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Chris MacFarlane



Chris MacFarlane is a special educator who serves in Chinese orphanages with disabled children.

Interview by Annika Bratton, April 2015.


Here’s a story not too many people have heard. Years ago, when I was 24 years old, my husband and I were living in New York on an Air Force base. I got to know my neighbor pretty well, and as it turned out her, her husband, myself, and my husband were all from a very small area of Nebraska. They had two children, and one day her daughter ran into the tongue of a trailer sticking out in the driveway. She had a traumatic brain injury from that and a concussion, so I ended up taking care of the younger daughter while they took her to the hospital and the emergency room. I actually had the younger daughter for the week because they were in the hospital and she was in intensive care. I remember it was the middle of the night and I was sitting up in a rocking chair, and I was praying for this young girl. And all of the sudden I just felt God’s sense of peace, and I knew everything was going to be okay. I have never lost that wonder, that awe-inspired sense of really feeling and knowing the peace of Christ, what that's really like. And at the time, I remember talking to God, and thanking him for giving me that sense of peace and knowing that the little girl would be okay; that I would always share that story of peace. God’s peace is powerful.

I’m a special educator, and I serve in Chinese orphanages. Most of the children who are in any of the orphanages at this time, and there are over 1,000 orphanages, are children with disabilities. There is a high percentage of Down’s syndrome, cleft palate, cerebral palsy, blind, and deaf children. Unfortunately in China if someone has a physical anomaly, it will be considered a disability whereas in the US we wouldn’t consider that a disability. So a huge disfiguring birthmark, or the absence of a limb can certainly be considered a disability but most kids can quickly adapt to that. While I’m in China, I work with the teachers, who are not trained in special education, trying to help them understand curriculum, scheduling, some behavioral strategies and some instructional strategies so that these children can become as independent as possible. I try to encourage a better attitude about people with disabilities, that they are someone who can contribute to the community and someone who should be valued. These children generally aren’t valued.

I think that any child should have value. So if we can convince people that these children do, and they can be accepted into their community, then that’s a huge step forward. It’s not that we’re perfect here in the US, don’t get me wrong. We used to put people in institutions and make it so they were a ward of the state. But everyone knew who the parents were, they weren’t necessarily being abandoned because of their condition. But in the Chinese culture they don’t have that option. If they don’t have the education to understand how to care for a child or the resources to care for that child, then they would give them up. Of course, China is very much complicated by the one child policy. Even though the law states that if you have a child with a disability you can have another child, and you don’t necessarily have to abandon the first one, families often don’t have the resources to take care of that child with a disability, so they do.

Where parents have not abandoned their children with disabilities, the services available are services where the parents are trying to get their child cured, and that’s not going to happen. The therapies they’re engaging in are so out of date that it breaks my heart. But the parents and therapists and doctors have no hope or any idea that the children could become participating members of a community or that there’s some kind of job they could hold in the future. If we can help them become more independent, and have enough skills so they can have some kind of job, in which we can allow them to become meaningful contributors to society, then we’ve done everybody a service. So that’s what I’m really hoping for, is that we can get the people around these children to see their value, rather than just warehousing them.

While I’m in China, I try to share that sense of peace, that spirit of Christ that’s within me, with the people that I meet, but I do it silently. I just do it by being me, by interacting with the people and being present with the children. I’m just trying to let them know that they’re going to be okay, and they are each one of them a child of God. For me that’s how that peacemaker part plays out because I know that I am a tiny grain of sand on an enormous beach, and there are thousands of orphanages in China and that doesn’t look at India, that doesn’t look at Romania, that doesn’t look at Moldova. There are orphanages in so many different places, particularly for children with disabilities, because people just don’t have the means and the knowledge to care for them. Even if we lived in a perfect world, we would still have children born with birth defects and disabilities. And they are still God’s children, and I am trying to let them know that. I think peace eventually spreads. Sometimes not as fast as most of us would like, but I know it does.