By Jason Herring
Almost 12 years ago I lost a child to cancer. Josiah Lee was a few months shy of his fifth birthday and our youngest at the time. Given the nature of the inoperable, incurable tumor that resided in his brain, we thought we would have eleven months to a year and a half to spend with our son. It turned out we only had 55 days. Josiah’s journey ended on our last morning of his Make-A-Wish trip to Disney World. He passed up a character breakfast at Chef Mickey’s for a better reunion beyond the veil. There’s much more to the story that I’ll save for another column.
Over a year after Josiah passed, I was presented with the opportunity to go to China. It seemed like a great idea when I accepted, but as the departure date got closer, I began to wonder if it was really the right thing to do. There were issues in the church I was pastoring, and I was still coping and grieving over the loss of my son. How could I go to the other side of the world when there were fires burning on the home front?
With apprehension I left for China not having any idea what to expect. During the first six days, our team carried or “smuggled” over 17,000 Bibles from Hong Kong over into Shenzen to be delivered into the hands of unregistered or “underground” churches. In two of my twelve crossings, I was stopped and had my Bibles confiscated, which meant I would have to go back through customs to retrieve them and take them back into Hong Kong.
During my second retrieval I was kneeling down near the customs office loading my Bibles back into my luggage case and feeling quite discouraged over the fact that they would never make it into the hands of the people who desperately needed them. From the crowd of folks waiting for their contraband an old man walked over to where I was kneeling. With his arms outstretched, he said, “Bible. Bible.” I handed him a Bible and he took it and hugged it to his chest, bowing in gratitude. Inspired by this unexpected encounter, I presented a Bible to one of the guards, which he warmly accepted. Perhaps my inconvenient citation and confiscation was so that those two people could get the Word of God in their possession.
While serving in the Hong Kong ministry, I met a wonderful couple from Ireland, Richard and Cherith. We were leaving the main office and riding down the escalator when Cherith asked me, “Do you have any children?”
“Yes. A son,” I replied.
“How old is he?”
“Eight years old,” I answered.
“What’s his name?”
“Jason. He’s a junior.”
“Oh, that’s funny,” Cherith said smiling, “I would have thought that his name would be Josiah.”
I stopped, and then with a laugh said, “Well, that is very interesting.”
I shared Josiah’s testimony with Cherith and Richard, and later with others in our team of volunteers. How could she have known that I had a son named Josiah? Of all the names to hear spoken in an Irish accent in the middle of Hong Kong, Josiah’s name was uttered when I least expected.
After our intense labor in Hong Kong was finished, we went to Beijing for a few days of sightseeing. Then on the weekend, we went to visit the Harmony House orphanage located about 45 minutes south of the capital city, where I was told Steven Curtis Chapman had adopted Maria – his beautiful daughter who was tragically killed and the theme of his third verse to “Yours”.
When we arrived, I was unprepared for what I saw. There were dozens of orphans from toddler to three years old who loved to pose for the camera. All of the kids had a special need of some kind. One kid in particular caught my eye right away. He was very interested in me, and stuck his tongue out every time I took his picture.
When all of the kids left the dining room and went into the living room to play with the rest of the team, I remained in the dining room conversing with this little guy who didn’t understand anything but a smile. Then he pointed at my camera. I noticed that he pointed with his deformed feet as though they were his hands. He kept his hands hidden in the sleeves of his sweater. He liked my camera, and he loved it when I would show him his picture after each snapshot. When a worker helped him to the floor and he began to hop across the floor like a baby seal, I could no longer contain myself. I made a beeline for the restroom, closed the door, and cried where no one could see me.
Regaining my composure I went into the living room to see some of the other precious children. I wasn’t there but a few minutes when I heard someone say, “Josiah.” And then I heard it again.
“Excuse me. Did I hear Josiah? Is there a child here named Josiah?” I asked the director of the orphanage.
“Yes, there is,” she replied.
“Which child is he?” I asked.
“He’s going up the stairs,” she said, gesturing to the stairwell.
Before I looked I already knew who it was. There was my little photogenic buddy hopping up the stairs, one step at a time. When I walked up the stairs there were a dozen more kids playing with their toys. It didn’t take long to observe the pecking order. Josiah was the kingpin of the toy room. He held a monopoly on a box of animal-shaped blocks. A lady from our group asked him, “Are you Josiah?” Josiah looked up at her with sparkling eyes and said, “Josiah!” Hearing that name from the lips of a four-year-old little boy was almost too much. “Stink! I’m going to lose it again. Not in front of the kids. Fight to keep it in. There, got it under control.”
I spent the rest of our time at Harmony House watching and interacting with my newfound little buddy. Once he tired of controlling the block market, he turned his attention to coloring with his toes on construction paper. I spelled his name for him, and he scribbled something. And that’s pretty much how it went. I wrote or drew something and Josiah scribbled. And the only thing we mutually understood was a smile and “Josiah”.
What were the odds of meeting a four-year-old boy named Josiah on the other side of the world? I wanted so desperately to hold my Josiah again. And yet someone had thrown their Josiah away because of a deformity. This Josiah was sharp and very intelligent. He was crippled in body but not in mind. And like my little Josiah, he had boatloads of personality.
When we left the orphanage, I sat in the back of the bus in silence for most of the ride back to Beijing. There was so much to process. Later one of my teammates commented that this was like divine confirmation that I was supposed to be on the trip. And there it was. It was like God was saying, “Here’s your sign.” A conversation on an escalator with a girl from Ireland and a chance encounter with a Chinese orphan had provided all the proof that I needed to know that I was in the will of God.
Confirmation always comes to those who are walking by faith. I’ve never embarked on a venture of faith that God did not eventually confirm my heading. But confirmation does not come to those who are walking by sight. We can be in the epicenter of God’s will for our life and never know it if we’re not walking by faith. Other times in my life I have floundered like a ship with no sail, wondering if I was really where I was supposed to be. To this day, I can look back on certain moments in my life and still wonder if I was in God’s will. I missed the signs because I wasn’t walking in faith. Without faith it is impossible to please Him. But when we walk in faith, our lives are pleasing to God, and our chance encounters and coincidental circumstances become confirmations of divine direction.
Jason Herring is a father to four amazing kids and husband to his wife, Suzanne, of 21 years. In 2009 they experienced two miscarriages and the loss of their 4-year-old son Josiah to cancer. In the wake of that devastation, Jason has sought to share hope with others who walk that same valley. He is passionate about his family, mountains, Spartan Races, history books, writing, and speaking on the grace of God.