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Interview: Elizabeth Glover, nurse, co-founder of Care for Children

23 September 2022

‘One emaciated little girl just hobbled around with her arms up, just waiting for someone to come and hold her’

I trained as a nurse, and Robert was a social worker, but we were a family called to move children into families. We didn’t set out to start a charity: we just wanted to serve God wholeheartedly, and my children were co-founders, too. We’re continuing to move as many children into families as we can, because children in institutions suffer terribly.

We went to Stoneleigh Bible Week, and I was particularly moved to love the poor. I felt the Holy Spirit touch my heart for mercy, and we received our first prophecy about China. It was huge, I didn’t really know much about it, and I was scared, but something inside me knew it was going to be OK. Jackie Pullinger told us we’d need soft hearts and hard feet.

We told the children: “We’re going to China to help other children who don’t have any parents.” They were a bit scared, but they took it in their stride. We underestimate how God can use children, and ours ministered in China: they developed their spiritual gifts, and learnt Chinese. I’ll never forget my five-year-old son giving his shoes to a child on the street who didn’t have any. They still inspire my faith today.

We moved in 1998. As representatives of the British Government, the aim was to partner with the Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau to place 300 children into local families in the first joint social-welfare project between the British and Chinese governments — to pioneer a positive alternative to orphanages.

We were an all-blonde family with six children — very unusual in China. A big part of what God called us to do was to promote family life well with people that hadn’t seen large families. So I was a full-time mum, but we’d visit the orphanages and help feed the children. We often brought homeless people home, and fed and clothed them.

Because of the one-child policy, there were just so many children in institutions, and staff needed support. Robert worked inside Shanghai State Orphanage to train and prepare the work, while I’d go in to work alongside the staff among the rows and rows of cots. It smelled of urine, the babies had sores on their heads, their milk bottles were just propped up against their cots — so they weren’t even being picked up or given any eye contact, and they were just whimpering. It was devastating to see.

One emaciated little girl just hobbled around with her arms up, just waiting for someone to come and hold her. She was one of the first 100 children to be placed into families. When I saw her a few months later with her family, she was totally transformed — chubby, smiling, and clinging to her mum.

We found Joe at McDonald’s, in his early teens, working in exchange for a burger. His father and stepmother had abandoned him. His clothes and shoes didn’t fit, and he had nowhere to sleep. He came to live with us, and eventually we found his birth mother. Their reconciliation was such a precious thing to witness.

Care for Children promotes permanent placements for orphans. Children are placed into families for the long term — not a month, or a few months, or a few years, but till they’re independent. They’re supported with education and health-care, and the family is supported, too.

The Chinese are very humble, and gracious. They’re very good at doing family and community; and sociologists know that, when you have strong families, you have strong communities, strong societies, and strong economies. It’s not surprising that while we developed family placement there, China grew in all of those areas. By 2018, one million children had moved out of institutions and into local, loving families.

The documentary Children of Shanghai visited five children who were placed in families in our pilot project, 20 years ago. One little girl had cerebral palsy and couldn’t eat solids, walk, or talk. Twenty years later, she presented us with the gold medal she’d won at the Sydney Paralympics.

I was so encouraged to see the tremendous work God has done though the power of family, and I hope the documentary will show that God can use anyone, like he used me — just a nurse and a mum from Norfolk — to see incredible Kingdom impact.

We’ve replicated the project since in Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia, and we’ve been invited to Greece and Florida to help them establish family placement there.

There’s lots of legislation — which often has unintended consequences — and a lot of talk about the right way to do things, but people don’t know how to do it practically. Not only children are in crisis, but the adults looking after them are in crisis — even in the UK. At our recent meeting with people in Parliament, they were saying that the system is in crisis, and they don’t know how to deal with it. There’s huge adoption breakdown that’s never talked about, because parents aren’t supported, and foster care can be very short-term.

Motherhood’s the most privileged, powerful place you can find yourself as a woman, but, in the UK and many other countries, mothers aren’t supported to look after children because that would break the economy, and people think it’s more valuable to be in the workforce than being a mum. That’s heartbreaking, because children need a primary care-giver. Although I know there are different situations, it’s predominantly mothers, because we carry a baby for nine months in our wombs and have breasts to feed them.

Sometimes we need someone to say: “Have you looked at this? Do you know you can change this?” Parenting skills are passed down from generation to generation. Break this, and you get dysfunction.

There needs to be a motherhood revolution, because children need nurture, and that takes time and effort. I thought children just grew up, but, actually, parenthood is responsibility and work.

We don’t put children in families where both parents are working. And how will parents see the value of taking children into their families and being full-time parents, when they put their own biological children into nurseries?

I was only christened in order to get married at our local church. But, as a little girl, I had a hymn book that I’d sing from in my room when things were hard at home, and I felt a warmth and a security I couldn’t really explain.

I was searching to know God truly, and being influenced by Jehovah’s Witnesses [JWs] living either side of us, and also our vicar. The day before my first Kingdom Hall meeting, I asked Jesus: “I know it’s about you, but I’m so confused; show me you’re real.” And then I read 2 Peter 1.20: “Remember this above all else, no prophetic word comes from the mouth of man,” and realised that the JWs are not about the truth — it’s about something else.

God transforms us into the image of his Son. He trains us and takes us on journeys where we have to trust him, and he shows us the fruit.

I love wild swimming and foraging with my grandchildren. We also keep pigs and goats. Our main Care for Children office is in Norwich, and we live near the north Norfolk coast. We swim in the sea in the winter, and in the rivers and streams near by, and the sea inlets at Stiffkey. I started just after Covid, and I haven’t stopped. I’d recommend it to anyone, but don’t just jump in in December. Work up to it. And we’re very responsible about how long we stay in when it’s cold, and wear protection.

It makes me angry when people lack empathy, and therefore don’t see people in the way God sees them.

I love walking and being in the rain. I love the sound of families laughing together.

It’s obvious, but what gives me hope is Jesus. I love that God’s mission for my life is to become more like him, and I’m excited to see where that leads.

I pray most for my children and grandchildren, that they will grow up to love and glorify God, and that their roots would go deep; for protection, for the will of God.

I’d choose Gladys Aylward to be locked in a church with, because she was so courageous. We’d have lots to talk about, because she had such a heart for China’s people.

Elizabeth Glover was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.



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