When he was born somewhere in China – he doesn’t know where – the newborn with a serious vision issue and a cleft palate spent the first five years of his life in an orphanage in Beijing. A Roman Catholic organization was able to place him in a foster home and then in a second one, and that’s where he lived for the next nine years.
It was first believed that he would lose his sight entirely, so he began learning Braille. Some kindly Americans – he doesn’t know who – provided funding for additional eye screening, and he learned that his eye nerve damage would not result in blindness, but that in order to read, he would have to hold a printed page close to his right eye, as his left one wouldn’t work well enough for reading. He also received basic surgery to repair his cleft palate.
An older foster brother named David was adopted by Kelli and Scott Collins of Spokane Valley. When they came to get him, they noticed a younger boy with a cleft palate who smiled at them. David told them that his foster brother was a good kid and hoped they would look at him, too.
And so, a year later, on his 14th birthday, young Tian Ming began his journey to his new home in Spokane Valley, where he was reunited with David and was given the name Nathan, which means “gift from god.” The Collins family consists of four children born to Kelli and Scott Collins and five children adopted from China. Once in America, Nathan had a second surgery for his cleft palate, which gave him a better cosmetic repair.
Young Nathan Collins, who spoke no English at first, was home-schooled and later he and David found the right educational home for them at Upper Columbia Academy in Spangle, where David graduated last year, and Nathan will graduate this spring – with a 3.48 grade-point average.
“This is such a good place for me,” said Nathan, “because people accept me here, are friendly and give me good help with academics. I also like the religious support I have here.” At school he enjoys the music program, history and art, and is senior class treasurer. He hopes to attend Walla Walla University in the fall to study business or perhaps social work.
He remembers what his mother told him about how he was when he first joined the family – that his heart was kind of dead. “I never knew in my foster home if I was cared for because they were paid to take care of me or because of me. But my mother (Kelli Collins) hugged and helped me, always treated me like all her other children and supported me when I was depressed. She loves me by choice and not because she has to.”
He said that when you’re an orphan, “you don’t know where you belong. I have a family now, and I belong to them. I want to give back to society someday, and I always want to do my best and show the best of me.”