Home volunteer squirts him in the leg and he squeals, and then he gleefully dips his own water gun into a bucket of water. Alfred, at 18 months, sits nearby on a Mickey Mouse waterproof play mat: His bowed legs prevent him from standing, yet his eyes carefully follow the flight of a stray bubble blown by another volunteer. Jack runs around grinning, soaked from head to toe.
It’s all typical toddler’s play, yet these children may never have had the chance to enjoy that summer day without the work of New Day Foster Home. All these children are abandoned by their parents and suffer severe disabilities, but government orphanages, especially those in more rural areas, rarely have access to doctors who can treat severe conditions. Through New Day, though, children with diseases like hydrocephalus (water in the brain) and congenital heart disease receive the medical care, therapy, and love they need.
The 36-year reign of China’s one-child policy—now loosened to a two-child policy—left many parents thinking that if they could only have one, the child had better be healthy. They often left babies with deformities or disabilities in garbage dumps, on the side of the road, or at the hospital. The Chinese government claims 600,000 orphans exist nationwide, yet outside groups put the number closer to 1 million. New Day has 25 beds, mostly for newcomers. Recovered children live with foster parents in the neighborhood. More than 300 New Day children have gained adoptive homes, and every morning the staff prays that Christians will adopt them. Most often, they do.
New Day Foster Home originated with the conversion of a Chinese businessman. In the early 1990s, Richard Lee owned a company that manufactured souvenir items like magnets, and he was losing money. One Sunday, when his wife invited him to attend her church, a sermon about Jesus Christ’s unconditional love stunned him. A dutiful Communist Party member who lived through the Cultural Revolution, Lee had believed unwarranted love did not exist. Now he wanted to know this Jesus.
Over the next year, Lee’s faith in Christ grew. When his business recovered, he started making magnets that read “God is love,” and he added Bible verses to picture frames, cups, and framed paintings. In 1996 New York natives Byron Brenneman and his wife Karen joined Lee in seeking to use the business as a ministry to their workers. Karen says, “When you’re working together five days a week, very quickly you realize they see you when things are going good and going bad, and you have a whole lot more influence in their lives.”
Today, 150 Chinese Christian bookstores sell New Day Creation products, and Lee exports them to the United States, Europe, and Asia. Lee said his Chinese market is growing by 20 to 30 percent annually as the number of Chinese Christians increases. Lee and the Brennemans wanted to expand the company’s influence beyond the factory walls, and saw a serious need as children with disabilities filled orphanages around the country. In 2000, the Brennemans started caring for two children who needed cleft lip and palate surgeries. The number of children grew, forcing them to find a larger space, and they built the foster home on a piece of land next to the New Day Creations factory in Qingyundian.
Later, Karen Brenneman, now the unpaid director of New Day Foster Home, learned that locals considered the land they bought cursed: Some teenagers went there to commit suicide. Yet one factory worker said her grandfather, who at the time was the only Christian in the area, went to that field every day to pray. One night he dreamed foreigners would buy the land and build a church and orphanage on it. The man died five years before New Day arrived, so Brenneman considers New Day “an answer to his prayer.”
Today, 35 orphanages across China call New Day when they have children they can’t care for. The Chinese government helps orphans receive lifesaving surgeries if doctors can guarantee the surgery’s success. With some risky, complicated surgeries costing upward of $30,000, desperate orphanages look elsewhere, calling New Day and similar foster homes that can provide assistance. When New Day’s beds are all full, nurses put the child’s name on a waitlist, but death sometimes comes first.
The foster home, which includes two additional locations in southern China (Guangdong) and northern China (Inner Mongolia) that house about a dozen children each, has 1 caretaker for every 3 children, compared with the 1 in 15 ratio at typical orphanages. Because the foster home has certified nurses, therapists, and a doctor on site, hospitals are willing to release the children earlier, cutting down on medical costs.
In a setting where children are often close to death, prayer is vital. Every day staff members pray for the children’s healing. Again and again they’ve seen miracles. Karen Brenneman said one Beijing doctor once asked a New Day employee, “What is it with New Day kids? We tell you it’s a serious situation, but then we go to do the surgery and either it’s not as serious as we thought or they don’t need surgery.” The employee wasn’t a Christian, but she replied it was “because we pray.”
Sometimes God has a different plan for these babies’ lives. Fall 2014: New Day lost three of its children, all of whom had liver problems. One boy had a liver transplant and post-operation stayed in ICU for 55 days on life support. On the day Brenneman went to the hospital to tell the doctor to take him off life support, she found him awake in his room, sitting up and playing. But then staff members had trouble getting him off the ventilator, and the hospital didn’t have the proper trach tube. While Brenneman was bringing back a donated trach from the United States, the 18-month-old died.
Staff members held memorial services for that boy and the other two babies. They looked through photos, remembering together, and sobbed into each other’s arms.
Sometimes New Day children find their way back. Erwan (adopted by French Canadians Alex and Juliette Pierre) and his older sister (also adopted from China) attended a vacation Bible school at New Day last summer while their parents volunteered at the foster home. Erwan was abandoned at 4 months and diagnosed with ventricular septal defect, meaning he had a hole in his heart. His orphanage in one faraway city arranged for a heart surgery in Tianjin, and asked New Day to care for him since that orphanage was too distant to bring him back for regular checkups.
The Pierres now sponsor other children at New Day, which helps pay for surgeries, medicine, and other daily needs. Foreign staff members at New Day don’t take a paycheck, relying on self-funding. “I think what New Day does reaches far beyond what they can see. They’ve changed our lives,” Alex Pierre said. He noted that while other adopted children sometimes struggle to receive affection, Erwan quickly bonded with him and his wife and is not afraid of hugging: “We could tell that Erwan received a lot of love here.”
New Day also serves the surrounding neighborhood by employing local residents: All the paid staffers are local Chinese, and New Day receives about 50 applicants for every nanny position available. It started a community center to teach English and computer skills, staffed by volunteers. Short-term teams come to fix houses or bring needed items to the poor. Seeing the need for Christian education in China, New Day has also started with four families a homeschool co-op, using A Beka curriculum.
New Day is a registered charity in the United States and Hong Kong. New Day Creations, a legal Chinese company, owns its buildings. Donors fund New Day’s $1 million budget and are becoming more local. When New Day began in 2000, nearly all its donations came from the United States, but now about half come from China. As the concept of charity becomes more common in China, more Chinese companies, foundations, and individuals are donating money as well as skills like photography, dentistry, medical care—or just playing with the kids.
While China is increasingly accepting care for orphans, many Chinese still stigmatize adoption. Husbands and wives who can’t have their own children may adopt, but they want only healthy babies and likely won’t tell anyone the child was adopted out of fear of how the child may be treated.
The growing church in China can make a difference in this area. Foreign adoptions take two to three years to process, and they remove children from their birth culture—but local adoptions take only a couple of months. Karen Brenneman believes that if local churches taught about “God’s heart for adoption and how we are all adopted into God’s family,” more babies would find loving homes.
On a recent New Day daily prayer list, two requests under the heading of “Dreams” stood out: “$0.00 medical bills because ALL children are healed as soon as they arrive” and “Orphan problem in China solved by the Chinese church.”
2015 expenses: $1.06 million
Executive director’s salary and benefits: $0 (Karen Brenneman and all foreign staffers are volunteers. None receives a salary.)
Staff: 90 paid Chinese staffers in the three locations, 9 foreign volunteers
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