In Step Together
by Laurie Beyer
“As soon as we complete our degrees, we’re out of here!” The words of Lisa Shilder are as clear in her mother’s mind today as when they were first spoken nearly 20 years ago, according to Nancy Erickson. These were not the words of a restless and rebellious college student, but the aspirations of a young woman, recently married and excitedly anticipating the next stage of life for which God was preparing her and her husband, Adam. Her parents celebrated their desire to follow God’s lead.
We are living in an age when few Christians are eager to offer their children for service to the Lord in foreign lands. In fact, a Christian college president recently shared that some parents ask him to steer their children away from their course of study in missions, fearing for their future safety and absence from home. What makes this story different? Nancy knew that she had to be open to God’s plan for her children’s lives, even if it meant launching them around the world. According to her mom, “Lisa was born a missionary!” She read every missionary biography she could get her hands on, and from an early age zealously shared her love for the Lord with people she met, praying for them faithfully.
Nancy and her husband, Marc, a physician and pastor, moved their family to Somalia for two years when Lisa was just a baby. Later after a brief stint in West Africa the family returned to Milwaukee, Wis., where they planted a church near an urban university campus. International visitors and missionaries on furlough streamed through the Ericksons' home, sometimes finding rest there for weeks, even months. Lisa and her four siblings thought this life was the norm. So when Lisa started dreaming about going to China, Nancy wasn’t surprised.
On completing her undergraduate study at Wheaton College, a Chinese professor invited Lisa to visit China with her parents. He wanted her to meet some Chinese Christians in the house church movement. “It was an incredible experience.” Lisa was excited to see how open people were to the gospel.
A few months after Lisa’s first visit to China she married Adam Shidler. United in marriage and ministry, they were a force to be reckoned with! They began reaching out to internationals in the university area by starting an ESL (English as a Second Language) program and fellowship gatherings. The majority of the participants were Chinese students, who were very open to Christianity. Their fellowship gatherings quickly grew to more than 200 people and many of those students were frequent guests in the Shidler home. As they made a connection with the Chinese culture, Adam and Lisa became more interested in China. So, after Lisa finished a masters degree in linguistics, they made plans to move to China. According to Lisa, “God was putting China on our hearts and bringing Chinese people to us. But just a few, select Chinese could come to America to study. It would be better for us to go there to teach.” So they went.
Lisa’s story can be told, in part, because Nancy knew that her goal as a mother was to grow her kids for God and then let them go for His purposes. She partnered with Lisa on the home front through prayer, correspondence, financial efforts, and cheered Lisa on throughout the process. Having given Lisa to the Lord without conditions, Nancy knew that her daughter was in the safest place possible. And that place was China!
What followed was a two-year commitment in Shenyang, China where Adam and Lisa immersed themselves in the culture, working on their language skills and teaching English. They then moved to Xi’an, where they had made connections with a local church. In addition to their teaching jobs, Lisa and Adam became a support to the growing local church by helping to train its leaders.
That was just the beginning of Lisa and Adam’s ministry in Xi’an. Having read the story of Gladys Aylward as a child, Lisa remembered her marching over the mountains to Xi’an with scores of orphaned children. After meeting a group of Christian Chinese students who were volunteering at a state orphanage once a week, Lisa asked to go along. “There was an incredible need for help that just couldn’t be met by visiting for an hour or two each week.”
A British couple was overseeing this visitation project and was eager for something more to be done. They encouraged Adam and Lisa to take one child home, with the hope that she could be nurtured in a loving home and ultimately adopted. With their connections in the Christian community, Lisa was sure they could find an abundance of foster families. Instead, she found a closed door. There was a reluctance on the part of the young church to help meet this need.
As Lisa and Adam prayed about this challenge, they decided that their teaching schedules would allow them to take in an orphan. But, having been told by the police that they were not allowed to have any Chinese living in their home, they sought the counsel of their trusted Chinese friends. Their friends encouraged an approach of secrecy, knowing that to ask permission from the local authorities, they would automatically be turned down.
A Chinese girl carried this first baby, Amanda, up to their apartment. Lisa and Adam rarely took her out because the man who watched the gate of their compound kept records of everyone’s comings and goings. When they did need to take her out, Amanda was put in a big shopping bag where she always immediately fell asleep. Lisa remembers it as “a total miracle!” Lisa and Adam began adoption proceedings. In the very last steps of the adoption, a seal from the local authorities was needed for their paperwork. As they revealed their secret, they realized that God had already paved the way for the adoption, and everything was approved.
In the eight years that followed, dozens of children were either taken out of the state orphanage or literally left on the doorstep of the Home of Eternal Love, a foster care facility set up with the help of the Shidlers. The children were first lovingly cared for by this group of Chinese Christian college students, and then later by members of the local church. This vital ministry continues today.
Lisa is the mother of three children, Amanda, 15; Ben, 12; and Christopher, 6. After ten years in China, Lisa and her husband returned to the Milwaukee area. They are open to following God’s lead to another part of the world in the future. Nancy and her husband, Marc, have raised five children (Lisa; twins Marc and Mike, both physicians; Paul, a stockbroker; and Heidi, a pastor of family ministries). They are now enjoying grandparenting 19 grandkids.
Lisa and Nancy graciously agreed to share their story with Just Between Us.
JBU: Nancy, as you look back you can see the wonderful results of letting go of your daughter, but what were some of the things you saw in Lisa as she prepared to leave for China that reassured you that she was ready to make that decision?
Nancy: It was a gradual process throughout Lisa’s entire life. As I saw her make good decisions, I gave her wings to make more decisions and I began to let go. Even before Lisa faced college, marriage and then the mission field, I saw her make a series of good decisions, so I knew that she didn’t need me to “hold the rope” any longer.
On the other hand, poor decision-making would have been the biggest red flag. I think if I would have seen “self-confidence” rather than prayerful “God-confidence,” then I would have been nervous.
JBU: What if you had held on too tightly when God was calling her to go? What would have been the repercussions?
Nancy: I think I would have lost Lisa. Lisa and Adam probably would have gone anyway, but I would have sacrificed the relationship. There would have been a wedge between us not easy to repair. It’s somewhat like when your daughter brings home her husband-to-be, announcing their plans for marriage. If you don’t share her joy, but begin by telling her everything that’s wrong with the person, and she marries him anyway, you’re left having to dig out of a deep hole to build a relationship of love and respect once again. A critical spirit never gets you anywhere.
When our children are adults, we can’t control them anymore. When they are grown up and married, we have to put them into God’s hands even more than before. Our role is to support and befriend them, believe in them and love them, and then continue to walk with God and trust Him.
JBU: How did having your family’s support help you as you followed God’s call to China?
Lisa: We felt so encouraged as our family and friends prayed for and supported each thing we did. If we had any needs, we could call our family and they would do what they could to meet them. I think that is essential. When we started taking kids out of the orphanage, they had a lot of medical problems. I would call and talk to my brothers, two of whom are physicians. They would give me ideas on what kind of test to do and what to look for. Without their help, I couldn’t have navigated the medical community in China and gotten anywhere. My brothers would always put together medicines with detailed instructions and send them with people coming our way.
Nancy: We visited them, as we were able, as did other family members. We became familiar with where they were and what they were doing. At the beginning we could only connect by phone, so our contact was infrequent, but then came email! I enjoyed writing frequent emails, filling Lisa in on the every day details of life - like who was sick, who had a baby, and who got married or moved. I loved writing to her. It seemed that every time I finished praying for her, I wrote her and let her know. And, of course for the holidays, we would always make sure they received a package from home. Even if it was just little things, they knew that they were missed, thought of and loved!
JBU: Lisa, tell us a little more about your ministry in China. Were you ever concerned with your witness to a young Chinese church in hiding your daughter?
Lisa: It was hard because a lot of foreigners had come in and done things their way, but not knowing the Chinese culture they’d end up causing a lot of trouble. We tried to listen to our Chinese friends and the Lord. It was finding that balance. Our friends really understood our situation, and gave us good advice. We realized that what we were embarking on was foreign to them and knowing that they felt responsible for us, we were careful to heed their concerns.
JBU: How did you end up with more children after that?
Lisa: The students in our Bible studies were volunteering at the state orphanage. They wanted to do more, but foster families had not stepped forward. They asked if we could take out a small group of kids and they would help provide foster care. I was reluctant to get in over my head, but their enthusiasm was contagious. One student found an apartment where she thought they could care for the kids, but the rent was $100 per month. The students had no money, and Adam and I had just enough to live on. Our monthly salary as teachers totaled $200 per month.
JBU: So what did you do?
Lisa: We put together a budget for caring for five kids and I called home. This is again where family support came in. I said that we needed a couple hundred dollars a month and wondered if there was any way our family could help us. They were incredibly supportive, my brothers in particular. They gave us the go ahead. The students were so excited. We knew this would encourage them in their faith as they learned to reach out and serve in their community. This was the first outreach of the local church. It started with this group of students and then the church leaders got involved.
JBU: What came next?
Lisa: Knowing that students are a transient group, I realized that we needed a long-range plan. We found a Chinese manager for the home, who was also a leader from the church. The students furnished the home and the church became very involved in its operation. The state orphanage director, realizing that he could benefit from this endeavor by not having the responsibility of these orphans, allowed the Chinese students to take the first five children to the Home of Eternal Love.
JBU: What grew out of all of these efforts?
Lisa: Seeing the church come into existence and then to see the growth and depth of the believers was wonderful. We were taking more and more children into the Home and praying that each child could be placed in a loving, Christian home. Within a few years of taking the first children out of the state orphanage, we were literally able to find dozens of foster families in a single day, because the church had grown so much. They now knew and loved these kids and weren’t afraid to reach out to them.
JBU: Was there something different about praying for a child so far away?
Nancy: I grew so much in prayer during this time. I learned to walk with God all day long. As I thought of Lisa and Adam, I would bring them to God in prayer. An intimacy developed in my relationship with the Lord, because God and I were discussing them. As a result, I felt very close to them even though we were separated by thousands of miles.
JBU: Nancy, in closing, how would you encourage parents to cooperate with God’s plan whether that be the mission field or anywhere else He takes them?
Nancy: Remember that fear breeds fear. God has great plans for our children and it is our role to train them and then let them go for His purposes, and to cheer them on their way. Whatever your children are able to do, let them do it. Then just pray, keeping an eye on them to see that they are making good choices. You will get to the point where you can see that their wings will hold, and be glad that He is the one who holds them.
Satan’s plan is to divide families. This is an area where it can happen. We must remember wherever our children are in the world, in whatever arena God has placed them, we as a family must be one!
Note: The Home of Eternal Love and Building Families, the stateside organization providing funding for the Home, has partnered over the past nine years to place more than 60 children in adoptive homes in the United States and Europe as well as in permanent foster families in China. In addition, Building Families has committed to meet the financial needs of each orphan from The Home of Eternal Love placed with a Chinese family by providing the foster family with funds to cover daily needs, schooling, and medical expenses as well as ongoing encouragement and support.