In China’s Yunnan Province, there is an ancient temple made of copper that crowns Jindian Park. In English it is literally “Golden Temple Park,” reflecting the Daoist religion that it serves. Here on Jan. 14, 1994, a police officer noticed a five-day-old orphan, took him up and delivered him to the nearby orphanage.
Nine months and three days later, that orphan was the first boy ever adopted from Kunming Municipal Children’s Home.
I visited that Chinese orphanage a few weeks ago, and for the first time in two decades I entered Jindian Park. As I wandered among the rooms of the orphanage and up the temple trail in that wooded park, thoughts and questions muddled my mind. Why would I, in a nation of a billion, be left alone in Jindian Park? Why did someone notice me and bother to act? Why would all this happen right after China opened itself to foreign adoptions in 1992? And why would I be adopted into this family, my family? I am now 21 years old and even if my existence could be explained, by all rights the orphanage should have returned me three years ago to the streets from whence I came. Really, what do you say to all of that? I was quiet that day.
When I feel the weight of the odds against an infant alone in China, I am at a loss. My life as I know it never should have happened. Indeed, the Chinese would call it “lucky” that I even made it breathing to the orphanage. It is not that my life should not have happened while others’ should; still, it is pretty obvious that among 7 billion humans on a pale blue dot, this one of all should not be inhaling and exhaling.
Josh Owens and his sisters Mary (left) and Grace return to China with their adoptive parents, Waylan and Betsy Owens.
When I survey the cross on which the sovereign Prince of Glory died, I lay my hand over my mouth, speechless like Job. Even if telescopes and test tubes can be taken for granted, the love of a Father cannot.
Colossians 3:3 is, in a nutshell, the only guarantee Christ-followers get: We have died, and our lives are hidden with Christ in God. When Christ is all we have, then Christ is all we need, and everything else begins to matter a good bit less.
The heroes of Hebrews 11 had no guarantee such as, “You will not be sawn in two.” Each, like us, signed over the blank check of his or her life to God. There were no secondary guarantees then, and there are none now. We must each surrender to Christ, trusting Him to guide the course of our lives.
Yet Jesus is worth it. Colossians 3:3 is the ground for 2 Corinthians 1:20, for when our lives are hidden with Christ then the promises of God to us are yes and amen. When we sign over our blank checks, all we get is Christ. All we get is everything for which we were ever meant.
Still, there are debts you would rather not owe, whose weight is incomprehensibly massive. This double-adoptee is in the red more than I could hope ever to repay or even to calculate. When you’ve signed your check, sometimes the balance is overwhelming. And when the check is going to be cashed, it is then with David we taste and see that God is good. For the check is filled with a debt charged not to our account but to God’s. Written over our lives, “Grace.”
That day at the orphanage, our hosts asked me to speak as part of the welcome ceremony, a representative of the visiting adoptees. It was a surreal experience to stand where I used to lie, and to proclaim the name of the Father who oversaw my adoption and then adopted me for Himself.
I left Kunming two decades ago, not long after China opened to adoption. What a 20 years it has been, I told the audience. If hallmarks of earthly success include a college degree, reliable employment and a loving family, then my scorecard reads A+. Orientals call this luck and credit the balance of forces and gods. The West shouts, “I am the master of my soul!” and pulls itself up by its bootstraps. But a human life is not up to luck, nor is it decided by self-sufficiency.
If God notices the death of a sparrow, certainly He is concerned with the lives of humans whom He values far more. While David asked a fair question in Psalm 8 when he wondered what is man that God is mindful of him, the answer is simply that the character of God is love.
In Romans 8, Paul promises those who love God that “all things work together for good.” This good, of course, is not a diploma or employment, or even adoption. Paul had already praised the only adoption that transfers to eternity, and of that he said we are heirs of God and joint-heirs with the firstborn over all creation. Forever and always, my Father orchestrates the trajectory of my life to conform me to the image of His Son. For I have died and my life is hidden with Christ in God. That’s a guarantee you can take to the bank.
I don’t know why my life began the way it did, or why it is the way it is. I have more questions than answers, and questions hidden beneath questions. What do I do with my experience in Jindian Park, in 2015, in 1994? How do you process something when you have come to the end of yourself?
This much I know. When I signed over my life’s check to God, grace was written in the blank. God was there in Jindian Park on Jan. 14, 1994, not as a perfect balance of yin and yang, not as luck or human sufficiency. God was there as He is now here, sovereign and good.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Josh Owens, of Fort Worth, Texas, is a social media strategist for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a recent graduate of the College at Southwestern, the undergraduate arm of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.)