Photos and stories from our camp directors in Kunming, Xi’an and Yantai.
July – Off to a great start in Kunming!
Bring Me Hope’s 2010 staff just finished a wonderful week in Kunming, China. We were able to connect, plan, and really bond as a group before heading to our three separate camp locations for the summer. We had a lot of meetings, but even more fun, as you can see in video of this little Aussie game we played!
Now we are all awaiting the arrival of our first campers on Monday! We look forward to seeing all that is in store for this summer!
July – Yantai Camp – Preschoolers and the Hospital
Our first week of camp isn’t even over and yet the adventures have already begun! Our children arrived and we were surprised to find that they were almost all toddlers or preschool age.
We were expecting a few kids around five and ranging up to twelve, but the oldest was about nine and we had more than a couple under four! The kids were mostly excited to jump into the activities of camp, and even the most reluctant children were excited when it came to pool time.
On the second day we had two boys who needed medical attention for pre-existing condition. Zhong, who is about five years old, was suffering from eye inflammation that at first everyone thought was pinkeye. We took him to the hospital to be treated and they found out that the eye was inflamed because his eyelid is inverted and his eyelashes grow upwards into his eye, causing scratches that will eventually blind him. He will need surgery to correct the eyelid, but in the meantime the doctors taped the eyelid down so that the eyelashes would no longer bother his eye. Zhong was so excited by the makeshift eye patch that he dragged his foreign volunteer, Lydia, around by the hand so he could show everyone!
We also had to take another boy, Jing, to the hospital due to a severe cough. The doctors diagnosed him with a form of pneumonia and said he would need daily IV treatments. During the treatment, Jing, who is also missing his right hand, bonded strongly with out staff member Teresa. During the group photo on Wednesday Teresa was showing him how to wave at the camera and Jing stopped her from waving and began to push some of the fingers out and others in. He showed her the sign for “I love you” in Chinese and began to tap each of her fingers, saying “Wo ai Ni” (I love you), over and over.
This week we had many first for the kids and also for Bring Me Hope. We took the kids swimming, which is always a highlight for them and for us. This year we even had an inflatable raft that they took rowing all throughout the swimming pool. We took them to a local amusement park and got to ride bumper cars, spinning dolphins and even a flying elephant ride. We even had a beach day full of sand and surf and all the crabs, clams and tiny little fish the kids could find. Summer camp is never boring, that’s for sure!
July – Kunming Camp – Water-park Thrill!
We are off to an amazing start! It was an awesome, fun-filled, life-changing, blessing beyond words time. The children are always quiet when they first arrive, but in a matter of hours are laughing, playing, and enjoying being loved. When it was time to go, every single child, translator, and volunteer, was crying. We always go away each week blessed by what we (our WHOLE FAMILY) have experienced and witnessed, and wishing we had a huge house with lots of rooms.
Eight-year-old Anna was one who captured us the most this week. She sobbed when she told her volunteer about her mom dying. And she later asked her volunteer if she could kiss her on the cheek. Another highlight was when three of the little boys walked into the water park. First their eyes bugged out, they threw their arms into the air and then they screamed in excitement! What a thrill to witness this!
July – Xi’an Camp – Bringing Cheer All Over Xi’an
Here in Xi’an, our volunteer and staff teams are made up of people from Australia, Ireland, England, America, and China. We’ve had continuing jokes about not being able to understand each other, especially the Americans with the Aussie lingo. But in all seriousness (which is a rare thing for us!), we have loved our joined unity over our common goal of helping the children.
We had two groups of precious orphans with us this past week, most of which were energetic boys. They had a blast visiting Ocean World, running through the Xi’an fountain show, and swimming.
One fifteen-year-old boy named Loren made an impression on us all. He has CP, though that sure doesn’t inhibit his joy. He was constantly laughing at his silly seventy-year-old volunteer, Alan, who sported goofy hats every morning.
Alan and Loren were quite a sight walking around the city of Xi’an together, with huge smiles on their faces, they would greet every (and I mean every) passerby with a big wave and a loud “NI HAO!” which mean “HELLO!” They continued greeting people until they broke into a smile and gave a little wave. The pair brought so much happiness to literally hundreds of city folk in Xi’an this week, and not only them, but also to the rest of our camp and to each other.
July – Yantai Camp – Lots of Teenagers!
This week the Yantai camp went from a preschool to a high school! While we still had a couple younger kids, the majority were teenagers! We were also once again blessed with an abundance of boys, which made things more complicated for our female volunteers and translators. But they stuffed up and loved their boys like the sons, nephews and brothers they might have been.
Since we had so many larger boys, pool time was a much more active endeavor than the previous week, and the small ball games and swimming lessons were overtaken by water fights, splash wars and a game of keep-away that eventually devolved into a full contact game of “tackle the guy with the ball”! We were able to get our waterpark up and running. This lead to flips, slips, jumps, push wards, water hose battles and a few accidental trips down!
A big event for the camp this week was the beach. We tried out a different one and found not only a better spot for swimming, but also a place to take rides on jet skis and powerboats!
The big highlight for everyone was a powerboat tour along the coast of Yantai that included views of cliff sides, cliff top temples and lots of dips and turns along the way.
Bai Bai was the youngest camp this week at about five years old. Desprise being the smallest and youngest, she has the most sass! Her favorite word was “bu”, which means “no”. All week her volunteer, Carm, and her translator told Bai Bei “Women ai ni” (We love you), but didn’t get much response. One the last night of camp Carm went into the say goodnight and gave Bai Bai and hug. When she said “Wo ai ni” yet again, Bai Bai looked up nonchalantly and replied simply “I know!” and smiled.
July – Kunming Camp – “The Happiest Time of My Life…”
We can say “Hurray” for week two- not that it is over (ha!), but that it was very successful and fun. We had another amazing group of children. Everyone connected well with their children and played hard. Our goodbye party, complete with a beautiful cake for eating (not throwing, a typical Chinese tradition) was filled with many heart-felt words of love, affection, and disappointment at having to leave.
Here are a couple quotes from the kids to their foreign volunteers:
“When you said, ‘I love you’ to me, although I didn’t have enough courage to speak out, I did say it in my heart.”
“Hello, beautiful like flowers sister. This week is the happiest time in my life.”
Every day you take me to eat ice cream. That is a happy memory in my life. Every day in the camp, I was so happy.”
July – Xi’an Camp – Adoptive Family Volunteers
Like a refreshing summer rain storm, week two of camp has come and gone in Xi’an. We were yet again blessed with a group of volunteers from all over the world. The Knipe family from Florida were especially excited to spend the week with children from their adopted daughter’s orphanage!
A six year old boy named Wei Wei grabbed all of our hearts. He is blind and very small, but he reminded us that no child is insignificant.
July – Yantai Camp – Lots of Rain!
In Yantai the word for week three was FLEXIBILITY! It seemed like a comedy of errors, as not only did we lose access to the swimming pool for the entire week, it also rained with some lightning and thunder thrown in, enough to throw out any plans we had for outdoor activities and disrupt the schedule of assemblies and meetings. Despite these obstacles to our plans, the staff, volunteers, translators and kids came together to have a blast of a week where we even managed to throw in a few surprises!
Tuesday came in with a roar that would have made any lion proud. Rain, lightning, thunder and the staff at our hotel telling us that we would have to turn off the electric equipment before anything nearby struck us with lightning. While we had to shorten our assembly, we were able to lengthen our family and give an extra night for the kids to contemplate come questions about what they wanted to be in the future and what they thought it meant to be a man or a woman.
By midweek the skies were still dark and stormy so, instead of risking a trip to the beach, we found an indoor water park. It had two slides, one smaller tube and a huge rafting slide, plus a gigantic pool complete with a hidden tunnel. It also had a large fountain to run through and a smaller kiddie area for the younger campers to enjoy. While the tube slides were somewhat troublesome to get through, especially for some of the larger staff members who kept getting stuck halfway down, the large raft slide became a hit both for those of us daring around to ride down in and for the spectators who got to watch.
One of the character lessons we have been teaching this year is the story of Joseph, a young man who is abandoned by his family in a faraway land and there comes to great power and responsibility. At camp we had our very own Joseph this week, a young man named “Steven”. At the age of six, Steven was told to wait on a train while his parents took his sister to the restroom. Hours later and miles away, Steven was still on the train, but his family never returned for him and he ended up in an orphanage. Now Steven is seventeen and has been trained as a design artist. One of our camp sponsors, Terry, a manufacturer who also produces our t-shirts, visited camp. After finding out Steven’s story and hearing what a good man Steven is striving to become, Terry offered Steven a job in one of his factories!
July – Xi’an Camp – Like Family Dinner Time
What happens when you have a group of willing volunteers, helpful translators, agreeable orphans, and a big Father? We found that it leaves you with a pretty seamless week of camp!
The children love making pottery, running through the city fountains, and goingto the pool with the giant water slides. But something our more meaningful camp moments happened when we were simply hanging out together.
The more intimate times of making bracelets for one another, reading bedtime stories together, and watching people perform in the camp talent show are precious moments. Like spending time with family around the dinner table, we don’t need anything fancy to enjoy one another!
July – Kunming Camp – Keep Lifting Us Up!
On a personal level we (the Heddens) have not had the best of weeks. So many lows- Luke’s camera and much of his equipment was stolen. We found out we will not be allowed to adopt our foster daughter, Bryn. Finally, Amy’s mom was moved to a nursing home on Friday. We felt as though we were under severe attack!
We have been amazing though that despite all this, but His grace, camp has gone very successfully. Translators’ lives have been changed in eternal ways, our volunteers are so kind and loving, and the children have been showered with a love they so desperately long for and eat up.
One little boy wrote to his volunteer, “When I get big, I will come and find you!” One little girl who was at our camp last year as well saw Tim walk in, jumped up from her place at the table, grabbed his hand and said, “You come sit with me!”.
We are so blessed to witness and to be part of this whole wonderful process!
August – Yantai Camp – Charlie: The Story So Far…
Four years ago Charlie came to a Bring Me Hope camp for the first time and spent a week with a family group. During that week Charlie told his life story and it was one that shocked everyone who heard it.
When Charlie was around three years old, his mother had a love affair and left her family for another man. Charlie was left in the care of his father, who was very poor. Charlie’s father married another woman who treated Charlie alright and bore a new baby sister for Charlie. But there was no love in his life. When the stepmother also left, Charlie’s family was destitute.
One night, after eating in a restaurant, Charlie’s father was unable to afford the bill, so he left Charlie’s infant sister as payment. Charlie didn’t understand until later that night that his father was not playing a joke, but had really left his sister behind.
Soon after his father was at a hotel with Charlie and once again could not afford to pay his debt. This time he planned to use Charlie as payment. But the manager of the hotel called the police and Charlie’s father was taken into police custody while Charlie was sent to the orphanage. He was eight years old.
In the years after his abandonment Charlie suffered many disheartening events in his life, including being tested because he was put in a kindergarten class, despite being such an advanced age. He was also mistakenly identified as mentally handicapped, due to his low class placement.
In 2006 Charlie came to Bring Me Hope came for the first time. Since then he has become a repeat visitor and this year we were lucky enough to have Charlie visit us here in Yantai for a week. He was placed in a family group with Logan, another boy from his school, Crystal, a translator, and Marina, a volunteer from Canada.
While Charlie was shy at first, he was obviously very curious about what was going on around him and there was no concealing the brightness in his eyes. On the first day he was one of the last kids to join in on the water-park. But once he got on and began enjoying himself, he was also the last to leave. During our trip to the indoor-water-park Charlie was swimming and playing with all the kids. He even picked a few different volunteers and translators to take turns riding down the inner tube slide with him.
Tuesday night the family groups were asked to answer a few simple question: What do you hope for, what do you want to be when you grow up, and what do you worry about. Charlie’s biggest worry is much the same as any child his age: his future and his education. While most kids wonder how they will succeed once they reach adulthood, Charlie’s worry is much closer to his heart due to the fact that he has been place so far back in school and has fallen so far behind. He doesn’t know what idea he wants to do in the future, but he does know he does NOT want to become a beggar or cleaner.
Despite the life he has lead and the evil he has witnessed and suffered, he is a boy full of love. When asked what he hoped for, his answer was simple: For Bring Me Hope camp to get better and better. When his volunteer, Marina asked him why, he said “So more kids can come and enjoy the camps and experience love!”
Charlie’s story is ongoing, as are the stories of all the other hundreds of kids that have come through our camps. Their lives are hard and their needs are great, but hope is our there for them. Here is a excerpt from Charlie’s good-bye letter to Marina, a glimpse into the heart of a strong, joyful young man.
“I am happy we are family. It is hard for me to say good-bye. I hope time can be frozen. You are like a mother that loves me and cares for me. This is the most beautiful memory that I have ever had.”
August – Xi’an Camp – Newly Abandoned Child Comes to Camp
Just a few days after being abandoned, “Sean” came to our camp in Xi’an. For an eight-year-old, Sean was extremely withdrawn and quiet. At first, he didn’t smile, respond to our questions or keep eye contact with anyone.
Halfway through the week, Sean really started to come out of his shell. He began smiling at us, playing along with games and going down the huge water slide at the pool. We even began having to chase after him because he was so excited to explore and experience things at camp. We saw the Father’s provision for Sean’s life that at just the time he was abandoned, he was ushered into his new orphanage family with other children, during a fun camp where he was told how loved and he special he was.
August – Yantai Camp – Dead Fish for lunch?
Our final week in Yantai we were blessed to have thirty-eight kids! We had toddlers, teenagers, and, for the first time at the Yantai camp, an nearly even spread of boys and girls.
On Monday we had kids from three orphanages arrive and we knew right away this was a rowdy group. We had kids of all shapes and sizes running around and none of them were worried or shy. Right off the bat we had craft time and then walked straight to the water park. Unlike the past week, these kids took to the water without any hesitation and were soon barreling down the waterslide.
Later in the week, thanks to the return of the sun, we were able to go to the beach. It was a great day of sun, small surf and rides of the jet skis. It was a highlight moment when one of the kids brought a flat fish up to the sitting area and tried to feed some algae to it, all the while saying “hungry fish, eat, eat”. It was even better when the boy searched around for a plastic bag, dumped the fish and some salt water in and told us he wanted to take it home. Luckily we were able to convince him that fish are better off in the ocean.
During family time one afternoon a volunteer, Lindsay, took her boys to the local market to buy some snacks. The boys had never seen an escalator before and took turns riding it up and down, thinking it was a ride rather than a convenient way to travel between floors!
Friday was goodbye day and the long hugs and tearful goodbyes continued even after the kids were gone. Eventually it was time for all the translators, volunteers and staff members to go their separate ways. Some were returning home, other were heading off for further travels and a few are remaining for the first ever Chinese run camps. It was four weeks of love, friendship, laugher, and big smiles (with a few sad moments sprinkled in!). From all of us here in Yantai we want to thank everyone for their love and support, especially our volunteers and translators who worked so hard to make camp happen!
September – BMH Volunteers Return to China to Visit Camp Buddies!
My name is Susan. My daughter, Alexis, and I went to one of the BMH summer camps last year. Wow, what a great time we had! Perhaps because they were old and I am a mom, I bonded especially well with my two campers Yan (16) and Qingqing (20). It broke my heart to watch them leave on the last day. Lily, my translator, spent an extra day after camp before we parted ways and we solidified a friendship that had been growing that week.
After camp Lily and I emailed each other a couple times a week. Yan and Qingqing were continually on my heart and I could see that they were on Lily’s heart too. We talked a lot about them and I told Lily that I felt I would be back in a year so that we could all be together again.
As the months went by, the Father provided money for my “China Fund” again and again. Although I was dismayed that the cost of returning to china had more than doubled, still the money was provided for both my daughter and me to go. Lily explained to me that she had told her family so much about the girls and her experience at camp that her father was interested in meeting these orphans and the Americans who cared so much about them. Lily called the orphanage and they agreed to allow us all to visit.
The most important part of our time together was spent at Lily’s home with her family and Yan and Qingqing. I don’t believe her family has ever met a Westerner, but they welcomed us into their lives and treated us as honored guests. My greatest desire was to see the Father bond Yan and Qingqing’s hearts to the hearts of Lily’s family—and that is exactly what he did. Lily’s father announced that the girls must come and spend their future school vacations with the family from now on!
In an email I just received from Lily’s sister, Violin, she wrote, “Your coming has changed my whole family a lot! We were curious and joyful. Now we understand love deeper. Dad and mom often talk about you. There is no different between Chinese and Americans to come degree. We love you all and hope for another wonderful meeting together.”