BYU student takes upbringing in orphanage as positive experience

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Austin and some of his family pose for a photo in Hawaii. Gray's family visisted him when he attended BYU-Hawaii. (Austin Gray)
Austin and some of his family pose for a photo in Hawaii. Gray’s family visisted him when he attended BYU-Hawaii. (Austin Gray)

Austin Gray was 9 years old, and the only world he knew was the orphanage in the Shanxi province in Northern China.

He remembers hearing American voices at the orphanage on one particular day. Dentist and Idaho native Delmar Gray, his wife and three teenage sons had just arrived at the orphanage. Austin Gray explained that the children quickly gathered around the American dentist and his family to take a photo.

“The Americans were our guests,” he said. “And as we gathered around to take a photo they were given these heavily decorated chairs to sit on. We knew the honorary guests were always given these chairs.”

But instead of joining the other children, Austin Gray immediately jumped into Delmar Gray’s lap. The dentist’s wife snapped a photo of the two. That’s when it happened: an eternal bond was forged.

“My mother would often look at this photo. She told me every time she studied it she had an overwhelming feeling and spiritual prompting. She would always smile at me, the child that unexpectedly ran onto her husband’s lap,” Austin Gray said. “She knew she had to bring this child, me, back to the United States. She knew I was bound to be part of the Gray family.”

Three years later, the Grays adopted Austin. Fourteen years later, he is now a student at BYU.

Austin Gray described his mom, Luann Gray, as “the sweetest and most spiritual woman I know.” He and his mother had a connection from the first day they met at the orphanage.

The adoption process took a little over six months to do the paper work. Luckily for the Gray family, it was quicker for them because of their connections from the service trips they had been on to the orphanage. According to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, the average adoption process normally takes one to two years.

When Austin Gray was 13 years old, the Gray family visited the orphanage for the second time. They came to visit and do service again, as well as bring Austin back to their home in Boise.

“My mom was so excited and knew this was the right choice,” he said. “This was their first and only adoption, but both my mom and dad knew it was right.”

Gray visits his sister in China. His sister was recently married and has a daughter. The two were separated when Gray was a child, and his sister remained in China while he was raised in Idaho. (Austin Gray)
Gray visits his sister in China. His sister was recently married and has a daughter. The two were separated when Gray was a child, and his sister remained in China while he was raised in Idaho. (Austin Gray)

Austin Gray had to deal with adjustments when he moved to the United States. There were some positive things. “I recall there being less pollution; the sky was more blue,” he said. “Shanxi was very polluted and poverty stricken; Boise was nice and clean. I was less shocked by Boise than most people would have thought, but having milk for the first time at age 14 was a shock for me.”

However, there were difficult things, like the English language, that Austin Gray had to learn.

“I would spend at least two to three hours a day in an English language learning class,” he said.

He also dealt with things like his peers asking why his last name was Gray and he was Chinese. He also was asked frequently why his brothers were Caucasian and he was Chinese. Austin Gray had to overcome and adjust to many things in the States. However, there was one place he could feel peace.

“When I would attend The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” he said, “I wouldn’t understand the language, but I felt peace and comfort.”

Not only does Austin Gray recall the comforting spirit while attending church, but he also developed an appreciation for the youth programs.

“It was the church youth programs like the Young Men’s Program that gave me support and friends through all these adjustments,” he said.

He recalls having no faith during his years in the orphanage.

“I remember being afraid of ghosts,” Austin Gray said. He didn’t understand the meaning of a higher power and had just a basic understanding of Buddhism when growing up in the orphanage.

Friendship helped Austin Gray make the transition to living in the States. He had a friend in the orphanage who was likewise adopted and lived three miles away from the Grays in Boise. They spent almost every day after school together, helping gap the culture difference and adjustments.

“He (Austin’s friend) was who inspired me to go on my mission,” Austin Gray said. “And I did. I served in Australia.”

Austin Gray said his experience being adopted allowed him to learn the love God has for people.

Gray poses with some of the people he baptized while on a mission in Australia. Gray is a member of the Church, and has been since his childhood in Idaho.(Austin Gray)
Gray poses with some of the people he baptized while on a mission in Australia. Gray is a member of the Church, and has been since his childhood in Idaho.(Austin Gray)

“On my mission I could often relate to the people, because I wasn’t raised in the church,” he explained. “I also had to learn the basics to Jesus Christ and his mission here on earth.”

Austin Gray recently finished his sophomore year at BYU and is going into finance at the Marriott School of Management. His dream is to be an investment banker and have a family. He never recalls feeling sorry for himself when he grew up in the orphanage.

“I have been given so much, and because of this I have been given a greater responsibility to give back,” he said. “I want to use my skills in investment banking to help people.” He would love to work on Wall Street in the future.

Austin Gray enjoys hanging out with his five brothers and being an uncle to his 15 nephews and nieces. In fact, one of his brothers is in “Studio C” and Austin Gray said his nieces and nephews love to watch the show together.

He also tries to keep in contact with his blood sister, who still lives in China. She has one child, and Austin Gray plans on visiting her in China.

Austin feels he was fortunate enough to not only be adopted into a great family, but to also be exposed to the church. Since being adopted, serving a mission and attending BYU he has come to a deeper understanding of Heavenly Father.

“God does exist,” he said. “He works in ways that you can’t understand, but it is the best plan for you.”

Austin Gray knows his adoption process was part of God’s work and wants to continue to serve people because of the blessings he has been given.

“Sometimes we just need to be reminded that the gospel of Jesus Christ doesn’t only improve lives but also fundamentally rescues persons out of dire situations,” said his friend and BYU student Yunzuo Cai. “Austin is an embodiment of that.”
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