One couple's walk of faith
This is a story about one couple's unwavering walk of faith and the extraordinary things that came about because of it.
The story of Mike and Deena Van't Hul sounds like that of so many ordinary couples. They met in college, married, started their careers and eventually had two sons.
They went to church because that was the way they were brought up. But they didn't view themselves as especially spiritual.
One night during a special church service, they were nodding their heads as the minister talked about wanting to do more.
"Something touched us that night and we both knew we wanted to do more with our lives. We decided to share the love in our home and our hearts by adopting a baby from an orphanage in China," Deena says.
When they went to China to bring home a little girl, they were touched by the plight of the sick and dying babies with no one to hold them or comfort them.
"God put it in our hearts that he wanted us to go to China to start a foster home for these unwanted babies," Deena says.
They were just "an ordinary Mom and Dad," with no special skills, no money, no contacts, no grand plan, and no ability to speak the language. But they had what they needed: A trust that God would sustain them in doing what He called them to do.
They admit it was "a bit like dying" as they sold their home in Florida, gave away all their possessions and left behind their families and support system. They traveled to China with only two suitcases and a box of Legos.
At first they lived in a rat infested apartment and their lives were filled with the daily struggles of learning to live in a foreign culture without speaking the language. Their hearts broke when their sons cried for the life they had left behind.
Another big obstacle was the Chinese government and laws that said no foreign could serve as foster parents for the orphans.
They heard the word "no" every day. Every day they had the word "impossible" hurled at their requests.
But they believed with God all things are possible. So they went back day after day, volunteering in an orphanage and asking repeatedly to take home "the sickest of the sick."
Little by little, the impossible happened.
They were given their first sick child to take to the little place they found outside Fuzhou, China. Then they were given four more sick children with severe disabilities.
It didn't happen overnight and every step of the way involved hardship and struggle. Meeting the daily needs of severely handicapped children meant being bone weary much of the time. But Mike and Deena were sustained by trust. Somehow, God would meet their needs.
And He did.
When they needed a building, they were able to purchase an old, rundown kindergarten outside Fuzhou, China.
When Deena was near tears because there was no food and no money for milk for the babies, someone came to the gate with milk and food.
They call their ministry Fishes and Loaves International, inspired by the story of feeding a multitude with only a few fish.
They've named their foster home Hidden Treasures in honor of the children, rare treasures hidden behind deformities and severe disabilities.
So far, 80 children have come into their home. Some, with only a few hours to live, could only be held and comforted as they died in Mike and Deena's arms.
Many others who were expected to die went on to grow stronger and gain more ability.
Fifteen have been adopted into permanent homes.
"There are so many success stories. So many miracles," says Deena. She stresses that success has nothing to do with them. "God does it," she says. "All we do is say yes to whatever He guides us to do."
I've been interviewing people and writing feature stories for decades. Many of the people I have interviewed have touched my heart. Some have inspired me and they stay in my mind long after I've written my story.
But my interview time with Mike and Deena was in a class by itself. I had tears running down my face as I truly felt the presence of God. He is at work in their lives in powerful ways and it's impossible to be around them without feeling a spiritual presence.
At first, Mike and Deena gently turned down my request to interview them during their short trip home from China.
They don't want glory heaped on them for what they have accomplished. "It's not us. There is nothing special about us," they insist. "It's God. He continues to work one miracle after the other. He just sends us to be His hands and feet."
Miracle. That's a pretty strong word. Perhaps it's overused and misused. Not in this case. There have been miracles large and small at Hidden Treasures foster home. There have been so many happenings impossible to explain except to believe "it's God."
I find it's impossible to tell their story in a few hundred words. A short story can't capture the wonder of how a perfectly ordinary couple could be transformed into missionaries of healing and love.
Their website does it better. Check it out at www.loavesandfishesintl.com.
See what one couple's faith has done.
Some who see the website are inspired to travel to China to help.
Some stay for a week or two. Some stay for a month or a year.
It's definitely a life changing experience.
Check the website and you'll see why.