Overnight Trains & Radical Love: Stories From China


It was a warm spring night early in April when one of the babies, his Ayi (Chinese word for nanny) and I headed to the train station in Luoyang after evening rounds to catch the late train

We had received word the month before that this kiddo would be going for adoption which was the best news we could have received about this little boy.  We were excited for him and anxious to know information about his adoptive family.

This little boy had been born with an inborn error of metabolism where a certain amino acid was not able to be broken down in the body.  This required him to be on a special diet with prescription formula and have blood drawn weekly to monitor levels in his blood.

Because his meal preparation was complex and his formula needed to be measured precisely, I accompanied the little boy and his Ayi back to his hometown where the adoption would be finalized and he would be united with his adoptive parents so I could educate them about his condition and teach them how to prepare his meals.

I’m always up for an adventure but this 500 mile over night train ride with a baby in a country where my language skills were incredibly sub par (and that’s putting it nicely) was not exactly the idea I had of a fun adventure.  Terrified, anxious and dread most accurately described what I felt as we walked into the train station that night.

We boarded the train and made our way down the narrow hallway to our bunks.  The term bunk here is sort of misleading term.  If you’ve ever been on a sleeper train you will understand and probably agree that the term is misleading.  The bunks are nestled into a tiny little cabin, one bunk on either side of the cabin and stacked three high.  They are hard, thick plastic panels that are more like stretchers and even those of small stature and slender figure have reason to fear that the bunks may not hold them or that they may go tumbling down onto the floor if they move even an inch in their sleep.

Crawling into my designated space for the next fourteen hours, I snuggled up next to this little one.  He was tired and hungry and starting to get fussy. His Ayi prepared a bottle that he quickly drank down.  Mostly I remember feeling utterly helpless at that moment as the train pulled away from the station and I realized that it was me, this baby, and the Ayi who only spoke mandarin for the next two days.  I started to feel panicky; I was on a train in the middle of China with a baby, going to a city I had never been to before with poor linguistic skills, wishing desperately that my husband was there with me.  So I did what any sane person would do in a situation like that.  Pulling out the four brownies that I had tossed into my bag at the last minute, I ate every single one and cried on that train with a baby in my lap.

A few times that night I dozed off but mostly laid there wide awake until we pulled into the station late that next morning.  We made our way through the train station and into a cab that would take us to the hotel where we would meet the representatives from this little boy’s orphanage.  Upon arrival we were warmly greeted by a man who worked for the adoption agency and a woman who was the representative from the orphanage.  We were ushered towards a corner of the lobby where a husband and wife sat side by side, waiting to meet their son for the first time.

As we came closer they stood to their feet looking wide eyed with a mix of excitement and fear.  When we reached where they were standing, we handed the little boy over into the arms of his mother who would forever hold and cherish him.  It was one of those moments that you can’t quite explain.  It was that strange mix of wonder, fear, joy, beauty and a love that knows to limits as this mother and father held their son for the very first time.

That little boy will likely not remember that day or that moment, after all he was only a little over a year old.  But as his Ayi and I walked away, tears streaming down her face and my eyes blurred with tears, I knew we would not forget that day or that moment.

When love takes you in, you are never again the same.  You live differently knowing that you were sought after and chosen.  You come to understand a small measure of a love that will not let go.  That kind of love radically changes you and recolors the world you live in.  That’s what I was able to bear witness to that day.  And I hope that I live the rest of my days knowing that I am loved that radically and I in turn love others that radically.