Jonathan McKee offers parents practical advice and encouragement in a discussion based on his book If I Had a Parenting Do Over: 7 Vital Changes I’d Make.
Mr. Robert Glover: I’ll always remember my first experience of this little boy with a pair of shorts that didn’t fit him and a shirt that was ragged and shoes that were bent at the back. And he came up and just grabbed hold of my hand. And I remember feeling very uncomfortable.
Jim Daly: Yeah.
Robert: How do I actually take my hand from his hand? You know, because at some point, I’ve gotta leave.
Robert: And he didn’t want me to leave and he was hanging on for dear life. And so, at that point I made a covenant to God that I would come back and help him and many others. And I think that was my breaking point in the sense that, I can’t do anything now, but I could do something.
End of Teaser
John Fuller: Well that’s Robert Glover, describing his passion for helping children around the world who are living without families. He’s our guest today on “Focus on the Family” and you’ll hear how Christians are stepping up to transform the lives of orphans, especially in the nation of China. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller.
Jim: John, many listeners know my story. My folks divorced when I was 5. I lost my mom to cancer when I was 9 and my dad not long after also died. So I was that orphan kid. I was in the foster-care system. I know what it’s like to go to bed at night, not understanding or knowing who loves you. And that’s a tough place to be and there are about 140 million orphans around the world. That number is almost a tsunami. It’s overwhelming to think of that many kids.
Here in the U.S. we have about 100,000 kids in the foster-care system who have no parents. The government is their mom and dad. The parental rights have been terminated and another 300,000 that live in foster care because the parents are tryin’ to get their lives together or whatever the case may be.
I have a heart for helping kids and I’m so excited about today’s program, because we’re gonna talk to someone who has done children’s ministry for so long, reaching these kids who have no families. And I think you are gonna be very inspired by our guest today.
John: Hm and as I said, his name is Robert Glover. He’s a social worker from England and he responded to God’s call to rescue children. There were millions living in orphanages across China and other Asian nations and he has quite a story to tell.
Jim: Robert, welcome to “Focus on the Family.”
Robert: Thank you very much.
Jim: You know, I do share that passion that you have and we’re gonna talk about your story in a moment. But here at Focus on the Family, we’ve done something called Wait No More, to try to get more and more of these children into homes, caring Christian homes–
Jim: –where they can blossom and hopefully, know the love of God in the process. So, take me back. What gave you a passion for children?
Robert: Well, I think I had a similar sort of background to you, growing up. I never knew my father, so I remember; I have this vague recollection of being in a train station in London and I knew my grandfather very well and I was very close to my grandfather. And there was this strange man that was sort of standing in the background and my grandfather saying, you know, this man really loves you and don’t be frightened and don’t be nervous. And I think I was probably about 3 or 4. And I’ve never really qualified it, but I think that possibly was my father.
Jim: And boy, that’s amazing that you have that memory from such a young age–
Jim: –that you longed for your dad.
Robert: Absolutely and growing up, you know, one initially in a warm family with a mother and sisters and I had my grandmother live with us, one doesn’t really, you know, understand until perhaps later. And I think it was when I go to adolescence that you really start to, you know—
Robert: –look at your identity and look at who you are and what you are and then becomes more of a challenge I think.
Jim: And I think in that context where you’re missing your father and many young boys miss their father even though they’re at home because emotionally they’re not connected. They’re distant and you grow up lonely, not having that kind of father connection, as well. But talk about where you sent your energies. You ended up being a big-time football, soccer—
Jim: –as the world knows it. In America, we call it soccer, but you became a big soccer player and I would imagine you poured your energy into that to maybe, in some ways, prove your manhood.
Robert: Absolutely and you know, I remember playing in a team and doing very well and having the embarrassment of my mother screaming on the line when everybody else had their fathers. At 16, I was called to one side and told I was too small–
Robert: –and come back in a year’s time and it just broke my heart that here was everything. All my dreams went down the pan in one go. So, at that point, I decided [I] gotta be a big gung ho here and I joined the Royal Navy and ended up in serving in submarines, chasing Russian submarine up the North Sea for three years.
Jim: Okay, so here you are, this gung-ho guy, livin’ a man’s life, a submariner, a soccer player.How did God get ahold of your heart? And was He present in that moment or were you just floundering a bit and ended up finding God by accident?
Robert: Well, I gave my life to God when I was about 12, 13 and I remember it distinctly and I was very passionate about Jesus.But I think going on that journey through soccer and submarines, it wasn’t very conducive to [being a Christian] and I would say I was a Christian by name only. I wasn’t walking the walk. And when I came out of the Royal Navy, I started to work with young people. I found I was very good at working with probably some of the hardest—
Robert: –teenagers. And following on from that, it wasn’t till I met my wife and that she really had an amazing transformation experience, that through her, I got really pulled back into what I would call the strong faith I have today.
Jim: And in fact, in that early experience as a believer, somebody gave you a word from God. I’ve had that happen to me and sometimes you kind of–at least I did; I don’t want to put words into your mouth—but I, you know, you have a little bit of suspicion naturally about somebody who comes up and says, “I have a word from God for you.” (Chuckling) But that happened to you and now that you have all these years behind you, it looks like it’s proven true. What was said at that time—
Jim: –way back then?
Robert: –yeah, it was very interesting. I think I was still following my wife’s journey a bit at that time and I was told there’s this chap coming with a prophetic nature or whatever. And I was a bit nervous, given my Navy days and things. I thought, I’ll sit in the back of the church and hide. And of course he came right through and started to pray with me and he just said, “I sense God is saying, you’re gonna be father to as many children as there are stars in the sky.”
And I thought what a “bampole” (?) You know, this guy has really got this wrong, you know. (Laughter) We had a few kids and we were doing youth work, but you know, how could anyone be a father to [that many?] Have you seen how many stars are up there? (Laughing)
Jim: Right, I mean, it’s an amazing statement and I want the folks to hear why, because what has happened to you from that point and how did you get involved in orphan ministry in China, where you have helped 300,000 children. That’s about as many stars, I think (Laughter) you can see visibly with the naked eye, 4,000 stars, I’ve been told.
Jim: So, I mean, 300,000 children helped through your ministry is pretty profound and that statement that that person made has come true.
Jim: So, I believe with that person, that was a word from the Lord for you.
Robert: No, absolutely and during that year I was at a Bible camp and I had an Australian chap give me another word which was, he felt that I was gonna be in an earthquake within the year and that’s where God wanted me to be. And again, I thought, he’s obviously got that wrong, being Australian. We don’t have earthquakes in the U.K.And as that year went on, I had the opportunity to go to China. [I] went with a friend and–
Jim: That was your first trip.
Robert: –yeah, this was the first trip and I had a passion. You know, God has put something in my heart for China, from an early age.
Jim: And at that moment, you’re doing social work in the U.K.
Jim: And you’re going to China just to check it out or to help them in some way?
Robert: Yeah, I wanted to go and check it out.
Robert: It’s been a desire all my life. Many people in the U.K. always wanted to go to America. For some reason, God had put this seed in my heart for China.
Jim: We don’t hold that against you. (Laughter)
Robert: I’ve grown to love America since (Laughter)–
Jim: I’m teasing.
Robert: –let me tell you.And so, you know, as we were about to leave, our church prayed for us and a little girl had a picture and she said, “I want to share this picture. I see you carrying an Olympic torch into China.” And so we took that and we went off to initially to Hong Kong and it’s when we flew into Shanghai, a lady came up that were just millions of Chinese people in Shanghai airport. I don’t know if you’ve ever been there, but it just—
Jim: I have.
Robert: –seems like there are millions everywhere. And the lady came out of the crowd and gave us two tickets to the Special Olympic Games.And so, we went off and it was there we met someone who introduced us to some senior government people.
Jim: Just because you were there.
Robert: Well, I sat next to this chap and then I was a 007 Christian, you know. I was James Bond; we’re in China. This is early ’90’s and we’re not gonna tell anybody who and what we are. And this chap introduced himself as a senior member of the Communist Party, retired. He told me all about his story. We got on famously. And then as the ceremony came at the end, he said, “All the work I do, for the children, is for my Father,” looking upwards.
Robert: And I thought, he’s trying to catch me out so I’m not going to [get caught]; you don’t catch me.
Robert: But he went on to talk more about being raised in a mission school and I don’t know if you’ve ever had this, Jim, but my heart started to flutter and before I knew it, I said, “We are Christians and we’ve come with a heart to serve.” And as I said it, he said, “Right, which hotel are you staying in and I’ll pick you up at 8 o’clock tomorrow morning.” And so, I’m feeling a bit nervous going out of the stadium.
Jim: Yeah, I mean, who’s actually gonna pick you up?
Robert: Yeah, what’s gonna happen? And so then my friend said, “You looked a bit worried, Robert.” And I said, “Yeah, well, I told that chap who’s a communist, a government guy, we’re Christians and he’s picking us up at 8 o’clock tomorrow morning.”
Robert: And as it was, we ended up in a meeting. We ended up pitched into a meeting with UNICEF and Save the Children, some other organizations that were being quite critical I felt of the Chinese. And I was just very happy with the food and then I learned the senior guy said, “Get rid of all these other big NGO’s and bring Robert back for dinner.
Robert: And so, that was when they started to talk about, you know, what I’ve been doing for the U.K. government, right?
Jim: You know, let me interject there because what’s so fascinating as you tell that story is, again, your ability to be present. It was a nudge. It was, “Let’s go to the Special Olympics.” “Well, I’m not sure; we don’t have time for that.” And a woman shows up at the airport with two tickets.
Jim: You didn’t ask for ’em.
Jim: And you just had the sense to say, “Maybe we should go.”
Jim: I just think the Lord works in those kind of mysterious ways and we’ve gotta be willing to go sometimes when the Lord pulls on us that way. But boy, that is a subtle wind. It’s not lightning and thunder—
Jim: –to have a woman show up at the airport with two tickets and you end up happened to sit by a Communist leader in the party and he opened up to you about that work.
So, take the next step. You have a heart for children. There you are. All of a sudden, it seems like the Lord is opening this door and that door and now have special favor—
Jim: –is the way I see it. And what happened?
Robert: Well, after this dinner, we went back to the hotel and we actually got involved in a Chinese wedding. It was rather fun. You know, we were giving speeches and toasts and had a lot of energy in this random Chinese wedding, which is good fun.
Anyway, went back to our hotel room and my friend was reading a book and I was watching soccer on TV. And my friend said to me, “Are you shaking my bed?” I said, “Certainly not.” And then we noticed the curtains were moving and I looked out the window and people were running around. And so, I went to find someone in the corridor and all the doors are open. And as I stood there in that doorframe, I heard that Australian guy, “Within this year you’ll be in an earthquake. It’s where God wants you to be.” And it was 6.4 on the Richter scale.
Robert: And so, for me, God [was] clearly talking to me that He wanted me in Shanghai. And the head of the Shanghai government had invited me to come and help them. So, it was—
Jim: That’s pretty profound–
Robert: –yeah, it was pro[found].
Jim: –to have that kind of confirmation. That’s rare, but it does happen.
Robert: It does.
Jim: Now you call Liz, your wife, I’m sure. I don’t know if you talked to her when you got back to the U.K. or on the phone saying, “Guess what? I know God wants us here.” How did she respond?
Robert: Well, I mean, I think initially she just thought yes, that’s Robert’s call and we’ll go. And for a long time she didn’t even really consider herself.
Robert: And a good friend said to her, “Liz, you need to go and she said, ‘No, I’ll go when it’s time to go.’” And she said the good friend said to my wife, “Liz, you need to go, because for your children.” And so, Liz said, “Ah, I’ve got it. I understand.”
Jim: Well, how old were your kids when you decided to move to China?
Robert: They were from 12 down to 4.
Jim: So they were young.
Robert: Six, yeah. Six children.
Jim: Did Liz have concerns about that or [what]?
Robert: She did, yeah.
Jim: Yeah, that’s a normal mom.
Robert: That’s a normal mom and she got to Shanghai on this visit and she saw the affluence looking up and the poverty looking down. She’d been in the orphanage and seen the desperation of some of the children. And she told me, she woke up in the middle of the night and she said, “God, I don’t know how I can do this.”
John: This is “Focus on the Family” with Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller and our guest today is Robert Glover and we’re hearing some remarkable stories about how God nudged him, moved him into working with orphans in China. And if you’d like the CD of our conversation or if you’d like to find out more about how you can perhaps follow God’s nudge, stop by www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. And I’ve gotta ask, Robert, what [was it that] somebody told your wife she had to do for your children?
John: Because that seems counterintuitive. I can hear a lot of moms, as Jim was noting, saying, no, I want to stay here for my kids. I don’t—
John: –want to go somewhere else. What was that about?
Robert: Well, I think what they were saying is, “Look, Liz and Robert, if you’re gonna go, then Liz needs to go and check it out for the children.” You know, and as I said, she had this experience in the night. She woke up crying, spending the first day and just saying, “I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know if I can bring my children here.” And she just felt God say, “You don’t need to.” And then she said, “But I want to.”
Robert: And it was that grace that God had given her to make her own commitment.
Jim: And that grabbed her heart.
Robert: Yeah, grabbed her heart.
Jim: So here you are. You go off as a family now to China.
Jim: Paint that picture of an orphan in China. And again, this could be anywhere in the world. We have orphans here in the U.S. We can’t hide that fact. There are orphans in every country in the world. So, this certainly isn’t about China’s unique situation. What makes China unique, I would think, is that there are many—
Jim: –because the population is so large. So, paint that picture for us. What does an orphan child go through in China?
Robert: Yeah, I mean, I remember the first orphanage I visited and it was quite stark. You know, orphanages are institutions and institutions create dysfunctional dependent people. John Bowlby in 1959, he was a British psychologist said, “Where there’s maternal deprivation, children will sometimes develop mental illness, physical illness and even die.”
Robert: And I think, you know, to be fair, that was what we were looking at. AndI’ll always remember my first experience of this little boy with a pair of shorts that didn’t fit him and a shirt that was ragged and shoes that were bent at the back. And he came up and just grabbed hold of my hand. And I remember feeling very uncomfortable.
Robert: How do I actually take my hand from his hand? You know, because at some point, I’ve gotta leave.
Robert: And he didn’t want me to leave and he was hanging on for dear life.
Jim: Well, and that well for attention, for affection was so big and deep, I could understand completely, questioning how do I fill this, God?
Jim: I don’t have enough in me to fill this hole—
Jim:–that this boy has.
Robert: Absolutely and so, at that point I made a covenant to God that I would come back and help him and many others. And I think that was my breaking point in the sense of, I can’t do anything now, but I could do something.
Jim: And again, when you look at the situation of orphans there in China, that was the system and a model they probably saw in other places, building large institutional orphanages to care for the kids that had no mom or dad. We did that here in the U.S., as well and then in the U.S., we moved of course, to a foster-care system. And that’s been really the core of your work, isn’t it, to get Chinese families to embrace taking children into their home. How has that work gone?
Robert: Hm, I think it’s somewhat different in the sense in the U.K. when I was working, I went from residential work into family placement, adoptions, fostering. And eventually then was managing the social services. And we went to a place where we looked at [the fact that] some families didn’t feel able to adopt, maybe pressures of finance or support, but just making that commitment.
So, we developed something in the U.K. called “Permanency Planning,” where we put fostering and adoption back to back. So, for those families that didn’t feel able to do it, they could take on a child long term–we call it “permanency”–through to independence–
Robert: –where we would support them financially and emotionally and physically. And it was that model that we like discussed with the Chinese. Actually there is a positive alternative, that we can place children out into the community, into families where they will grow in the love of a mother and a father.And really, that was the model that we took to China because I think if we’d have gone initially straight to adoption, it’d have been huge breakdown.
Robert: And there wouldn’t have been the financial and emotional support for the children.
Robert: There was no infrastructure.
Jim: Let me ask you this. Why did they respond positively? Why did they show openness to this approach? I mean, here you are, a gentleman from the U.K. coming in, a soccer player with a love for children—
Jim: –and you’re finding this favor with people—the leadership there in China—and they say, yeah, okay. Let’s give this a try. Why did that happen?
Robert: I’m not sure. There was an interim period between my first visit until they signed the contract to go forward.
Robert: My first visit, I got back to my office and I’m sitting there thinking, was I really on the Great Wall yesterday? (Laughter) Ah and then the phone rings and it’s the Foreign Office in London saying, “We’d like to see you in the Foreign Office at London.” So, it’s me thinking, oh, what did we do?
Jim: They’re gonna sort you out.
Robert: Yeah, what (Laughter) have we done wrong on our trip? And then so, when I got there, I realized that wasn’t the case. I got the full visit and I met the minister and whatever and then ended up in a room with that same question. How did you do it? What happened? And I said, “I don’t understand the question.” And they said, “Well, we’ve been trying to build relationships with China with an olive branch through social welfare. They don’t want to work with any of the organizations. They want to work with you.” And I said, “Well, I can’t explain that.”
Robert: But they said, “Well, nevertheless, if you’re prepared to go, they want you as their consultant and we’ll fund it, the British government will fund it for the first three years.”
Jim: (Laughing) This is too good to be true!
Robert: Absolutely. (Laughter)
Jim: That’s fantastic. So, take us through the next steps. What transpired for your ministry in reaching these children in China? What takes place every day?
Robert: Yeah, well, just prior to all that, yeah, in 1997 we then got to this place where we were gonna sign this contract. It was a three-year contract and we received 500 children initially, moved from Shanghai orphanage, pilot project tested down in Shanghai. And they decided that if I was gonna be working for ’em, I needed to have a Chinese name. And so, I didn’t speak (Laughter) any Chinese. They were going round and round and round, discussing this, probably for 20 minutes of what my Chinese name should be. And I would have a chops, if I wrote any report, my chop would go on and–
Jim: And that’s a stamp for paper.
Robert: –stamp for paper—
Jim: It had your name on it.
Robert: –so they know it’s from me and not someone else. And eventually, a chap stood up and he said, “It’s really important in China to know the meaning of your name.” So, he said, “I want to tell you the meaning of your Chinese name.” And he said, “As many stars are in the sky, you’ll be father to children in China.”
Robert: And there it was again. And so, that (Chuckling) by that time, we were pretty certain that those foundation points had brought us.
Jim: So, you gotta tell me the name. What is it?
Robert: Well, the original name, which was called Lo Ba Ba, which is like Father Abraham—
Jim:Lo Ba Ba.
Robert: —Lo Ba Ba, so, “baba” is father and “lo” being great big, old.
Jim: So, “lo” is grand.
Robert: Yeah. (Laughter) But of course, as it came to a working environment, some of the Chinese felt that they couldn’t use that. They said it’s quite hard [to] call a younger man an older person’s name.
Jim: Robert, what changes hearts, what changes people is the evidence of a changed life. I mean, that’s where I think all of us get excited when we’ve seen a changed life spiritually and in every other way. Do you have a couple of stories that you can illustrate that for us?
Robert: Sure, I mean, I think one of the profound statements I heard of a very small girl, one of the first placements we made, is from Shanghai say was that while she was in the orphanage, she felt she was a caterpillar. And when she had gone to a family, she became the butterfly she was meant to be.
Jim: That’s beautiful.
Robert: And yeah, that really just touched my heart.
Robert: But there was a big change halfway through the as we moved out into the country. In Chengdu, there was a little girl that got a hole in her heart. And they’d asked us, could we place her in a family, ’cause they expected her to die. She was skin and bone. I went back and I can’t remember the exact time, but it was some time later and she was the picture of health. She was chubby. She’d got a little (Laughter) ballerina outfit and she was flipping around in the hospital.
Robert: Yeah, she was just full of life, cheeky and they decided, right, well, we can do the tests on her heart and do the operation and she can have a normal life.And they brought the consultant surgeon in and he took her to do the tests. And I’ll never forget him walking out. He lifted his glasses and wiped a tear from his eye and he said, “I do not understand it, but there’s nothing wrong with her heart.” And it made national news in China. They called it “The Miracle Baby: Healed by the Love of a Mother.”
Robert: And that really did change the whole atmosphere in China towards what we were doing.
Jim: How beautiful.
Robert: The last one I want to tell you about, which is I think really important. I’d been to a new orphanage, so this is quite recent, probably about four or five years ago. And China started to chan … build new orphanages and tear down the old ones. And I’d gone down to Southern China and there was this beautiful new orphanage and all the kids were dressed well and they had like Disneyland. It was, you know, amazing.
And I’m scratching my head thinking, are we doing the right thing, putting these kids in these poor villages with their families and this place is just remarkable. So we took the minibus and of course, the minibus had the orphanage name on the side and we went out to the village, quite a dusty rural village. And I came across this little boy, who [was] knee-high to a grasshopper (Laughter). tiny little lad. And he had got a bamboo stick and he was gonna hit me with it. This was David and Goliath and I was Goliath.
Jim: Just anger and rage.
Robert: He was gonna whack me if I came closer. And I didn’t understand, why was this boy so upset that we were there? And someone translated his words and he said, “You see that tree there? Yeah, I climbed to the top of that tree yesterday. And when I got to the top, the whole village came out. They all know my name, you see. Everybody here knows who I am and they shouted, “Come down; come down.”
And you see this dog. This is my dog. He belongs to me. And across that field over there, that’s my school. Every day I go to school. My dog comes with me and he waits outside. And when I come out of school, he comes back with me.” “And over there, Auntie, every day she gives me an apple. She knows my name. She knows who I am and Auntie down the lane there, she gives me some biscuits. You see, everybody knows me here and I have a mother and a father. I have brothers and sisters and I’m not going back to the orphanage.”You see, he thought they’d brought me to grab him and—
Jim: And take him back.
Robert: –take him back to the orphanage. And I suddenly realized it doesn’t matter how good that orphanage is. He had everything.
Robert: He had identity, security. He was part of that community and he didn’t need to go back to that orphanage.
Jim: Yeah, I mean, what an amazing thing a little boy could express that—
Jim: –in such an articulate way.
Jim: I’ve got what I need.
Jim: Leave me alone.
Robert: Absolutely, yeah. I’ve got my own dog, you know.
Jim: (Laughing) Yeah, right.
Robert: He’s mine; he’s no one else’s.
Jim: Yeah, I mean, that is beautiful and what a remarkable testimony about how children can be transformed physically, emotionally and spiritually when they’re adopted into forever families. We’ve seen the same thing happen here with Wait No More in the United States and Waiting to Belong in Canada, where we’re working to find Christian homes for more than 130,000 legal orpha
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