Written by Shana Schutte
Lisa Bentley was bored. As the wife of a successful Washington state attorney, she had everything most American mothers could want: a new house, four children and a minivan. Her hands were full, but her heart felt empty. She knew there had to be more to the Christian life.
A year later, in 2001, Lisa’s husband, John, asked if she would consider moving their family to Langfang, China, to help a struggling orphanage. It wasn’t exactly the faith adventure she had in mind. Lisa reluctantly agreed to a three-month trial, telling him that if it didn’t work out, they had to return to Washington.
The Bentleys loaded their children onto an airplane headed for Beijing, an hour’s drive from Langfang. When they arrived, Emily, 8, peered out the window and said, “This [city] looks like a dumpster.”
True, life in Langfang wasn’t nice. They arrived in the middle of winter and the Bentleys’ new home didn’t have heat — but it did have large rats that could jump two to three feet high. In spite of the nuisances, Lisa was desperate to be conformed into God’s image, so she begged Him to give her a love for the Chinese people. God answered her prayer two weeks later when a small bundle was found in a local cornfield.
The six-week-old baby boy cried while villagers looked on. No one dared pick him up because they didn’t want to get involved. Whoever left him hours before was convinced he would die anyway — he was wrapped in burial clothes. Ten yuan (about $1.25) were also left behind. This was the amount believed necessary to pay for the baby’s passage into the next life.
After several moments, a compassionate villager, a father, picked up the tiny bundle, and the baby stopped crying. Now, the man knew it would be impossible for him to abandon the boy. He carefully carried the infant home on his bicycle, gave him some milk and unwrapped him.
The man was unprepared for what he saw. Burns covered more than 70 per cent of the boy’s tiny body. Ashes fell from his left arm. His left foot, legs, face and right hand were badly burned. A mark on the side of his head showed where an IV had been, indicating that someone, probably his parents, had tried to save him.
The man asked if anyone in Langfang would take the baby. No one came forward, so the local police asked if the orphanage where John and Lisa worked would take responsibility for the baby. They said yes.
Love for the Chinese
John took the baby to the hospital. “Spare no expense,” he told the staff. “We want this child to live.”
When Lisa saw the baby alone in his incubator with no one cheering him on, her heart broke. Doctors believed he had a 20 per cent chance of survival, but Lisa knew that with God all things are possible — so she prayed. And when she prayed, God gave her the love for the Chinese people she’d desperately wanted.
One night as Lisa pleaded with God to save the baby, He reminded her of Matthew 13:44, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field.” Yes, this little boy was a treasure, and Lisa wanted to do everything she could to save him. So she started to do what mothers do: care for their children.
She named the baby Levi and arranged to have him moved to the Langfang Burn Center where doctors performed several surgeries: the baby’s left arm was amputated just below the elbow, and a skin graft was taken from his head to treat the left side of his body. Then Levi contracted a blood infection, and Lisa knew he would need more specialized care if he was going to survive.
God came through
Through God’s intervention, the Bentleys received approval from the government to take the baby to America for additional surgeries. Then Dr. John Schulz at Shriners Burns Hospital — Boston offered to operate on Levi free of charge. But Lisa still had two challenges: she didn’t have enough money for a plane ticket, and she didn’t know who would take care of Levi during his three-month hospital stay after she had to return to China.
Undeterred and motivated by love, she phoned several airlines — “I have a dying baby that I need to get to the United States in two days,” she pleaded. After two failed attempts, United Airlines agreed to provide free business-class airfare for Lisa, Levi and Lisa’s oldest daughter, Emily.
When the threesome arrived at the Beijing airport via ambulance, a reporter from the city’s largest newspaper, with a circulation larger than the U.S. population, asked Lisa for an interview. Word of Levi’s plight was spreading, and hearts were moved to help.
When Lisa boarded the plane with $50, a flight attendant Lisa had never met offered a small financial gift.
“I don’t have a lot of money,” the attendant said, “but here’s $20.” Then a Chinese woman in Chicago gave Lisa $100, followed by another $100 from an ambulance driver in Boston.
But Lisa still had one problem: who would take care of Levi?
Before leaving China, one of Lisa’s friends suggested that a friend near Boston named Linda might take care of the baby. But in the rush to leave China, Lisa didn’t even have time to get a baby bag, let alone make phone calls. Without contact information, she had no idea how she could find a woman she’d never met in bustling Boston.
Swarms of people lined the streets on Sunday morning. On their way to church, Lisa and Emily stopped to ask a woman standing on a street corner for directions.
“We’re looking for a church,” Lisa said.
“Are you Lisa Bentley?” the woman replied.
Yes, Lisa said.
The woman was Linda.
They made an instant connection, and Linda offered to visit and care for Levi throughout his surgeries even though she would have to drive two hours each day for three months.
• • •
Many surgeries later, Levi is now a happy four-year-old, and Lisa and John adopted him. The Bentleys still work at the orphanage in Langfang, caring for orphans with special needs. After all this time, would Lisa take back her old life? “This is better than bonuses and raises — better than living the American dream,” she said.