Stripping Away the Illusion

How pain positions us for the miracle

This article was originally published in the Tenth Church EPIC Magazine, January 2015

I should have known that something was wrong by the silence that greeted me when I arrived at the state-run orphanage in Southern China. Nowhere did I hear the sound of children laughing or playing – just an eerie quiet. 

As I looked down into the first crib in the nursery, I was overwhelmed by the smell of curdled milk and dirty diapers. I gradually took in the faces of the five little baby girls, each one of them dirty, gaunt and covered in skin diseases. Each child looked blankly into space, having already given up on life. I looked upon crib after crib and realized that each bassinet was filled with little lives that were wasting away.

In this moment, all my illusions began to break apart. Growing up in the UK, I had seen images of suffering on TV as I sat in my comfortable home, but I had never really seen those children, nor had I let their reality impact my heart. I had wanted to believe that everyone lived as I did. 

However, in that moment, standing in that orphanage, I saw for the first time. It was like my eyes had been opened to a reality that I hadn’t wanted to admit existed. And with that awareness came all of the feelings that my illusions had previously protected me from – pain, sadness, fear, anxiety, struggle, repulsion, and the overwhelming desire to run away and shut it all out. 

However, I felt God gently say that I was experiencing a little of what He felt each moment of every day. He was asking me to turn towards that suffering and to let it impact me, let it break my heart. I began to see that through this experience I was being welcomed into the heart of God – that the pain, anxiety, sadness and fear was a gift. 

I could sense the almighty love of God that wanted to envelop these children and infuse their lives with hope. He wanted these children to move from pain and death towards love and life. 

With that sense came the understanding that the gift being given to me wasn’t just about being welcomed into God’s heart, but being welcomed to begin a journey with Him that was about changing lives one by one – and ultimately, about changing a nation. 

As I have reflected on this moment over the last twenty years, I have come to understand that despite God’s calls for us to see the world as it really is – a broken and pain-filled place that needs ‘saints’ to bring hope and light – many of us hide behind an illusion that disconnects us from the painful reality of the world, enabling us to avoid dealing with the pain and insulating us from considering what response God would have us make. 
The struggle to turn towards the suffering of China’s abandoned and disabled children – to feel a fraction of the pain that God feels in His heart – is one that I have encountered many times since I first stood in that orphanage 20 years ago. Ultimately, it was this pain that led me to establish International China Concern (ICC) to bring love, hope and opportunity to the abandoned and disabled children of China. 

I am sure you experience this pain too. How do you respond when you hear of the crisis of aboriginal children in foster care – nearly half of all children in care? What happens in your heart when you hear of children trafficked into the sex industry in Cambodia? Does your heart break when you hear of abandoned babies and children tied to chairs and left for 12 hours a day to waste away? 

If our response is to move on to the next thing without our heart feeling an ache, then we must question whether we are still living in an illusion. 

As followers of Jesus, our desire is for His life to overtake ours, for us to be increasingly filled by Him so that our lives are His life lived out. One of the ways we foster that life of Jesus within us is by praying for His heart and then turning towards the broken world. We feel the pain that is in the lives of those around us and those across the world. 
Ann Voskamp, author of One Thousands Gifts, says this, “If I am moved but choose not to respond, won’t I soon harden, unable to respond? When we are touched, we must reach out or soon we stiffen and nothing touches us and we feel nothing.” 

Open your heart to feel, and then take the pain and sadness to Jesus. As you enter His presence, take a look at the One whom you are approaching – He is the one that when surrounded by the needs of thousands, was able to take the five loaves and two fish from a little boy, and do a miracle to make it enough. 

This is the response that Jesus is looking for. 

He (Jesus) is looking for those who are willing to have their hearts broken, and who, in response, then come to Him knowing that they cannot do anything other than offer the little they have to Him so that He can take it, bless it and make it enough. 

Every day, I live with the awareness that there are families who will abandon their disabled child simply because they don’t have anyone to walk with them and support them. Every day, I live with the awareness that there are children who will wake up having been dislocated through abandonment, never again to see their parents. What I can bring to change that situation is not enough – I know that deeply. However, together, you and I can bring the little we have and hand it over to Jesus and watch Him do a miracle. 
Are you going to live a life that is an illusion or are you willing to open your heart, to accept the invitation to feel a little of what God feels, to accept the invitation to join Him on a journey? 

And as you start that journey feeling inadequate, helpless and weak, will you offer to Him the little that you have and ask Him to take it, bless it and somehow make it enough to change the life of someone in need? 

Twenty years ago, experiencing a little of God’s heart led me to offer my five loaves and two fish and begin the work of ICC. Many more have come alongside me since then, offering their five loaves and two fish. I have seen the miracle that takes place when this happens. For me, that miracle is the ministry of ICC in the lives of hundreds of children each and every day. It is the hope that has come into the hearts of hundreds of families as we walk the journey with them and their disabled child. 

Will you allow the pain of the world around you to break you heart? Will you turn towards it and offer what you have? Will you be one of the saints who brings hope and light to the children of the world? 

David Gotts will speak at Tenth Church In Vancouver, BC, Canada, on Sunday, January 25th on God’s love for abandoned children. This sermon will be part of the sermon series Fullness of Life for Every Child.