Flutists from all over the US have participated in the annual Chinese Orphans Benefit Concerts at First Baptist Church in Madison, Wisconsin to help us support and send hundreds of rural Chinese orphans to school for the last 15 years. How much this has meant to these children, whom the rest of the world seems to have forgotten, is shown in a recent message I received from Dong whom we sponsored for many years. He was one of our very first students to graduate from college. He has now been working for a large manufacturing company for more than 5 years. He was eager to tell me that he had just married his college sweetheart and sent photos of a beautiful wedding. He added this message :

Just as the butterfly effect, I am changed by what you have done for me many years ago during my hard time. So, thank you all for the help and love you gave me.

This year, we had to cancel our annual fundraising concert due to COVID-19. That, of course, will hurt us financially. However, with the help of our many loyal sponsors of individual orphans, such as Flute Specialists, we should be able to continue supporting our current 109 children, ranging from grade school to college. We won’t, however, be able to add any new children to those we are now supporting.

Just like in the US, COVID-19 has made the lives of the orphans very difficult. They all live in Henan Province which adjoins Hebei Province where the virus started. Some live within less than 100 miles from Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus. In some ways, our students are a bit lucky to live in small and remote rural villages away from main roads and large crowds or shopping areas. There are no high schools or colleges near their villages where most live with elderly and infirm grandparents. Therefore, the high school and college students must leave home for a large city and board at school. However, those students, by chance, traveled back to their home villages for the Chinese New Year just in time for them to get out of the urban areas before the threat of COVID-19 had developed. Thus, most, if not all, of our children were in their remote environments before COVID-19 began to spread. However, they were soon confined to their homes, as many of us are now, with strict instructions to go out only for food—rules that are strictly enforced. All schools are closed. That has been the situation for them for more than 3 months. Our information is limited, but as far as we can now determine, none of the children nor their elderly grandparents have had COVID-19.

The difficult thing for our children, is that their houses are very small, generally with two rooms and a separate outdoor covered cooking area. Several generations often live in such small houses, making it difficult to be confined inside for long periods of time. Water must be carried in, or, if they are lucky, they have a hand pump in their yard. They often don’t have soap or toothpaste – gifts we have often taken to them when we visit. You can imagine that washing hands multiple times a day might be impossible in those circumstances. For the grade school and high school children, there is no possibility of online learning since they don’t have computers (which are not allowed in the high schools). Thus, I can only communicate with the college students or graduates, since they are the only ones who have computers–computers that we gave to them when they started college. Also, they are the only ones that are good enough and brave enough to communicate with me in English, since I cannot communicate in Mandarin.

Their communications with me via the WeChat app generally start with instructions to me to take care of myself, wear a mask when going out, and wash my hands often. Sounds very familiar! The college students are doing online classes, writing reports and sending in lessons to their professors. They are very patriotic and express the feeling that their government will take care of them and is doing the right things. The students tell me that they anticipate their colleges will open near the end of April, but the exact date is not yet known. But, in the meantime, they are still on lockdown.

We have nine 12th graders who want to go on to college next fall. They have been put at a disadvantage because they do not have computers and live in remote rural areas. To get into college, students must take the very competitive national college entrance exam. Most of 12th grade is devoted to preparing for the exam which will be given this year in July. We have been told that the urban students have been given lessons during the lockdown to continue preparing them for the test. I’m not sure how that is being done, but it has put our 12th graders, who have not had that opportunity, at a comparative disadvantage on the exam. We anticipate that our 12th graders will experience lower exam scores in comparison with their urban classmates, thus limiting their choice of colleges or even denying them the opportunity to go to college. That is a real disappointment because our students have had to work so hard to get this far in school. Their rural schools are inferior to those in the large urban areas. They thus don’t have a solid base when they go away from their village to high school and college.

I have read that things are starting to open up in China. We hope and pray that our students and their families are all healthy and that they will soon be able to go back to school and normal life.

If you would like more information on our Chinese Orphans Project or participating in our annual fundraising concerts, you can contract Linda Mintener at Lmintener@aol.com or 608/231-1680 or on the church website at https://firstbaptistmadison.org/chinese-aids-orphans. You can make a donation of any amount for our Chinese Orphans Project by sending a check to First Baptist Church, 518 N. Franklin Ave., Madison, WI 53705 or through the church website https://firstbaptistmadison.org at “donate.” If you might be interested in sponsoring a grade school child for $250 a year or a high school child for $500/year, contact Linda.