This post is written by my daughter. For the prelude to her story, read here.
It’s taken nearly a year to heal my broken heart—to relive the rich memories with a song rather than sorrow lacing my heart.
It’s been nearly 11 months since I left with a group of students from Liberty University to spend the summer in Guatemala. While there I had the opportunity to learn Spanish, live with a host family, and revel in one of God’s sweetest gifts to me—the chance to work in an orphanage.
We did ministry by serving the Guatemalan people in various ways. I saw pain, suffering, and poverty. I saw people who had nothing. I saw teenagers who weighed a mere 40 pounds from lack of food. I saw a woman with Down syndrome living in a trash heap. I saw a boy with epilepsy whose bed was nothing more than the ragged and worn hole of a hammock he shared with his other siblings.
But I also saw joy amidst the sorrow and healing among the brokenness. As I was serving in the orphanage I was honored with the sweet and precious gift of loving these children—the forgotten ones. These little ones had a cot to sleep on and tortilla and beans for their bellies but didn’t know a father’s love or a mother’s touch. For me, that is where the difference lies.
The street children and sickly kids may not always have a full stomach or a spacious home, but they have parents. They have someone who loves them—who is willing to go days or weeks without food so that their children might have a bite to eat. Some may argue with me, but I find it hard to discern which is worse— go without food, or not know the love of a mother or father.
The first day at the orphanage, I held a 3 year old in my arms named Andy. Instantly, I knew the warm truth that trickled deep into my soul: he was mine. I believe God draws different people to each other. He drew this precious bundle of laughter and mischief to me. I visited him in the baby house every day. Going on walks, we giggled, tickled, played, laughed and chased each other. All the little things little boys do.
A week into the trip, I met Antonion or “Tono”—the little boy who would forever change my life. I still can’t think of him without a knot in my throat but I have a joy in my spirit now. One afternoon I sat down to help this little 9 year old boy, who sported the crooked smile behind his tough guy facade, with his homework. The rest is history. He was my shadow for the rest of my time there. Mejor amigos (Best friends). I fondly referred to him as my “hermanito” and he replied in broken English “You (pointing at me) my seeeee-ster for-eever.”
When he said that, how could I ever go home?
I don’t know why God drew me to this certain child. Maybe it was his crooked smile, or the way he would jump into my arms when he saw me. Or how he begged me to just watch him play soccer for hours. Or the way he would take my hand and off we went to play marbles, cards, or just sit and talk. Other children could sit on my lap, but only if he knew where I was. Maybe it was because he reminded me of my own three little brothers who are now too old to sit in my lap. I don’t know, but what I do know is that he needed to be loved and that was something I could do.
I fell in love with Leydi and her sweet spirit, Alexa and her tough demeanor (once she knew I was there to stay, her brattiness melted away and she let me into her heart), Julio with the twisted leg, Cristian, the constant troublemaker who just needed a smile and hug, Elias, who wouldn’t sit still at school unless he was sitting on my lap. The list goes on…
For a time, I honestly thought I would never leave.
I was having the time of my life. My favorite compliment was when people asked me in Spanish if I was “mixed,” thinking I was half-Latina because of my tanned skin and dark features, but knew I wasn’t because of my blue eyes. I would proudly reply, “My Grandpa’s Italian” and beam because they thought I fit with the culture I was becoming a part of. I even got use to the rats and bugs. They didn’t bother me so much. I loved the simplicity of life there—the relaxed atmosphere, the friendliness and love of the people, and not having access to modern technology.
I was home.
The week before I had to leave, I hardly slept. I couldn’t believe the time had come. I’ll never forget whispering in Andy’s ear “Te quiero muchisimo mi niñito” (I love you little one) knowing he wouldn’t understand that the next day I wouldn’t be coming back. Saying good-bye to the other kids was painful, especially when Julio, my treasure with the twisted leg, looked at me and said “Adios preciosa” (Good-bye dear one). As soon as he said that, I kissed him, and walked down the mountain because if I hadn’t I never would have. Tono was the good-bye I was dreading. He buried his head in my stomach, squeezed me tight and we said good-byes.
I came back to the U.S. and cried every single day for the next month. My heart had never been more broken.
Life went on. I went back to school. There were days when I would weep on the floor of my dorm, crying out to God asking, “Why?”…. Why what? I didn’t even understand the questions in the depths of my heart. But God heard them and he allowed me to go back for 2 weeks in January.
The highlight of that trip in January was spending time at the orphanage. I saw the precious bundles of joy that I had missed every second I was gone. Once again, I kissed, cuddled, tickled, chased, and played hide and seek with my baby Andy. I held Elias while we watched a movie. I held tightly to Julio (the boy with the twisted leg) as we jumped on the trampoline the orphans had gotten for Christmas. I told Leydi and Alexa they were beautiful, I tucked Marcos into bed and kissed his sleeping cheek.
I prayed with little Tono to receive Jesus as his Lord and Savior. I took him down to dinner with me the last night and as the music played, he grabbed my hand and put his other skinny arm around my waist and said “Bailamos” (Let’s dance). The little gentleman whisked me across the floor. When we said good-bye a second time, I cried as he wrapped his little arms around my shoulders, kissed my cheek and said “I’ll love you forever.”
He is just ten years old.
I cried as I walked away leaving Elias crying on the steps of the orphanage at the top of the mountain. I cried as I knew I would miss seeing baby Andy grow up. My heart broke even more. I felt like Mary in Luke 2:19 “She treasured and pondered all of these things in her heart.”
These last few months, God has been faithful as he has graciously helped me release the bitterness and anger at Him in my heart for tearing me away from these precious kids. It was only when I acknowledged my bitterness and anger toward the Lord that my heart began to heal. It was only after this happened that when I looked at pictures of the children I could smile and remember instead of cry.
Now I have a joy in my spirit instead of sorrow in my heart.
Matthew 19:14 says, “Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
The little children go to Jesus, not me. They are His and not mine. He loves them more than I do or ever could. Instead of mourning a loss, I celebrate the fact that Jesus knows each one of us and our needs individually. He is taking care of the children; He only used me to help him for a time, but what a blessing it was.
If you are a parent, hold your children close and tell them you love them because there are millions of kids out there who do not have parents—little girls who will never have a daddy to tell them they’re beautiful and little boys who will not know a mother’s loving touch.
If you have the opportunity, I challenge you to go and serve. The very least you can do is pray—pray for God’s children. That is what my prayer has changed to. Instead of saying “God, let me go back,” I pray “God, today may they know they are LOVED.”
I write this in faith that I am going back. I don’t know when, where, or how but God has told me I am going back. I claim that promise. In the meantime, I pray for the precious ones and trust God knowing that He is loving them and meeting their needs in a greater way than my simple love ever could.
Romans 13:8 “Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.”
How are you living that out in your own life today?
If you would like to sponsor one of the orphans at Hope of Life Ministry, please contact them and begin a relationship with one of these children that will change your life and theirs. Click here for more information.