Thursday, August 20, 2009

Amazing Story of Amanda de Lange

Amanda de Lange looked out the bedroom window of her high-rise apartment building in the ancient city of Xi’an, China, and contemplated the chain of events that had brought her to this far-away place, half a world away from her original home.  Before her stretched kilometers and kilometers of other high-rise complexes, public parks, and streets that made up this large metropolitan city, and behind her slept more than 50 tiny orphans that made up her brood of castoffs from a society that struggles to keep up with its burgeoning population.  She recalled that her patriarchal blessing said that she had a great mortal destiny awaiting her, but she never dreamed that it would fulfilled in this way and so completely.  It had been a long and difficult journey but also one where the hand of the Lord had been unmistakable.

Her family life when she was young would certainly not have been an indicator of what was to come.  Born of Afrikaner stock in South Africa, her family had been plagued over three generations with alcoholism and divorce.  But then the unexpected happened.  Through the auspices of a friend, she joined the Church when she was nineteen and a few years later she went on a mission to South Africa.  To Amanda, these were more than just ordinary events: They were spiritual manifestations of God’s hand in her life.  “I gained renewed hope and an all-important understanding that I was a child of God and that he loved me beyond measure.”  This reassurance laid the foundation for the rest of her life.  

Post-mission she attended and was graduated from Brigham Young University.  Not having found a spouse, she pushed on with her life.  She taught English in Taiwan for seven years and became fluent in Mandarin.  When she was unable to acquire a permanent visa to remain in Taiwan, she took a job teaching in an international school in Xi’an and settled into her new life.  Then a seeming opportunity came her way.  She lined up a job teaching English in South Korea, a job that brought with it the chance to obtain a master’s degree.  She was within days of embarking on this new direction in her life when events took a turn.

Over the months in Xi’an, Amanda had been volunteering at a huge government orphanage housing about 500 children.  The situation for these tiny ones was grim.  Amanda found herself yearning to do something to help.  And then she found herself sitting across the table at lunch with a Chinese woman discussing how a foreigner, like herself, could become more involved.  It was during this luncheon that the words forcefully came to her mind, “Why don’t you start your own orphanage?”  She quickly dismissed the idea because starting an orphanage in a bureaucratically-inclined country as a foreigner would undoubtedly involve numerous permits and expenses.  But the idea would not leave her.

As it turned out her lunch partner was well connected, and her Heavenly Father had led her to the one person in the country of 1.3 billion people who could help.  Amanda recalls that, “there was no bureaucratic red tape, no requests for money, no mountains of paperwork and no endless waiting.”   A few months later, permission was granted and a few days after that six tiny babies arrived at her apartment.  Just as with her baptism and mission, Amanda felt the Lord’s presence behind this life-changing event, and she received a quiet spiritual confirmation that she was to remain in China and do the Lord’s bidding.

Amanda had always been impressed with the story of the starfish.  

Once a man was walking along a beach. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day. Off in the distance he could see a person going back and forth between the surf's edge and the beach. Back and forth this person went. As the man approached he could see that there were hundreds of starfish stranded on the sand as the result of the natural action of the tide.

The man was stuck by the apparent futility of the task. There were far too many starfish. Many of them were sure to perish. As he approached, the person continued the task of picking up starfish one by one and throwing them into the surf.

As he came up to the person, he said, "You must be crazy. There are thousands of miles of beach covered with starfish. You can't possibly make a difference." The person looked at the man. He then stooped down and picked up one more starfish and threw it back into the ocean. He turned back to the man and said, "It sure made a difference to that one!"

And thus was the Starfish Foster Home named, and it accurately reflects Amanda’s drive to “make a difference.”

Over the last four years, a total of 80 little starfish have passed through her loving hands.  Periodically Amanda roams through the city orphanage looking for more.  She does not choose those you would expect—the cute ones, the adoptable ones.  She brings home those she describes as “medically fragile”—the scarred ones, the unadoptable ones.  Usually this means babies with cleft palates, holes in their hearts, or with spinal bifida.  These are babies that are likely to perish in a large institution for lack of attention and care.  Cleft palate babies must be fed with special care because it is difficult for them to suck and receive the nourishment they need.  

And special care is what they get.  Amanda now presides over a small army of paid nannies and volunteers that feed, bath, and care for these fragile ones.  She is like the CEO of a small company.  There is a budget, a daily schedule, routine tasks, and a to-do list a miles long.  Trucks arrive weekly with loads of food, formula and diapers.  She operates a small kitchen to feed her growing staff.

She not only cares for her little charges, she repairs them.  Some come into her care only skin and bones, but soon they develop into the fat, cuddly, smiling babies we all like to see.  When they are ready, Amanda and her helpers take them to hospitals all over China seeking out specialists to fix up the cleft palates, sew up the holes in the hearts, and close exposed spines.

As Amanda and I talked about this, 3-year-old Shawn burst into the room full of vim and vinegar from his daily outing with the nannies.  “Manda, Manda,” he cried as he sought a place in her lap.  Shawn is a scamp.  The other day he climbed to the top of a dresser to look out a tall window.  As they cuddled, it was hard to imagine that when he first arrived his chance of survival was slim.  All his ribs showed and his bones pressed against his thin skin.  He was so small that the smallest-sized Pampers went clear up to his armpits.  Now his future is much brighter.  Next month he will be adopted by a family from France.  And thus it goes—salvaged, repaired, adopted.  So far, 20 little starfish have been adopted.

Later, I held tiny Sophia on my lap and gazed into her face which unfortunately was marred by a double-cleft palate.  She had arrived in a condition similar to Shawn’s, but she has since thrived.  Soon she will have her cleft palate repaired through the generosity of my home ward.  She looked up at me and touched my face as I looked into her deep, dark eyes and speculated on what unexpected life she might be able to live now that she will be adoptable.  

But things have not always turned out so well.  One of the early starfish, Susan, came to her at three months old with a heart condition.  A small operation put her right for awhile, but later an infection set in and swept her away.  Amanda lay with her in her arms as her breath grew shallower and shallower until finally her spirit slipped beyond the veil.  And she is not the only one that could not be saved.

Although Amanda grieves at the loss of these little ones, she looks at it from an eternal perspective.  The tie between her and Susan (and the others) has not been permanently broken.  She knows she will see them again.  She has a scrapbook of all her little ones that will ultimately go to the adoptive parents, but as she stands before her window her eyes fill with tears as her fingers trace over the images in Susan’s scrapbook.  Could it be, she wonders, that through God’s tender mercies she might be permitted to raise these lost ones through the childhood denied them on earth?

But in the meantime there is work to do.  Shawn breaks into the room again.  “Manda, Manda,” he cries.  He has come for a hug and then he’s off.  Her cell phone rings.  It’s the central orphanage.  Does she have room for one more?  You can guess the answer.  And thus Amanda’s unexpected life goes on in an unexpected place.  


Linda Terry said...

you've said it all, steve; powerfully, beautifully. will this masterpiece be printed in meridian? others need to read it.

Jolee said...

Agree with Linda! Definitely needs to be seen and read by everyone. What an inspiration!

Carolin said...

I stumbled upon your blog by accident tonight and just loved reading the story, even if I did already know it. You truly have a gift of words! Amanda is a truly amazing lady. We adopted her little Rebecca back in January of this year and she is a blessing beyond measure!!! She still talks about Amanda quite often and I know that I know that I know, that the love that little Rebecca shows forth to all of us, had to have started from the love implanted by the Amazing Amanda.

It really tickled me to see our sweet little angel in one of those pictures!

Helena said...

What a wonderful thing she is doing!

jp.lefgren said...

i am visiting the starfish home tomorrow for the 3rd time. it's a place looked over by God and His angels.