What is your story? What is GivingBackLife’s story?
Over the years people and churches and groups have asked me these questions. My answer is always honest, but maybe not so organized in thought. I never know if people get my heart. Since a few people and churches have asked me these questions again recently I decided to take advantage of this opportunity and spend some time praying about my response. Well, here it is:
My parents were immigrants from Hong Kong and Taiwan. Other than each other and a strong work ethic they didn’t have much when they first arrived to the States. Like most immigrant families during that time they sacrificed so much in order to give their children the lives they never had for themselves.
I never appreciated that sacrifice and grew up very spoiled. Being spoiled led to a life of chronic materialism and coveting the things of this world that eventually led to (believe it or not) a desire to pursue medicine and business as a career. I thought to myself “the hard work will be worth it” because I was choosing certainty. I was choosing a guaranteed lifestyle that could afford me the lavishes I coveted so badly since childhood — big house, nice cars, cool gadgets, financial freedom, etc. Even after accepting Christ at 20 years of age I was never able to shed that desire of pursuing a life of “certainty”.
In the middle of my graduate medical and business education I started to burn out. For a number of personal reasons my tank began to run on empty. I was ready to call it quits. Looking back this was the start of an unexplainable shift in my life. My future lifestyle and financial certainty was starting to lose its appeal for the very first time but I hadn’t realized it yet...though it would come soon enough in the most unexpected of ways.
In the following few years I was able to go on a number of medical mission trips to Mexico, China and Africa. They all chipped away at me. They all helped me see the world in a different light, bit by bit. The epitome of this came during a month long trip to China with my new bride, Lily. We lived in a very rural children’s home for a month. It was hot and humid. There was no air conditioning. We stayed in a run down room with bugs and geckos on the walls. We spent one of the first evenings capturing mice in the room so we could sleep in peace. We slept on blankets draped over wooden planks. We had no transportation so our entire month was spent with the kids at this children’s home — eating with them, playing with them, teaching them English, giving them haircuts, treating their medical issues, etc.
I built a special connection with one of the boys — Calvin. He was a special 13 year old. He wasn’t like any of the other kids at the children’s home. He wasn’t “cute” like the other kids. He didn’t go to school. He ate alone during meals. He was picked on for talking funny and walking funny. He even slept alone. While other kids slept 4-6 per room he slept completely by himself. Even though there were beds set up throughout his room he slept on a mat in the middle of the room with the lights turned on...which he eventually shared with me was because he was lonely and afraid of the dark.
Before coming to the children’s home years prior he was living with his grandparents. Because they couldn’t take care of him they left him in the chicken coop throughout most of the day and only cared for him when it was time to eat and when it was time to come home at night. This was how he grew up for most of his life. By the time he came to the children’s home not only had he contracted hepatitis he was physically and mentally damaged. Born a “normal” child...he was neglected by the ones that should have loved him most.
Because he didn’t go to school I got to spend a lot of time with him. A lot of time. We played tons of table tennis. We talked. We laughed. We ate. We joked. If I was being honest though he eventually annoyed me a bit because he became emotionally attached to me (like most orphans do if you show them even the slightest bit of love and attention) and he didn’t give me much space. But, I genuinely started to love him like a little brother.
A month passed and it was time for us to leave. Though we were glad to be going back to air conditioning and Chipotle burritos...it was hard and emotional for Lily and myself. Thinking back, however, it must have been even harder for Calvin. He asked me to come back and visit him again. I said I would. I never ended up keeping that promise. A few months after our goodbyes I received a letter saying Calvin passed away due to complications from his chronic medical issues. He woke up in the middle of the night complaining of his belly hurting. By the time he got appropriate medical attention it was too late. That night he was in pain. That night he was sleeping alone. That night he was afraid of the dark. That night, like every night before it, he lacked the love that every child needs and wants and covets. He was 13 years old.
One of my favorite quotes comes from a movie called Paul, Apostle of Christ. Right before Paul was to be beheaded and die as a martyr he had this conversation with the head Roman guard:
Paul: Imagine yourself looking out at the vast sea before you. You reach down, and you put a hand into the water, and you scoop it up towards you. Immediately, the water starts leaking through your fingers until the hand is empty. That water is a man's life. From birth to death, it is always slipping through our hands until it is gone...along with all that you hold dear in this world. And yet the kingdom I speak of, that I live for, is like the rest of the water out in the sea. Man lives for that cup of water that slips through his fingers. But, those that follow Jesus Christ live for that endless expanse of sea.
Roman guard: What if, after all this, I still do not believe in your Christ?
Paul: I wasn't trying to convince you. Listen to me. There's only a moment. It's not me. It is Christ himself that looks upon you and shatters your defenses. And in that moment, you will understand that you are completely known by God and you are completely loved by God. I will pray that moment comes for you.
Calvin’s death was a big moment for me. Calvin’s death was my tipping point. I couldn’t see the world from the same perspective ever again. I could no longer only live for myself. It was time to choose an unexplainable love over an earthly certainty. It was time for me to stop grabbing at that stupid cup to only watch it slip away each time. It was time for me to walk by faith and realize the entire open sea was being given to me.
I can’t lie...every day is still a challenge. But, when I’m lost or when I want to run back to my “old” life Calvin never fails to remind me how precious life is, how short life is, and how desperate people are for His unexplainable yet transformative love.
This is at the core of everyone serving at GivingBackLife. Our vision is a China void of the most terrible poverty - loneliness and the feeling of being unloved. Our mission is to use our skills in medicine and education as tools for loving people, caring for the poor, sharing the gospel, and ultimately raising up local leaders with the capacity to disciple others. Our hope is in Jesus Christ, our Savior and King.