Swords into plowshares

Granny Han's school serves underprivileged children in China's Jiangsu Province
December 13, 2007

Do you remember the image of the lion lying down with the lamb and people beating their swords into plowshares? It is one of the most beautiful visions associated with Christmas, one that I yearn for, but I have always parked that image in the "gorgeous but not happening anywhere I know…" section of my brain. But on reflection recently I realized that the idea had actually become reality in a small way at Granny Han's school, and I wanted to share it.

Just in case you don't know about the school, I will give some background here. If you are familiar with it, just skip this paragraph. Granny Han is the principal of a special education school in Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, a poor coal mining town. Granny Han's first grandchild had a difficult delivery and had head damage at birth. When no school would take him because his IQ was considered too low, she decided to start a school for low IQ children and went out to find other boys and girls in his situation in the neighborhood.

She began her school with five children in a hovel on the hillside. She has always taken those who couldn't afford to pay public school fees, those whose parents didn't think it was important to send their children to school, or children who had been rejected by the public special education schools. She is in many ways the "Mother Teresa" of China. She is very special. She has been honored nationally for her work, and UNESCO built her a school building three years ago so she could have a decent school building for the children, who now number 105.

A year and a half ago, a mother came to Granny Han, desperate about her son, named Zhang Yi Nan, who was autistic and had been in a public special education school. Her son was in a class where the boys were all quite violent and fighting all the time. The teachers had finally asked the mother to take him out of school and told her that the only other option was to send him to Granny Han's school as a last resort. She wasn't sure Granny Han would want him, because he was 16, very big, very strong, and had been quite violent. Furthermore, he had never spoken anything except to parrot some words that his mother or teachers had asked him to say.

Granny Han takes a lot of time teaching the children in her school to cooperate and help each other. She is Christian and has a firm grasp on the essence of her faith. Love and compassion are her armor of light. When Zhang Yi Nan arrived, none of the other students picked on him, because the basic principle of the school is to help and look after each other, so he stopped being violent. A group from our congregation in Beijing visited there a year ago last spring, just three months after he arrived. You may have heard this story -- Knowing the kids rarely had candy and that it was a special treat, we had prepared enough lollipops for each student. Zhang Yi Nan got his, and put them in his pocket very carefully. His mother arrived to take him home for lunch, and he got on the back of her bicycle and off they went. After lunch they returned, and his mother was beaming.

Apparently on the way home, after three months in a loving and compassionate environment, Zhang Yi Nan initiated conversation with his mother for the first time in his life. Can you imagine what he said? He said, "Mama, I have lollipops to share with you." She nearly fell off her bike. And she got off in the middle of the road and hugged and hugged him.

And that is where the lion lying down with the lamb comes in. In the year and a half since he has been in the loving and encouraging atmosphere of Granny Han's school, he has bloomed. He is not only not violent, but the teachers have discovered that he has a real talent for art, and he returns the love he has been given by painting two pictures for the school every day. When I was there in October it was my birthday, and Zhang Yi Nan presented me with two of his pictures, and even said a few words. I was so touched. He has beaten his sword into plowshares, and is sharing his love with the whole school. It is one of the brightest spots of the year.