Thomas AmandaIn 2007 I was asked to start leading tours to China.  I had been there once in 1995 and found the country to be on the move and extremely interesting.  Never did I think my path would lead me back to directing tours and visiting the country now thirteen times.

Before I lost weight, this would not have been something I could have done.  In 2003 I weighed over 320 pounds and, realized if I wanted a life, I would have to do something about it.  I knew I would have to start eating right and find an activity that would support weight loss.  I turned to biking, which I loved as a child.

Dick Jensen, at Morris Murdock Travel in Salt Lake City, asked Greg Witt, a friend of mine, if he knew anyone who could lead a bike trip to China.  Knowing how much I was riding my bike and loved travel he gave him my name and, after losing over 70 pounds through exercise and proper eating, I was soon leading tours to China.

One of the cities that we visit is Xi’an.  On one of the tours I was told that there was a woman in Xi’an who was from South Africa and had joined the church, then started an orphanage for medically challenged children.  This was to become a place that we would visit often.

When we arrived at the orphanage I met Amanda de Lange.  Yes, she did have a wonderful accent, but the thing I remember most was standing in amazement at what she had done in her life.  She joined the church when she was 19 and then served a mission in South Africa.  She then came to BYU and graduated in Family Living.

Her journey took her to Taiwan and Xi’an to teach English.  It was in Xi’an that she volunteered at an orphanage.  Soon it was suggested that she open up her own orphanage.  That she did in 2005, taking on six small babies all by herself and opening up Starfish Foster Home.  When I first visited her it had grown to three apartments and 50 babies. By then she had several professional nannies but even at that it was an unimaginable task.  She would go out to orphanages in the area and find medically challenged babies.  Many of them had heart problems, cleft palettes, and spina bifida.

Sadly, in January 2012 she was diagnosed with uterine cancer and she died July 14, 2012 in Nashville, Tennessee.  Amanda was enveloped in love as she left., which is so fitting for a woman who selflessly shared her passion and energy, nurturing vulnerable orphans, restoring them to health, and preparing them for the loving arms of their new parents and forever families.

While she was in the hospital, Amanda reflected: “168 babies, nearly 250 surgeries, and 81 adoptions – that pretty much sums up my life!” There is so much humility in that one phrase – and even more impact. Eighty-one Starfish with their forever families, and so many more ready for their turn, thanks to Amanda and the incredible Starfish team and volunteers.

Thomas amandaorphansI attended a memorial on September 22, 2012 in Salt Lake to celebrate the life of this woman who set out and blessed the life of so many.  Thank you, Amanda, for reaching out and touching my heart and life in so many ways.


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