One day, after a storm, an old man walking on the beach saw a young woman reaching down to the sand, picking up starfish and very gently throwing them into the ocean.
'Young lady,' he asked, 'Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?'
'The sun is up, and the tide is going out, and if I do not throw them in they will die.'
'But young lady, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it? You cannot possibly make a difference.'
The young woman paused and then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, saying, 'It made a difference for that one.'
This story inspired Amanda de Lange and became the motto of her life.
I first met Amanda when she was assigned to my ward as a missionary with her companion, Lesley-Anne Elliott. She was a fun-filled person with a sunny disposition, and both missionaries were a pleasure to have in our home. Amanda was born in 1961 in Johannesburg, South Africa. She had a sister, Karen, and a brother, Chris, and had joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Zimbabwe when she was 19.
After her mission Amanda went to BYU and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1996. In 2009 she received the BYU Distinguished Service Award for her work in China where she was founder and CEO of Starfish Children’s Services in Xi’an, providing care for orphans who had heart defects, cleft palates, and spina bifida.
Amanda had been working in Taiwan and saving money to attend graduate school in the United States when she accepted a teaching position in China. There she met a liaison for an orphanage that facilitated international adoptions. Amanda offered to volunteer and arranged visits for the next six months. During that time she secured a lucrative teaching position in Korea to help her with her Master’s degree, but within a week of her scheduled acceptance, she made a life-changing decision.
“I only had a few days to accept the job, but when I returned to the government orphanage, I became upset on behalf of a dying baby no one was helping. I felt terrible,” she says. When someone casually suggested she write a proposal to start her own care centre, she decided to forego moving to Korea and instead find a way to help the orphans.
“What were the odds that a foreigner would be given permission to start anything like this in China? I thought it was impossible,” she said. She was shocked when the orphanage and government accepted her petition just four days after submitting her proposal. By September 2005 she had opened Starfish, and been given access to unlimited babies.
One morning the orphanage delivered five girls and a boy to Starfish, which doubled as Amanda’s home. Three of the girls were malnourished and not expected to live, but under her care they thrived, received necessary surgeries, and were later adopted by families in the United States.
Little prepared Amanda for the job beyond her passion to save these children, her savings, and the basic Mandarin she had learned in Taiwan. Working up to 18 hours a day, Amanda was a hands-on CEO. She lived at the orphanage, paid the rent and bought the food, medicine, clothes and diapers with money solicited from people all over the world for 'her babies.'
“My learning curve was enormous,” she says. “I was not medically or financially trained, and I didn’t know where to go and what to do in a foreign country. I was the only one there taking care of six babies, all under four months. I spent countless hours feeding, changing diapers, and doing laundry.”
“As I hunted for more resources, I eventually found medical teams who came to China,” she says. “I uncovered medical angels and dedicated donors.” She used her own savings to get started; after three years, she asked foundation administrators if she could take out some funds to live on, which amounted to about a quarter of the money she made as a student laundry worker at BYU. While she lived on almost nothing, she felt that her compensation was great. “Looking back, I can see the hand of the Lord very clearly guiding me,” she said. “So while I may never get a Master’s degree, my detour in China has forever changed my life and the lives of dozens of disabled and abandoned Chinese babies and toddlers.”
In July 2012 Amanda died in Nashville, Tennessee of uterine cancer at the age of 51. Her dying message was: 'To the babies of Starfish, I want you to know that I have given it my best effort, my all. My life has been to care for and love you. Wherever you go in your lives, I wish you the very best. May you always be drawn to those in need and may you never forget that at a very critical time in your life there was someone there at the door to welcome you into the house. Be the change you want to see in the world.'
Her missionary companion, Lesley-Anne, had this to say of her: “She really left an amazing legacy. Many people's lives were changed because of her. Wouldn't it be great if people said the same about us? Let's hope we've also made and will continue to make an impact. I think the great lesson here is life was different than she had dreamed it would be but she found fulfillment in enriching the lives of others as opposed to wallowing in self-pity.”
Anyone can be a mother, even if you don't bear children.
Amanda’s last statement was, 'We’ve taken care of 168 foster kids, we’ve had almost 250 surgeries and 81 adoptions and that, my friend, pretty much sums up my life. Because other than that, what is really important? You boil it down and that’s the triumph of my life.”
“When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God”(Mosiah 2:17)