A mother of four from Meggett is a local advocate for orphans in China
If you see Mary Braxton out and about, ask her why she keeps going to China, then get ready to be enthralled with her unbridled enthusiasm.
This 38-year-old Meggett woman, a married mother of four, has been to China five times since her first visit in 2012.
And she wants to go back again in 2017 so she is eager to share her story.
Braxton is a volunteer staff member with Bring Me Hope, a California-based nonprofit that puts on summer camps for orphans in China and promotes adoption of those children, especially those with special needs.
Braxton’s concern for the plight of orphans in China began in 1996, when she and her then-husband-to-be, Randy Braxton, watched an award-winning documentary called “The Dying Rooms,” which was about state-run orphanages in China.
She also read an article in Reader’s Digest entitled “A Question of Duty” about a physician who told of the practice of forced euthanizations of unwanted babies.
The situation with children in China was horrifying. “It broke my heart,” she said. “At the time, I thought I would adopt one of these babies as soon as I could.”
In an attempt to curb population growth, China’s Communist government in 1979 imposed a “one-child” policy. Couples were allowed to have only one child but could apply to have a second if their first one was a girl or was disabled.
Unwanted babies wound up in state orphanages where the sickest of them were sometimes allowed to die of starvation and neglect.
In recent years, China has modified its policies, with a two-child policy having taken effect in early 2016. Couples still have to apply for permission to have a second child. And there are still thousands of unwanted children in orphanages, Braxton said.
Chinese law requires adoptive parents be at least age 30, Braxton said. When she got close to 30, she began researching adoption in China and learned about Bring Me Hope. In 2011, she told her husband that she was going to China.
“I didn’t believe her,” Randy Braxton said. “I knew that years ago we had watched that movie together, ‘The Dying Rooms,’ and I knew she was real disturbed about what we saw, but I never imagined that years later, when she had the ability to go, that she would truly go.”
He said he brushed it off as if it were a passing fancy. “Well, obviously it went much deeper. When she actually told me that she was getting the plane tickets and all this kind of stuff that went with it, and was trying to raise funds for her part of it, I knew then that it was something she was really going to pursue.”
After she decided she was going, Mary Braxton prepared for the trip.
“We are by no means rich,” she said. The 4-foot-11-inch woman describes herself as a stay-at-home mom, who homeschools her children, who range in age from 6 to 18. Her 53-year-old husband is a heavy equipment operator.
Braxton has relied on donations and support of others to help finance her trips.
“I’ve made four trips with Bring Me Hope and for two of those trips, we paid nothing out of pocket,” she said. “For one we paid a little, and last year we paid close to a third of it ourselves.”
To increase awareness, Braxton shares her story with fellow Christians in churches around the Lowcountry. She will be talking at a church in Tennessee in February, she said. Any donations raised are turned over to the camp organization, she said. She uses letters, car washes and bake sales to raise money.
On its website, BringMeHope.org, the organization does not hold itself out as a religious group. That’s because its mission in China is not to spread religion but to shower orphans with the love of God and to show them a good time, said David Bolt, the group’s founder and executive director.
The camp is not affiliated with any denomination, Bolt said. The group has a statement of faith that puts it in line with most evangelical Christians.
Bolt, 37, said his father was a businessman who was manufacturing teddy bears in China. During one of his visits, his father decided to adopt a Chinese orphan, a girl who joined his family, where there were already five biological children.
“Our family loves what happened with my sister,” Bolt said. One day while he was mowing a lawn, he had a sense that God wanted him to start an orphanage in China.
“I went to China and did some work in a foster home there,” Bolt said. “I got to learn the system. Summer camps is what we ended up landing on. It started very simply with my family. We couldn’t get anyone else to come with us. We just went by ourselves and did some things with the kids. We saw the power of spending time together and having these activities.”
They had a one-day camp, then a three-day camp. Eventually, the program grew into what it is today, Bolt said.
Promoting adoption of Chinese orphans is one of the group’s main goals and a section of its website is devoted to profiles of children with special needs who are waiting for adoption. The official Chinese government files on orphans usually have only the child’s name and age and his or her problems or special needs, Braxton said. The files usually have one photo. “It looks like a driver’s license photo,” she said.
The profiles put together by the Hope staff members show the children in a positive light, with photos of them enjoying camp activities and with descriptions that include the things they like doing.
Braxton said children with special needs have a very difficult time being adopted. She has seen children with hemophilia, Down’s syndrome, dwarfism, cerebral palsy, blindness, deafness, deformities, spina bifida, cleft palate and autism. Some children’s only special need is that they are getting too old for adoption, she said.
A success story
Eden Robinson-Robertson, 20, lives in Tallahassee, Fla., now but grew up in an orphanage in China. She described the camp as a place of endless joy and happiness.
“The first time I ever knew what love is was through a Bring Me Hope camp,” she said. “Bring Me Hope brought me hope in life.” Robinson-Robertson was adopted 10 years ago and now returns to China as a volunteer. She met Braxton during a camp in 2015. “She is very loving and has a Christ-like heart,” Robinson-Robertson said.
Braxton said she is aware that some foreign mission trips are criticized as being more like junkets for American tourists, and she knows she could help Chinese orphans by simply donating money.
“Bring Me Hope has people who are in China full-time,” she said. “But they can’t do all that we can. For each volunteer that comes to camp, two children can attend because of that volunteer being there.”
American volunteers also bring encouragement and supplies for the full-time workers, she said.
Braxton is excited about the organization’s plans to expand its outreach to children in other parts of the world and to child victims of sex trafficking.
In 2017, the organization is releasing “ Fourth World,” a feature film about the plight of children and orphans living in poverty, based on a story written by Bolt, who is also the film’s director. Braxton has screened the film at one local church and is willing to screen it for other church groups, she said.
Braxton is also available to speak to local church or civic groups. She’s surprised she’s not been able, so far, to convince anyone else to accompany her to China.
“It’s like I’m eating the best ice cream in the world and nobody wants to try it,” she said.