David Gotts began the work of International China Concern 26 years ago in response to the plight of children with disabilities that were abandoned into China’s state welfare centers. He has spent the last quarter century bringing love, hope and opportunity into one of the darkest parts of China’s social welfare system. David’s love for those with disabilities went even deeper eleven years ago with the discovery that his second son, Kieran, had been born with a complex neurological disorder, leading him on a new journey filled with heartbreak and joy. It’s a grace to welcome David to the farm’s front porch today…
‘I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.’ Isaiah 45:3
here is a look that I often see on the faces of those that I speak with.
Usually, the look comes on the back of me having spoken at an event about the work that I have been doing in China for almost thirty years.
That look isn’t brought about by the words I have spoken that describe the pain and suffering of children in China with disabilities who have experienced abandonment.
Nor is the look brought about by the message of hope that my colleagues and I bring into that terrible situation of despair.
No, the look is usually brought by my response to a simple question, “How many children do you have?”
This simple question is a complicated one to answer.
My answer is always ‘two’ – but then I explain that my second son, Kieran, died in May 2017.
I go on to explain that this precious boy didn’t just battle cancer but was born with complex disabilities that left him unable to speak and only able to walk the shortest of distances.
It’s at that moment that I see ‘the look’- a look of pity, compassion, sadness, even love – and beyond that I sense a question and confusion.
I was 19 years old when I felt a strong call to China.
I left England and began a journey that included learning Mandarin, before ending up one day in 1993, visiting a Chinese welfare institution.
Having asked God to show me where I could serve, I found myself standing in the midst of dying babies and children with life-defining and, in that environment, life-threatening disabilities.
I held babies in my arms as they fought to live.
What I saw shook me and the desire for God’s Kingdom and justice to come into that situation rose up within me.
Honestly, it wasn’t the kind of work that I had wanted to do.
Overwhelmed by the darkness of the situation, I wrestled with what seemed like unending and insurmountable suffering.
Yet, I couldn’t escape the knowledge that God loved each of these children nor the invitation to step into this profound place of darkness.
After 9 months of wrestling, I told God it was just too hard. So many children, too much darkness. He simply agreed with me and then told me that He could change it. This was the day that International China Concern’s (ICC) began.
I grew to care deeply for the children that came from China’s welfare institutions into our care. I, my team that would grow into the hundreds, and these children became family. The darkness was great. Our work reduced mortality rates of 90% but on the days when a child still died our hearts broke.
It was 15 years after ICC began that our own son Kieran came into the world.
Our seemingly healthy boy began to have seizures at 3 months of age.
A lengthy hospital stay diagnosed a rare malformation of the brain. Whenever a seizure hit, we felt a deep fear, always needing to watch the clock in case it went more than three minutes and required us to administer rescue meds or call 911.
Whilst Kieran’s development was slow, develop he did. He was cherubic with strawberry blond hair and a gorgeous smile. In 2011, at three years old he was diagnosed with brain cancer. The diagnosis came late, treatment was tough, the impacts erased some of the gains that we had seen.
My wife, Linda, and I were left reeling and exhausted. Surely, we had faced enough.
When Kieran’s treatment was complete, life settled down and we began to feel like a ‘normal’ family.
Parenting a child with complex disabilities was hard, but there was no limit to what we would do to see a smile, or get a hug, or feel his little hand in ours.
We have so many great family memories. One of the greatest was travelling to China together in 2015 as ICC opened 20 group homes to care for 150 children with disabilities in the city of Hengyang.
I remember Kieran lying on one of the beds in a group home and snuggling down into the quilt seemingly quite at home.
In 2016 Kieran was diagnosed with a new aggressive form of brain cancer. He was given six months to live. There are few words to describe the pain of that time.
He passed away with Linda and I holding his hand after spending his last six weeks in Canuck Place Children’s Hospice.
So back to ‘the look’.
Behind the eyes that express pity, compassion, sadness, and love, there is a question and confusion.
Some voice it, others don’t.
Some express it as an irony, that I would dedicate my life to caring for children with disabilities that have experienced abandonment, and that God would give me my own child with complex disabilities.
The confusion reflects an idea that having given my life in service to children with disabilities I should somehow be exempt from having to experience this in my own family.
It seems to strike at the very heart of our erroneous belief that if we just do enough for God then He will keep suffering and pain from our door.
Here is what I long to say when I see that look, sense the questions and confusion…
“Thank you for compassion. May I share with you how I see it? Pain and suffering eventually come to us all. At some point, we will all find ourselves in places of darkness that will seemingly overwhelm, even destroy us.
But here is what I have learned. Every journey into darkness, whilst terrifying, has unexpected treasures hidden in it.
Journeying with China’s children and parenting Kieran has broken me into pieces. Both have involved incredible suffering and pain, that I almost couldn’t bear.
But because Jesus is present in that darkness, I am not left broken and shattered. Instead, in that place of pain and loss I have discovered treasures that can only be found in those dark places.
The treasure of shared lives where our presence to each other brings hope. The treasure of relationships that are rich with love. The treasure of being resurrected; awakened to life, beauty, sanctity and joy.
I know this may be hard to understand. But if, one day, you are called to walk through such darkness I pray that by God’s grace you will know He is right there with you. And, whilst you may not yet see them, there are treasures in the darkness that He will reveal as you walk that path.
I’ve found them, and you will too.”
He says to you, ‘I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.
David Gotts is the Founder of International China Concern, a Christian non-profit that partners with the Chinese government in order that children with disabilities can experience the fullness of life that Jesus promises to us all.
David’s book China’s Oasis: Love, hope and opportunity for the hidden children of China tells the story of David leaving the UK at 19 years old, moving to China and discovering the suffering, as well as the moving story of parenting his own son who was born with complex special needs.
ICC provides love hope and opportunity for children with disabilities in China that have experienced abandonment. They operate both campus-style and community based group homes in two locations in China: Changsha and Hengyang, as well as supporting families that have a child with a disability in order to prevent abandonment and keep families together. This work is supported by eight National Offices around the world. Hundreds of children have received full time, life-changing care, and hundreds of families find hope through ICC’s work. This books shows that ordinary people can do extraordinary things through faith and love.