The Schmiesing Family

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"My name is Molly Schmiesing. My story may be a bit different from others because I am an adult adoptee from China. I share a wonderful life with my husband, Michael and our daughters, Mary Clare and Lucy. Our two children are biologically ours but we hope to adopt and/or foster more children in the future. 

My adoptive parents were married in 1981. My father underwent a conversion that deepened his Catholic faith. When he surrendered his life to God, still a little scared, he asked somewhat sarcastically, “Where are you going to send me, Lord? To Africa?” Only after reflecting years later, he realized that the answer was, “Not to Africa but to China (for your babies)!” 

 

After struggling to have children of their own, they learned that my mother had cancer. She battled for 5 years and once her cancer was in remission, they knew that they wanted to adopt. They prayed ceaselessly for a child who would become theirs. One day, an article in the newspaper announced that China had opened its doors to adoption. My mom excitedly cut out the article and called my father to tell him the news.

 

For months, all they really knew of me was my face from the black and white photo they were sent. Once they went to China, they learned more of the story. We're not completely sure of everything but what we think we know is this; in Wuhan, China, January 1994, a woman abandoned her 3 month old female child for reasons unknown. In a bundle of baby and blanket she left a small piece of paper that read,

 

Name: 郑盼 Zheng Pan 

Birthday: Oct. 16, 1993

Note: "Please take care of me"

 

Growing up with a sister, mom, and dad was pretty darn close to perfect, quite possibly the life that my birth parents had hoped for me. Raised in Cleveland, Ohio, I always wondered about my birth parents and the country that I was born in. I dreamed of traveling back to seek any answers that I could find.  

 

From August 2016 to April 2017, my husband and I had the opportunity to work and live in Bei Jing.  While working there, we volunteered with an organization that cares for abandoned children with complex medical needs. We were able to travel around China and return to the city of Wuhan, where I was found all those years ago. 

 

It was in Wuhan where God pieced together some answers to my questions and brought me to my knees. 

 

With no knowledge of the area and no one who we knew in Wuhan, we planned our trip for the Christmas holiday. We would work out the details in time. I was absolutely determined to go. The return to my finding place (maybe close to my birth place) was what I’d been dreaming of all my life. 

 

By coincidence, I learned that a friend and fellow Franciscan University of Stubenville graduate had recently worked in Wuhan and had plenty of connections to share with us! She connected us with a missionary priest still in the area. (I will simply refer to him as “Father” for confidentiality.) I contacted him and as luck would have it (or God’s hand working), he was traveling to Beijing within the week. He suggested we meet for dinner during his visit. 

 

We met Father along the subway and went to a Japanese restaurant. He told us that he’d been in Wuhan for a total of 15 years! For the past 10, he has been helping at a parish to serve the English speaking community. I shared a bit about my adoption story with him. At some point I mentioned that my father had noticed what looked like a Catholic church nearby when they were taken to my orphanage to receive me.  

I allowed myself to hope and thought, it would be a miracle if Father’s church and the one my dad saw were actually the same one. He asked if I had the address to the orphanage. First, I showed the address in English and he said that he’d need to see it in Chinese to recognize it. I searched my files. There it was and as I presented it to him, I held my breath. I can hear his response in my head now, “That’s just beside the church!” My heart dropped, tears rushed to my eyes, and a spirit rose within me. 

Father invited us to stay with him and his fellow missionary priest. We made arrangements for Christmas Mass and he offered to have a Chinese friend accompany and translate at the orphanage. I could not believe the series of events! 

Christmas Eve Mass was held at Father’s church, the one right next to my orphanage. The church was literally overflowing with people from all over the world, Chinese, Americans, Africans, and Europeans. Wuhan is an international city due to it’s many universities that draw students from all over. 

Sitting in the freezing cold, packed church, I couldn’t believe what wonders God had worked to bring me back to my finding place, celebrating His birth through the Mass and reception of Him in the Eucharist, right next door. To say that the experience was overwhelming is an understatement. 

The friend of Father’s who had graciously agreed to be our translator for our visit to the orphanage, we learned, was a convert to the Faith. She is an incredible woman with quite the story, herself. As we toured the orphanage with her, she explained that it was state run, caring for 500 children, mostly with special needs. We were surprisingly impressed by the facilities, medical equipment, schooling for the children, and ratio of caretakers to children. The building itself, while in the same location, was not the same one that I had lived in. It had been rebuilt to accommodate more children shortly after I was adopted. 

Seeing the children, I thought of my contemporaries during my time there and where they were now. Something I have written about in the past is the guilt that I’ve felt wondering why I was so lucky and others were not. I offered a prayer for them and my caretakers at the church next door asking that God would bless their lives and be present to them. 

While we were gone, Father did some inquiring of his own about the orphanage. There had to be some connection between the church and the orphanage, he thought. Turns out, the orphanage and church were founded by Franciscan priests and run by Franciscan missionary sisters from where of all places but Ohio (my home state). When the Communists took over and the Franciscans along with all missionary orders were kicked out of the country, the orphanage became property of the state and has been run by the government ever since.

These “coincidences” kept arising and became more believable but nonetheless incredible with each discovery.

Nearing the end of our stay in Wuhan, Father wanted to introduce us to a native priest who worked as pastor in a rural town outside the big city. He had attended the seminary that operates out of the church beside the orphanage.  As we talked, he recalled his days as a seminarian, going for jogs along the street and seeing the children as he passed the orphanage. Sometimes he would see abandoned babies left outside the gates. “When did I live there?” he asked. “From February to August of 1994” and he said that he would have been in his third year then. Being so close by, we wondered if he had seen me outside with my nannies (Ayi’s) on one of his jogs. And then all these years later, we meet again over dinner.

I left China with a heart that was overflowing but somehow breaking at the same time. The Church is alive in China and there are so many faithful who have held onto her truths passed down by their families, shared by missionaries, unable to be extinguished by human forces. There is still so much to be done but hope comes from the Holy Spirit working in the lives of everyone who is willing to say yes. That yes may be in response to something big or small; to serve as a missionary, to adopt a child, to sponsor a child in an orphanage, to pray for orphans and for the Church in China, to give of your time and talents in some way. 

I was not only saved through adoption, but given a family, my Catholic faith, and now, a family of my own. God is not outdone in generosity, so much so that He allowed me to return to my birth country to see His hand keeping me safe and guiding the direction of my life every step of the way. For all of these, I can be but one thing, grateful."

-Molly Schmiesing, Cleveland, Ohio