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China program helps children hear words, others hear the word


Dec 28, 2004
-by Ryan Miller


"Little Zhang" (left) tries out his new hearing aid while his mother (centre) and a helper help fit it to his ear. The youth is part of the Early Childhood Hearing Intervention project in China, with aid from Mennonite Church Canada Witness workers, Jeanette and Todd Hanson

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Nanchong, China — Visitors who stare too hard at 4-year-old “Little Wen” are likely to suffer the child’s clever wit. The boy will mimic faces and twist his mouth to match the patterns made by others as they speak. Wen even will imitate the noises that emerge from his visitors’ contorted lips, though he cannot be sure his sounds match those he is trying to ape.

While his mouth works fine, Little Wen’s ears fail him. He cannot hear sounds well enough to repeat them. At least, he could not, before his grandfather brought him to Nanchong from their home in Sichuan Province in western China.

In Nanchong, where Jeanette and Todd Hanson serve with Mennonite Church Canada Witness through the China Educational Exchange (CEE), the Early Childhood Hearing Intervention program fits hearing-impaired children with hearing aids, then sponsors adults to offer speech therapy and to teach the children, and their families, how to use the devices.

Jeanette Hanson (Todd is a member of Grace MC, Sask.; Jeanette is from Tiefengrund MC, Sask.) work with the program, which began through a local government agency called the Handicapped Persons Association. The program currently aids about 60 families.

Jeanette said government officials often ask why North Americans care about children in their rather isolated area of Sichuan Province.

“I am able to talk about faith issues in terms of God creating everyone on earth and our belief that divisions of countries, culture, distance and abilities are artificial and that we are all God’s children,” Hanson said. “I also talk about Jesus’ teaching to serve others and help the weak.”

In some cases, she said, the support children get from members of the program is greater than what they receive from family members. During one visit to a home in Yuechi County, Hanson said a 6-year-old boy’s father told her not to bother speaking with him of his son’s aid, since he would be leaving for a southern province within days to work. The boy’s mother already was away, working, and his aunt also ignored Hanson’s instructions. So she taught the grandparents, who care for the boy and his cousins – a typical arrangement in rural China.

One woman brought her son, 8-year-old “Little Zhang,” to Nanchong to be tested and fitted for a hearing aid. She repeatedly told Hanson of the inconvenience of this interruption, as she had much to do at her farm. She mentioned that the family had another son, at home, who “didn’t have any problems,” Hanson said.

“I sat with her in the park while waiting for the last children to be tested. We talked about her life and the difficulties she faced,” Hanson said. “A few weeks later during the training class on how to use hearing aids, she participated less grudgingly and even expressed some surprise that the hearing aids would be easier to use and maintain than she had expected.”

One of Hanson’s objectives is to build relationships between churches, schools and government offices in a society where less than one percent of the population worships Christ. She said social witnessing is vital to increasing a trust level between Christians and the secular world.

Added Myrrl Byler, CEE director, “As Westerners involved in a variety of ministries, we give added visibility and credibility to Chinese churches, which often must struggle against ignorance and mistrust. Chinese believers are beginning to reach out to needs in society. We pray that our involvement and partnership with them will be a source of encouragement.”

While Wen, Zhang and the other children that participate in the hearing program may not yet understand why new sounds are reaching their ears, many adults are learning.

“One township party secretary told me, ‘Christians are different from people of other religions in our town. Christians show they love all people in very practical ways. They help the poor and serve society,’” Hanson said.

Another nodded when Hanson explained the teachings of Jesus. “He said that one cannot work for long in the area of special education and not meet Christians,” Hanson said.

There is a Chinese proverb that says, “Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.” Hearing devices are helping these Nanchong children better realize this old proverb, and are opening doors of opportunity for the Hansons and other church workers to share the good news with their parents.

Since September of 2004, two Mennonite Church Canada Sunday Schools have raised about $400 for this ministry through KidsPak, including support for the Childhood Hearing Intervention program. Four hundred dollars might not sound like much, but it’s a lot in China where $0.35 buys a hearing aid battery, and $35 buys a cassette recorder families can use in speech training. KidsPak is an annual project book sent to all MC Canada congregations, and available from

Todd and Jeanette Hanson and their children, Claire, 7, and Kate, 2, live in Nanchong. Jeanette works in cooperation with local governments and churches to establish social welfare projects while Todd teaches composition and literature and provides professional improvement training to China Educational Exchange teachers. CEE is an inter-Mennonite program supported by Mennonite Church Canada Witness, Mennonite Mission Network, Mennonite Central Committee, and Eastern Mennonite Missions.

Sidebar: Ears that hear and learn

This excerpt from KidsPak, an annual project book sent to all MC Canada congregations, offers an idea of what a few dollars can accomplish in China. An electronic version is available from available from

What Your Gift Can Do

  • $0.35 buys one hearing aid battery for a family who couldn’t afford it
  • $28.00 per month helps a rural Chinese pastor remain in ministry
  • $35.00 buys a cassette recorder for a family to use in speech training for their child
  • $50.00 supports one primary school student for one year’s tuition
  • $150.00 helps Jeanette Hanson travel to remote areas to meet with families in need of help