Trains, Migration, and China

As many of you know, the focus of my research has to do with Chinese adoption and foster families, but there’s a lot more to living in China than the topic of my work, dumplings, or dragons. In other words, being faced with injustice a world away is a difficult challenge, and I don’t always know how to respond.

Yesterday evening my husband and I watched the Lixin Fan documentary, The Last Train Home, which describes the world’s largest annual migration that occurs among migrant workers who live in China’s bustling metropoli, who return to their country homes once a year during the Spring Festival. The movie tells the story of a couple who live in a crowded dormitory and sew long hours in a factory so that their two children, raised by grandma hundreds of miles away in the countryside, may study and have a better life someday. It’s the story of a conflict between modernity and family life, and the story of how generations in China are being pushed further apart by their migrant lives, and simply put, it’s hard to watch.

But it is the reality not just for China, but for much of the developing world’s families. The New York Times recently ran a story about the increasing numbers of women from the developing world who have missed their children’s childhood as they labor for a first-world families. Still another story recognized the difficulties for children who are the sons and daughters of migrant farm workers in the United States. When I lived on the U.S.-Mexico border, I encountered people whose desperation led them to cross through a treacherous desert with what little they had in search of a better life for their families. When I’m faced with the sacrifices that these parents make for the children, I am in awe and agony, and yet when I think of the children, I wonder who they will grow up to be.

My research deals with these generation gaps and encounters many families who make these kind of migrations and sacrifices, but more than anything these stories touch me personally. I cannot imagine these kinds of “choices,” they humble me, they break my spirit, and I know that moment of spiritual brokenness is a luxury compared to a life that offers no respite from backbreaking work, separation from loved ones, hardship, hunger, fear, and exploitation. I wonder where help and healing lie, and I struggle to know my place in this human story, because I know that these inequalities between the first world, where I am from, and the third world, where I work, are to blame. God, open my eyes and my ears, give me the wisdom to know how to serve, and please do a great work in the lives of those who migrate, who toil, and who seek something better, something good, something like you.


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