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I Can’t Pretend I Don’t Hear the Train.

Posted by on January 27, 2015

Some weeks ago, I read the story of a man who grew up in Nazi Germany. Each Sunday when he went to church, a train would go by. It didn’t take long before the church members realized there were cries and screams of desperation pouring from the cars – train cars full of Jews, roaring by the church.

So disturbed by this noise were the congregants that they made it a point to sing their hymns as loudly as they could, to drown out the voices. They wanted to pretend they couldn’t hear. Decades later, this man was still haunted by the memories of their inaction. He hears the train whistle in his sleep, he hears the calls for help. It is too late to do anything but be plagued by inaction.

It’s easy to be disgusted by the behaviors of people who looked the other way in Nazi Germany, or any place in history where people said “this doesn’t involve me so I will ignore the cries.”

We have five children. Our youngest is adopted and has Down syndrome. Our oldest isn’t even 12. Our current family size and makeup make us an oddity here in the US. And we’re going to China again. We are adopting again.

There are people who don’t support our decision to have a larger family, who don’t support our choice to return to China. People who think we are crazy or weird. Or people who just say “you can’t save them all, you know; focus on the kids you’ve got.”

I hear the train whistle, and I will not ignore it.

We can’t save them all. I know that. And that hurts deeply. There are things I’ve learned since Meghan came home that will never make it into a blog post or social media blurb. But those things I know, coupled with the knowledge that some will never know the love of a family? That some will die behind concrete walls without another person to grieve and remember them? That is a bitter thought to handle. Just because we can’t help them all, won’t stop us from helping those we CAN help.

An orphanage anywhere, even if it’s run by the best people in the world, is still an orphanage. It’s nice to live in a bubble where we can pretend that an orphanage is just like a 24/7 daycare, with caring staff, enough food to go around, a basic education, and sweet friends to play with each day.

An orphanage run by the worst people in the world, is a living hell for it’s inhabitants.

A child is an orphan because they’ve suffered unconscionable loss. We never want to lose sight of that. The very existence of orphans should be enough to call us to some form of action. But how many of us turn away and tune it out?

There are orphanages in this world where children spend every minute of every day of their lives never seeing the outside of the crib. They have the ceiling and the bars of their crib to keep them company. Their hands and feet their lone entertainment. There are places where children starve to death – sometimes because the orphanage is too poor to support the children, and sometimes because they just don’t care. There are orphanages where older children are expected to take care of the younger ones — and by “older children” I’m talking about 5 year olds. Five year old kids coming home from orphanages who can change a diaper and scrub a floor clean but cannot stack blocks or draw a circle.

So many countries in the world full of so many children. And yes, our own country, too. Our foster care system is a mess, I know that. There are orphans here in the United States.

There are good orphanages run by caring people who want to make a real difference. And they do make a difference. Those people are some of the best people in the world. But an orphanage is never the same as a home, and a caring director is never the same as loving mom or dad. I am extremely grateful for those who devote their lives to caring for buildings full of children. It is a tremendous sacrifice that few are willing to make.

But just because some places may be sort of good? That’s not reason enough for us to do nothing.

I’ve heard the comment “adoption costs tens of thousands of dollars. That money could make a difference to a LOT of orphans if you’d just donate it. Why spend it all on just one?” If you are called to send tens of thousands of dollars overseas to support orphans around the world, I’ll be your biggest cheerleader. What an awesome use of your money. Really! If you’re interested in helping organizations that serve orphans, I’ll be glad to send you all sorts of websites that are worthy of your support and funds. Show Hope, Love Without Boundaries, and more are WONDERFUL organizations to support. I’ll praise their work til the day I die. But the world also needs people who will say “I will serve the one.” And if that’s what you’re called to do? To save the one? DO IT.

Adoption is hard. It’s messy. It’s full of hurt and heartbreak and grieving. I cannot even imagine the grief of an adopted child. Adoptive parents grieve the choice a biological parent had to make – sometimes to save a life. Attachment isn’t easy or instant. Love becomes a choice.

In a perfect world, adoption wouldn’t be necessary. Every child would be wanted, loved, nurtured, and healthy. But we don’t live in a perfect world. And even though it’s hard, our family feels called to try to make our difference. We can’t pretend we don’t hear the train. I may sometimes be haunted by the fact that we can’t do more, but I never want to be haunted by the fact that we did nothing.

Everyone can do something, and everyone can make a difference. Adopt, foster, advocate, pray, sponsor, volunteer, educate, donate, speak for those who have no voice.

“I lived in Germany during the Nazi holocaust. I considered myself a Christian. I attended church since I was a small boy. We had heard the stories of what was happening to the Jews, but like most people today in this country, we tried to distance ourselves from the reality of what was really taking place. What could anyone do to stop it?

A railroad track ran behind our small church, and each Sunday morning we would hear the whistle from a distance and then the clacking of the wheels moving over the track. We became disturbed when one Sunday we noticed cries coming from the train as it passed by. We grimly realized that the train was carrying Jews. They were like cattle in those cars!

Week after week that train whistle would blow. We would dread to hear the sound of those old wheels because we knew that the Jews would begin to cry out to us as they passed our church. It was so terribly disturbing! We could do nothing to help these poor miserable people, yet their screams tormented us. We knew exactly at what time that whistle would blow, and we decided the only way to keep from being so disturbed by the cries was to start singing our hymns. By the time that train came rumbling past the church yard, we were singing at the top of our voices. If some of the screams reached our ears, we’d just sing a little louder until we could hear them no more. Years have passed and no one talks about it much anymore, but I still hear that train whistle in my sleep. I can still hear them crying out for help. God forgive all of us who called ourselves Christians, yet did nothing to intervene.”

2 Responses to I Can’t Pretend I Don’t Hear the Train.

  1. Kyla

    I once heard a story about a old man who walked the ocean beach after the tide went down and picked up the starfish who were stuck there from high tide. He reached down and threw them back in, one by one.
    A younger man came up to him one day and said, “there are so many! What you are doing doesn’t even make a dent. You can’t save them all. Why do you even try? It doesn’t make a difference.”
    The old man responded, “It makes a difference to THIS ONE” and he threw the starfish he was holding back into the ocean.
    Sometimes saving the world is overwhelming. That’s why we have Jesus. He already did it. But remember, He would have done it for just ONE OF US. Isn’t that what you are trying to say?

    I think what you are doing is amazing and fantastic. You can’t call yourself a Christian unless you keep doing what you are called to do. God has a different plan for all of us and no one should judge what the other person’s calling is.

    I have a similar tugging at my heart. But with 4 year old twins and a 10 year old with Autism (the least of her issues) and no more uterus how could I even think about adding another child to our desperately small house?? People tell me I am crazy. The loneliness of an empty tummy can’t’ be expressed, especially since so many people don’t have even one child. How could I complain? But you understand.

    And why shouldn’t you share your amazing wonderful family with a desperately lonely child? Who cares how many children you already have? Your kids are loved and well taken care of and you aren’t doing it for money like some foster parents do in the US (trust me, I see their foster kids in my clinic). Perhaps one day I will get to go with you to China to get MY baby with Down Syndrome (precious jewels that they are). Then maybe the ache will go away. Or maybe not and I’ll just keep hearing the train too.

  2. Sarah

    Thank you for this. We are in the process I adopting and I feel like I fought it for some time due to fear of the high cost–and now I hope we can do it again or help support those in the process

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