Every Child Counts

Amy Eldridge and the story of Love Without Boundaries

 

words by: Nic Stoltzfus

 

His lips were blue. He let out a cough and struggled to suck in air to fill his lungs. Oliver’s health was failing him, and his mother was yet again filled with worry. She had taken her son to three different hospitals specializing in cardiology, but the doctors told her that they couldn’t help her; they said the best she could do would be to take her son home to die. Tears streamed down her cheeks; she couldn’t fathom the death of her only son—she wanted him to live!

The doctors told Oliver’s mother to take her son home to die because Oliver was born with Down syndrome and a congenital heart defect. In China, there is a major stigma against children born with special needs. Typically, when a pregnant mother goes in for a pre-birth ultrasound, if the doctors find that the child has special needs, the policy is to abort the baby. The doctors saw her son as an unwanted child—in their minds, why would anyone spend money on a child who had special needs?

Oliver’s mother had tried to have a child for eight years without any results. When she got pregnant, she knew that the child was a precious gift, and she wanted to keep the baby. In order to live, Oliver needed heart surgery. But his mother was poor, and she couldn’t afford the surgery. In order to give her son a chance to live, she considered giving her son to an orphanage, as they would have the funds to pay for the surgery and other medical care.

For many parents in China who have children with special needs, the lack of funds and support means that they are forced to abandon their children; this means many children with special needs become orphans. In fact, nearly every child living in a Chinese orphanage was given up by his or her family due to medical needs.

Oliver’s mother didn’t want to abandon her son to an orphanage—she wanted to raise him! Was there anything else that could be done? Was there anyone out there who cared enough to help her save her child?

~       ~       ~       ~       ~

The Story of Baby Kang

Amy Eldridge picked the baby up and held him in her arms. His thin little body was blue; his small torso rose and fell with great effort; the baby boy was simply trying to breathe. Little Kang was only a nine-month-old frail baby, born with a heart defect. Amy asked Dr. Huang, the orphanage doctor, what could be done for Kang. The doctor shook his head and said that nothing could be done—the orphanage didn’t have any money for the heart surgery, as they had just spent their last funds on surgery for another child. Amy’s heart was filled with a heavy sadness. Couldn’t they do something to save this precious child?

Amy’s original intent of visiting this orphanage in southern China was to come back with some answers for her youngest daughter Anna, who was adopted from this same orphanage several years earlier. But when Amy arrived at the orphanage, she realized that there were still more children who needed help. On the plane ride back home to Oklahoma, she couldn’t forget what she saw at the orphanage: hungry children with emaciated faces, boys and girls starving for affection, and Kang. Amy knew she had to do something to help the orphans—especially Kang. Her heart couldn’t let go of that little gaunt, pale, and listless baby boy.

When she got home, Amy sat down at her computer and wrote an e-mail to all her contacts asking for help. She shared her experience in China and these were some of her closing words:

“On my trip, I met a tiny baby boy who is slowly dying in the orphanage because his heart is bad. The main doctor at the orphanage is such a kind and compassionate man, and he pulled me over to this little boy and told me with great sadness that they don’t have the money needed to arrange for this child to have surgery. It is a humbling and sobering experience to hold a little child in your hands that is so ill with no hope of getting medical treatment. I am crying again as I write this because I remember every detail about his perfect little face. His mother and father abandoned him simply because he had the bad luck to be born with a heart defect. I held him and thought I could not let this same defect also take his life. 

“I have never in my life done anything like this before, but I realize that I cannot do this alone, and so I am asking all of my friends to please consider sending a donation, no matter how small, so that I can get the funds to the orphanage for this little boy to have surgery.”

Amy sent the e-mail and held her breath—what happened now? The surgery was expected to cost between $5,000 to $7,000. She was just an Oklahoma soccer mom! Could she really raise that amount?

She realized that, whatever happened, it would not be by her own effort. One day when she was praying, she felt God lay these three words on her heart: Every child counts.

~       ~       ~       ~       ~

Amy’s e-mail was shared countless times and people from all over reached out to offer their help and support. Hundreds of letters of support poured in, and Amy ended up with enough funds for not just one heart surgery, but three. An adoptive mom from Colorado—whose daughter was also from the same orphanage as Amy’s daughter and little Kang—had gotten Amy’s e-mail, and she put Amy in touch with a pediatric heart surgeon in Denver. Dr. Max Mitchell was headed to China in a few weeks to do heart surgeries on children. Amy quickly reached out to him, and he agreed to perform Kang’s heart surgery.

Dr. Mitchell was performing his surgeries in a hospital in Hangzhou, a city in northern China nearby Shanghai. With the funds from Amy and her friends, the orphanage flew Kang and two other orphans to Hangzhou so Dr. Mitchell could fix their hearts.

Kang was the last surgery that Dr. Mitchell performed. His surgery didn’t go as planned. Dr. Mitchell had been told that Kang had a routine heart defect known as Tetralogy of Fallot, but it turned out that the case was more complex. Since the holes in Kang’s heart weren’t where the scans had indicated, Dr. Mitchell had to hold the boy’s heart to feel where he needed to repair it. This more intensive surgery was successful but presented problems post-operation with the blood flow. Kang’s condition worsened: his kidneys began to shut down, and he entered into a coma.

Amy sent an e-mail out to her friends asking for prayers:

“Could everyone please just lift this little child up? He doesn’t have a mother or a father, but I know he has people all over the world rallying behind him and wishing him well. He has no idea how many people are praying, so if he would pass away within the next day…let it be with complete love surrounding him…I want his life to count. He IS important. His life DOES matter.”

The hospital put Kang on dialysis and told Amy the only way he could survive was if he had another surgery. This time, the surgery was a success. He was no longer in a coma, his kidneys were functioning on their own without the need for dialysis, and his body was no longer blue. Little Kang was healed.

After Kang’s surgery and the successful heart surgeries of the other children, the orphanage sent a banner to Amy which read “Love Makes No Boundaries Between Countries.” Amy knew that this was the work she wanted to focus on, so in 2003, she got together with four of her friends—all of them also adoptive parents like Amy—and formed the non-profit organization “Love Without Boundaries.” This small group knew that every child counts, and their hope was that their organization could help provide better lives for children around the world. Little did they know the impact their organization would have.

~       ~       ~       ~       ~

Love Without Boundaries Rescues Little Oliver

Fifteen years later, in 2018, Love Without Boundaries (LWB) was an organization that was fully integrated into rural communities throughout China, working with local organizations to make a difference in children’s lives. Tens of thousands of children had been helped by providing life-saving surgeries, providing adequate nutrition and education, reuniting children with their birth parents, finding adoptive parents for children, working to end child-trafficking, and more.

One of the rural communities where Love Without Boundaries was located was in Oliver’s village. Oliver’s mother found out about the organization and reached out to them to see if they could help.

Love Without Boundaries was aware of the situation that Oliver’s mother was in—she lacked funds for surgery and planned to give up Oliver to an orphanage, in the hopes that they would provide surgery for him. One of the main reasons that parents abandon children in China is because they don’t have the emotional and financial support they need to get their children medical care. The staff at Love Without Boundaries had created a solution to this problem. In order to keep families together and prevent parents from abandoning their children to orphanages, they came up with a program called the Unity Initiative Fund. The fund’s mission is to “provide surgeries and medical care for children from impoverished families in China who are unable to afford the medical care needed for their children. It is our goal to help keep families together and our desire to help many more impoverished families with medical care in the future.”

In February 2018, the week before Valentine’s Day, LWB put out a special plea for help on their blog, asking their donors to help raise the funds so Oliver could have surgery. People from all over the world, including the founders of Plain Values magazine, Marlin & Lisa Miller, donated funds for the surgery. By Valentine’s Day, Love Without Boundaries had raised enough funds for Oliver’s surgery. The following month, the family traveled to Fudan Hospital in Shanghai for his surgery. Oliver’s surgery was a success, and he is now a happy boy surrounded by family who love him and care for him deeply.

~       ~       ~       ~       ~

Helping Cambodian Children

Starting in 2016, Love Without Boundaries began exploring taking their model to other countries. During this time, Amy visited Cambodia. She was overcome with not only the poverty in the country, but also the large amount of collective trauma the country’s citizens deal with.

In the 1970s, the country was engulfed in a civil war; the Communist Party of Kampuchea (“Khmer Rouge”) defeated the Kingdom of Cambodia. The party’s leader Pol Pot and the ruling communist party did not tolerate dissent, and their actions led to the death of over 1.5 million people in what is now known as the Cambodian genocide. One out of every four Cambodians were killed during this time. Hundreds of thousands of Cambodians fled the country, and for decades the nation was in turmoil.

In her 2016 visit, Amy visited remote villages along the Cambodia-Thailand border. She was shocked by what she saw: many of the villages didn’t have running water or electricity, and many of the children were malnourished. As she looked at the children, she noticed that nearly half of them were shorter than what they should be for their age—they were so malnourished that their growth was stunted.

The children had other problems, as well. Education is a way for children to escape poverty and hunger, but even this was a trap. For children who lived in remote villages and had to walk miles to the schoolhouse, there was danger on the roads. Kidnappers hid in waiting; they would kidnap children along lonely stretches of road and take them across the border to Thailand. Here, they were sold into forced labor—or worse. Amy found out that parents were so fearful of their children being kidnapped that they refused to send their children to school. Amy’s heart went out to these children—these were such deep problems!

One of the more remote villages she went to was one called Sokhem.* As Amy walked around, she saw starving children everywhere she looked. She walked down to a landfill at the edge of town and saw a young boy at a landfill digging around looking for food. He had a cut on his head, his clothes were covered in dirt, and there was a look of desperation in his eyes—he was hungry. It was in the middle of the day, when he should have been at school. Instead of improving his life through education, he was digging through plastic bags looking for his next meal.

On the plane ride back home, Amy couldn’t forget the face of the boy at the landfill. She had to do something for him and the children of Cambodia. Amy and her team at Love Without Boundaries started to work on a plan. They built a school in Sokhem for children who are preschool aged up to 4th grade. LWB also built another primary school in the nearby village of Rangsei* for preschool through 6th grade. At the Sokhem school, students receive breakfast and lunch every day, and at the Rangsei school, students receive lunch every day. Children who live far away from the schools don’t have to walk; Love Without Boundaries has provided the children with a tuk tuk, a small three-wheeled automobile that serves as the children’s school bus that safely transports them to and from school.

For children in these villages who have been trafficked or abused, Love Without Boundaries developed the Safe Haven foster care program. In this program, they place children with trauma in sheltered home environments and put them in school. While in this program, the children’s progress towards healing is closely monitored. For students who have shown success in the schools, there is the Impoverished Student Support program where LWB helps students with university fees.

And the little boy at the Sokhem landfill? His name is Curtis, and today he is a student at the Sokhem Village Believe in Me school. He has fresh clothes, hot meals, and he is able to focus on his education.

~       ~       ~       ~       ~

Because of Love Without Boundaries, Curtis and his classmates have the chance to improve their lives and build a better future for their community. Because of Love Without Boundaries, Oliver is able to grow up in the love of his family. Because of Love Without Boundaries, little Kang was given the gift of life and then adoption by a loving family. Whether a child is in Cambodia, China, the United States—wherever they are in the world, their life counts. In God’s eyes, love knows no boundaries, and we are called to love his children, no matter where they live or where they come from.

__________

*The names of these villages are changed to protect the identity of the children.

___________

How to Support Love Without Boundaries

If the Lord is urging you to support Love Without Boundaries, you can donate online through Room to Bloom.

To learn more about Love Without Boundaries, visit www.lovewithoutboundaries.com

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