At the White Swan Hotel in Guangzhou before returning to Singapore.

As a senior consultant in infectious diseases who has worked in outbreak conditions and served on high-level WHO and UN task forces, Associate Professor Dr Lim Poh Lian is nothing if not cool and composed.

Yet she was almost undone by a cheesecake.

That’s when you realise how much the birthday boy means to her.

“We found out that Keyuan’s eighth birthday was coming. So we asked the adoption agency if we could volunteer at Alenah’s Home for a week and also celebrate his birthday with him,” says Lim.

This was no ordinary birthday.

It was to be the first time that Lim, 52, and husband Yap Vong Hin, 60, would meet their soon-to-be adopted son.

Up until this point, they had only seen the boy with the bright smile and trademark band around his head on television in the Channel NewsAsia (CNA) Get Real documentary on unwanted children in China.

“I read that birthdays can be very traumatic for the kids in an orphanage,” says Lim. “Some kids hate their birthdays because it’s just a reminder that they’re another year older, that they’re not adoptable.

“To me, it’s heartbreaking to think about a child being saddened by his birthday.

“So we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we go and surprise Keyuan for his birthday! And we also didn’t want him to have another birthday go by not knowing whether there was a family coming for him.”

The anticipation of their first meeting was palpable.

Keyuan, excited to see the Merlion in person.

“I wanted to bake him a cake myself – it’s more personal than just going out and buying an expensive cake,” Lim says.

“So I baked a cheesecake and stuck it in the fridge. A few hours before our flight, we took the cake out to wrap so we could bring it on the plane with us and … Vong promptly dropped it on the floor and the whole cheesecake disintegrated! We both went: Aaah!

“Ran to NTUC. Bought another two slabs of cream cheese. Baked another cake. And took this hot cheesecake onto the plane!”

They laugh at the memory while Keyuan, snuggled between the two on a capacious cream sofa in his new Singapore home, gazes up at them one after another, an answering grin on his lips.

Yap teases: “I told her there would be plenty of cakes in China. We could buy one. But no … she wanted to bake it herself.”

He meets Keyuan’s gaze and affectionately ruffles his hair. “Dui ma?” (Right?)

Loving your neighbour

We are at the Yaps’ roomy semi-detached house. It is clearly one made to be enjoyed by a good-sized family, namely Yap, Lim and now four children – Elijah, 18, Eliana, 17, Max, 16, and Keyuan, 8.

The dining and living room open out to a wooden deck on one side and a pleasant garden in front, complete with a koi pond. An upright piano takes pride of place against the wall and the generous kitchen is testament to an enthusiastic cook or two in the family.

This is clearly more than a house … it is a home.

The family has become something of a media sensation after the Get Real episode famously led to the Yaps adopting Keyuan, the boy who was born without ears and abandoned at the gate of an orphanage when he was a few days old.

Even the Get Real producers were delighted at the turn of events, calling it a “wonderful surprise” that their documentary led to the happy adoption.

Mama, Papa and Keyuan

The media-shy Yap family only agreed to interviews because they want to raise awareness of children with special needs who are waiting to be adopted.

“We never planned to have four children,” reveals Yap, a retired architect who is now a stay-home dad. “We were watching that documentary because we ourselves adopted our daughter from China 15 years ago.”

Seeing Keyuan in the documentary say with bright-eyed optimism: “I must be patient!” changed everything.

Keyuan was already seven at the time and had been passed over for adoption by families who preferred younger, female children. His disability may also have been a deterrant. Born without external ears and ear canals, he only learnt to speak at age four after a hearing-aid implant and speech therapy.

“What happens if we just shed a few tears. And then go back to our normal life? It reminded me of James 1:23-24 about walking away from the mirror.”

Lim remembers thinking: “What happens if we just shed a few tears over the documentary. And then go back to our normal life? It reminded me of James 1:23-24 about walking away from the mirror.”

She also couldn’t get the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) out of her mind.

“In the story, the lawyer asks Jesus, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ And Jesus says, ‘What do the Scriptures say?’ The lawyer replies, ‘To love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbour as yourself.’ And Jesus essentially says, ‘Good answer.’

“And then the lawyer wants to define things precisely: Who’s my neighbour?’ In other words: Who can I care for and who can I safely ignore? Please define the boundaries for me.

“Jesus tells him that the neighbour is the one who chose to act with compassion. To do something.

“I thought, ‘Well what does doing something look like?’ We can’t help all the children, but we can do this one thing.”

Following God’s lead

In faith, the couple “just kept taking one step and the Lord kept opening another step”.

“I was very moved by (orphanage caregiver) Zhang Jing’s appeal,” says Lim. “In the documentary, she said, ‘Please just come quickly’. And I felt like Keyuan was losing time in development. When we adopted our daughter it took 18 months. That’s eons for a child waiting for a family.”

As American citizens (they are also Singapore PRs who have lived here for 15 years), they needed to go through a Hague accredited adoption agency.

In faith, the couple “just kept taking one step and the Lord kept opening another step”.

God provided a social worker who was not only from a Hague accredited adoption agency but was actually in Singapore.

When their three older children expressed doubts over the adoption, their parents requested that they pray about the adoption and attend the Radical Hospitality Forum about fostering that was being held in their church, Redemption Hill.

“We told them we feel strongly about this adoption, but we really didn’t want to do this over their objections,” Yap adds.

The adoption agency reviewed all the adoption offers, prayed over them and felt that the Yaps were the best family for Keyuan.

They called the Yaps and said: “We’re going to lock the file for you so that he is promised to you.”

Yap recalls that moment well. “We really felt like that was God’s answer – that locking of the  file for us plus the adoption forum which convinced our kids that this was okay. So they gave their blessings.”

Love at first sight

The first time they came face to face with Keyuan was in a narrow corridor at Alenah’s Home after a six-hour plane journey to Beijing, carrying their hot cheesecake.

They had sent ahead an album of photos of their family and had had Skype conversations with him.

In his Sunday best

“So the minute he saw us, he was like, ‘Mama! Papa!’ because he already recognised us,” recalls Yap warmly.

Lim adds: “It was very moving to actually be in a place that I’d seen so much on television. It was just incredible to meet him for the first time. He was very sweet, very normal.”

On January 29, 2018, Lucas Yap Keyuan was officially adopted, and he arrived in Singapore on February 10, just in time to spend Chinese New Year with a family he could call his own for the very first time.

“His caregivers had obviously been showing him pictures of Singapore. So he was thrilled when he arrived here and saw places he recognised such as the Singapore Flyer and the Merlion,” says Yap. “His first impression was that everything in Singapore is so beautiful.”

Growing in God

At Alenah’s Home the children hear Bible stories and play worship songs and videos, so Keyuan knew of Jesus.

In Singapore, the Yap family routinely prays at mealtimes and bedtime – “Keyuan is all for it and finds it very natural”. He is attentive at church services with the family, despite his as-yet rudimentary knowledge of English.

“He has an eight year old’s understanding of the Gospel,” says Yap. “We want to nurture that and help him grow his faith in Christ.”

The self-professed “tiger parents” raise their children with an unusual combination of toughness and tenderness.

“We tend to hold ourselves to high standards and so we tend to hold them to high standards too,” Lim says. “It’s about making the most of our life and our opportunities because we’re accountable for the opportunities that we’ve been given.

“So in that sense we’re not always the easiest of parents,” she laughs.

Yet their tenderness is evident.

For instance, while Keyuan has adapted surprisingly smoothly to his new life, he does not like to sleep alone. At Alenah’s Home he had slept in a room with six to eight other children.

So his parents take turns sleeping on a mattress in his room.

“We’ll give him time,” says Yap gently.

“Meanwhile we think of it as bonding time,” adds Lim.

“Our hope for them is that they are known as followers of Christ, and that others will see Jesus in who they are and what they do.”

The couple decided that only one of them would work while the other stays home with the kids.

Yap, an architect who has worked in USA and Singapore, opted to be the stay-at-home parent because “I had done what I wanted to do in my career”.

He is currently home-schooling Keyuan – at least until he gets up to speed with local academic standards.

It helps that Yap is good with children and comfortable in the kitchen, where he whips up restaurant-quality meals (“always beautifully presented”, Lim cannot resist adding).

“My friends used to say that I’d make someone a very good wife,” Yap jokes in a naturally booming voice that manages to be good-natured rather than intimidating. 

“I love the blessing of spending time investing in our children, to grow them and hopefully bring out the best in their capabilities.”

Frankly, he confesses: “Undoubtedly, I have made mistakes in the earlier years of being driven more by worldly concerns, like academic success, over Godly concerns such as issues of character, compassion and faith built on convictions.

“That’s the biggest challenge for us – to grow our kids to love God fully and hold Him as more important than anything else in life.

“Our hope for them is that they are known as followers of Christ, and that others will see Jesus in who they are and what they do. We hope they will honour God with the gifts and opportunities with which they have been uniquely blessed.”

A family at last

We have been chatting for well over an hour now. The sun has set, and a cool serenity has settled over the house. The water in the koi pond gurgles pleasantly.

Keyuan has chosen to be close to his parents during the entire interview, mostly tucked under his father’s arm and within touching distance of his mother.

Now he’s entertaining himself by reading a book aloud. Now he’s snuggling up to Mama, listening to our conversation curiously. Now he’s tickling Papa and Papa is tickling him back to squeals of laughter.

It is a most natural picture of familial fondness and you would never guess, comfortable as this lively boy is, that he has only been in this country and this family for little more than two months.

It is a credit to his family. Who gives credit to God.

About the author

Juleen Shaw

Salt&Light Managing Editor Juleen hails from the newsrooms of Singapore Press Holdings and MediaCorp Publishing. She has had two encounters with baptismal pools. The first was at age four when her mother, who was holding her hand, tripped and fell into the church baptismal pool, taking Juleen with her. The second was when she actually chose to get baptised.