We had spent three intense days in Hong Kong, preparing and training for this moment. But, with four kids, under the age of nine, we were fearful of what would come out of their mouths.
I remember before we left Kona, a family YWAM (Youth with a Mission) team had just arrived back from their three month outreach. There was a family with four little kids, similar in age to ours. My fear was mounting at the thought of taking my babies into communist China and onto the Philippines. I approached the mom and said, “Can you give me any advice? Is there anything you’ve learned?”
She paused and thought for a moment, “I no longer have fear of the unknown.”
I clung to her words as we approached the check point taking us from free Hong Kong into the interior of China. Mentally I went over the list of things I shouldn’t say, “Don’t mention God. Don’t say we’re missionaries, remember, we are just visitors on an art tour.” In my spirit, I was praying without ceasing. “Lord, please don’t let them see our bibles. Please help the kids to be quiet, to not draw attention to our family or our group.” No matter what I did to try and suppress the fear, it continued to slowly creep up my spine and wrap itself around my mind just slightly pressing it’s fingers into the peace I so desperately looked for.
There were over 60 of us in the group. We were dispersed throughout the check point, quietly taking our individual families through so as not to draw attention to the fact we were all together. We were in the back of the line. We tended to always bring up the rear seeing as we had the youngest members on the team, in our tribe. Our daughter was only two. My husband carried her slight frame in a convertible backpack stroller. My four and six year old, always had my hand, while our oldest son knew to stay close.
“Keep them tight, close by,” I thought.
Our team all made it through and we could almost tangibly feel their relief while our growing concern mounted and perched heavily on our shoulders. My husband approached the desk, then when directed signaled us to join him.
I had seen the movies with the stone faced guards, dressed in tightly pressed, green uniforms that evoked all images and ideas I had of a foreign and scary land. But, to be up close with these guards, who stood with the rigidity of a steel framed sky-rise and the coldness of an impersonal mannequin, was something I was unprepared for. They firmly held their guns and never once averted their eyes from their required position.
The agent at the desk did not speak English. Under my breath I spoke with a constant heavenly tongue. We knew we had a red flag on our four year old’s visa. His name is unique, Zebadiah and the visa had misspelled his name so that it did not match his passport. I prayed the agent’s eyes would be blinded and my son would keep his cool.
We stood there without saying a word, for what seemed like an eternity. One by one, he went through the passports and visas pointing to each person, than eyeing them up and down with laser beam scrutiny. I glanced past his shoulder looking for any signs of our team, but no one was allowed to linger and had to move quickly into the closed country, beyond outsider’s eyesight.
As he moved onto Zeb’s passport, I noticed a sudden dance emerging from my four year old. Most parents know this dance; it involves shifting from one foot to the next…the pee pee dance. “Oh, Jesus! No, not now,” I prayed. But, sure enough, this little guy had to go. The agent began to get agitated. I had visions of being brought into a back room and questioned relentlessly all while trying to keep four young kids calm.
Then out of the corner of my eye, I see our Malaysian friend, coming around the corner of no-man’s land. He took a quick assessment of what was happening, and in fluent Mandarin, proceeded to ask the agent’s permission to bring my son through the line and escort him to the bathroom. Without a moment to think or protest, Zeb’s passport and visa were stamped and my young son was whisked away out of my sight.
Time stood still and an epic flood of emotions and thoughts filled my mind, drowning any piece of hope that had hovered just over the surface.
“My baby. Where is he? What if we are detained? Where will he be? When will we see him?” My mama instincts were working on overdrive and the what-ifs were slamming down on me hard.
As the final passports were stamped and I clung to the hands of my other sons, no-man’s land felt like a tunnel of dark twists and turns. I’m not even sure I was breathing. With every corner, I furiously looked for his little body and his mustard colored hoodie.
We were approached by countless vendors trying to sell us their wares. I didn’t hear them, didn’t want to pause to even take stock of this new foreign land, I wanted my baby back in my hand.
There, at the top of a flight of steps, I saw a few familiar faces from our team. I glanced frantically around until my eyes landed on my kid. He was in the middle of the huddle, gently protected from our new family. He was safe.
A couple of years later, when God moved us into the hood in Baltimore city and that same little guy came running up to me with a small pink bag full of white powder and said, “Mom, look I found candy!” I gently and calmly took it out of his hand and said, “That’s not candy buddy, that’s a drug. Don’t ever pick up something that looks like that. Come get mommy and she will pick it up.” I patted him on the head and said, “Thank you, now go back and play with your friends.”
There is a deep seeded truth that has planted a firm root within my life that now says, “My kids have a Father that loves them more than I, that sees with eyes I do not have, that knows the plans laid out for each of my kids.” I no longer need to fear that which I don’t know.