Today we were so very fortunate to visit the Shangrao Social Welfare Institute (SWI). Shangrao is a 3-hour drive from where we're staying in Nanchang and, unbelievably, an even bigger city (6 million residents as opposed to Nanchang's paltry 4 million... one really loses a sense of population scale here!).
The drive was so beautiful - long, admittedly, but beautiful. The Jiangxi province is primarily agricultural and is known for its high-quality rice. Passing the terraced patties filled with newly-planted rice and the occasional water buffalo felt like (if this makes any sense at all) traveling through "real" China. And the earth here is very red, so the sight of the bright bricks of the farmers' houses combined with the new green of the spring foliage made for a very pleasantly passed 3 hour drive.
Shangrao SWI serves two functions - an orphanage for abandoned children and an eldercare facility. WanYing was brought to the Shangrao SWI by officials after she was found in Wannian County, several hours' drive from Shangrao, because the Wannian SWI only serves seniors, not orphans. WanYing is likely from the Wannian area, an agricultural area known for its rice, and the "Wan" in her name is in honor of Wannian County.
WanYing has always been under the care of the Shangrao SWI, but for most of her life she lived with a foster family in the country. A few months ago she was brought back to the SWI in preparation for her adoption and placed in one of their new pods. The SWI has two brand new buildings with 12 "home-like" rooms with two adults and five children living in each. The rooms have a bedroom, kitchen, playroom, bathroom, and a room for the foster parents. It's a very cool setup because it gives the kids a stable, home-like environment within the institution.
Our time at the Shangrao SWI was so blessed. Not easy, but such an honor. We weren't sure whether or not we would be allowed to visit, whether the drive would be feasible, and whether our gang would be up for it, and we were so very grateful to get the chance.
Somebody posted a question asking if WanYing is always happy. Blame that on the proud parents who only post the best photos :) Right now she is mostly a cautious observer, which is funny because that's exactly how Sasha reacted to her first few days with us, so we feel totally at home with WanYing's behavior. More and more she breaks out of her shell and smiles and laughs and even mimics our words, but she still spends a whole lot of time just watching how we do this thing called, "family."
And today we saw our first real tears. She's fussed before at bedtimes, but at the SWI we saw a whole new level of unhappy. It was an unfortunate circumstance - we walked into the SWI and were taken to a dining room and - pow - there were the folks that served as her foster parents for the past 5 months. Drat. Terrible timing. And, unsurprisingly, WanYing screamed for 10 or 20 minutes when they left. It was awful... we tried to plan so well to spare her from seeing them, at least unless we felt like she was comfortable and could handle it... but that's not how the cards fell.
Steve and I were both seriously concerned about the throes of grief our baby girl was experiencing, and I know we were both doing a lot of silent praying while comforting her and making small talk over lunch. Our God is good and our daughter is so resilient and by the end of our meal she was happily eating tofu with the rest of us.
Besides the wailing child, lunch was spectacular. We got to eat all sorts of things that are local and native to the area - greens that we saw growing in the orphanage garden, fried lotus root patties, steamed buns, and roughly 10 other dishes that we'd be hard pressed to name (or name the ingredients of) but sure enjoyed! We ate very well.
We got to spend several hours at the SWI eating, talking with the remarkable woman who has been the Director of the SWI for almost 15 years, and touring the orphanage. We saw the room where WanYing spent the past 5 months, played on the playground, and even played with one of the older girls who helped to care for WanYing.
No child should have to grow up in institutional care, but those that do and end up at Shangrao SWI are fortunate indeed. The director is a compassionate and loving woman, the grounds are pleasant and kid-friendly, the caregivers were affectionate, and one definitely understands that everybody's there for the kids. I am grateful that WanYing's name is now absent above her bed in room 11 of the Shangrao SWI - but I am also grateful that it was there and that she was so very well loved before we arrived.
Today's prayer request:
Sasha has shown such maturity and restraint with WanYing - she's so excited to have her new sister and she has been remarkably understanding when WanYing isn't ready to play raucous games or when Mom and Dad need to attend to WanYing or some official document rather than giving Sasha our full attention. Please join us in thanksgiving for our girl's selflessness and excitement over her new sister and pray that her patience and grace for WanYing and for us won't run dry (ever!). Pray that she knows the perfect love of God that transcends all of our worldly, fallible love and that this love will sustain her even when our expression of our parental attention falls short of her expectations.