It was 1997 and my husband and I had just arrived in Mexico. We came to work as missionaries in orphanages, to serve children and those that cared for them.
It was day one of what has now been twenty-plus year journey, and a little girl met me at the door of my car as we pulled into a home. I couldn’t speak Spanish, just a few phrases and some colors and numbers, but I had memorized a Spanish evangelistic track.
After exhausting the 30 words I knew within minutes, I launched into the first page of this track, ‘God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life…’ Watching her face as I struggled through my pronunciation, I didn’t need to speak Spanish to understand the impact those words had on her.
It was as if she was saying to me, ‘If this is God’s plan for my life, I don’t want anything to do with him, (or you for that matter.)’ She turned and walked away from me.
This was going to be more complicated than I imagined.
My husband encouraged me to chase after her and I did, for the next month, I shared my Oreos, pushed her on a swing, picked lice out of her hair and asked her how to say thousands of words in Spanish. Weeks later, we’d made some progress, relationally and emotionally, but over again I kept thinking: This is just one girl, in one orphanage, in one city, in one country… in all of the world. There are 163 million more.
I began calling everyone I knew, inviting them into the stories of the children I had just met. I invited them to come, give and pray. I invited them to learn names and stories, to be concerned about, and want something different for, children they had never met.
The first team to come was a group of 7th graders from a Christian school in Ohio. I remember vividly circling them up in my Mexican living room, preparing them for their first day at the orphanage, and being slightly ungrateful.
Really, Lord? I called for an army and you sent me a classroom of twelve-year-olds? This task of loving orphans into your kingdom is monumental! What difference can these kids possibly make?
The Lord answered, in a memory he floated up to the surface of my mind. It was of a conversation with my mother, from decades earlier. Some girl had bullied me, and my mom was desperate my nine-year-old self understand it was more about her than me. She did an exercise with me that afternoon I spontaneously decided to try out on our visitors.
I held up a piece of paper, “I want you to imagine this paper represents the heart of every orphan you will meet this week.” They nod.
I ripped the paper in half. “At some point, all have been abandoned or abused. Whenever that happened, either suddenly or slowly, their heart was ripped in half.”
Eyes divert to the ground. No one wants to linger on someone’s pain.
“If that was the only rip, we might be able to fix that, but the truth is, it’s the first rip of many.” I hold up the half page still in my hand and begin to slowly rip it apart, piece-by-piece…
“They go to school and are mocked for being from the orphanage, or being behind in school or not being able to participate in after school activities…” (Each comment comes with another rip.)
“They have visitation day and no one comes to visit them (rip), or someone does come to visit and they wonder anew why they can’t go home (rip).”
“They eat group food, have group clothing, sleep in group settings, are group raised and fear no one sees them as individual (rip).”
“Sometimes hurt people, hurt people, and they can rip on each other, simply because they don’t know any better (rip).”
As the ripping continues, I share scenarios of how the enemy relentlessly pursues them.
“Here is where you come in…” I look solemnly around the room, “You are invited to stand between the child and this enemy. Every time you defend a child in prayer, come to them, lift them up, make them a home, pray for them, maintain their cause, execute true justice on their behalf. Every time you play with, and read to and work for the orphan, you are putting a deposit into their emotional bank account.”
I reach down and pick up all the pieces I had just torn apart, slowly replacing them. “Each time you battle for an orphan, it’s one small deposit back into this heart bank, not in your name, or the name of your church, simply in the name of Jesus. You can do that from anywhere, anytime and at any age. Once those deposits build up, the platform is built and gospel has a place to stand.”
Suddenly, the cause becomes a plan.
There is a place in this movement for everyone. The international orphancare community needs prayer warriors who can pray without ceasing and lemonade stand warriors that can share financial resources. We need full time workers and short-term laborers. We need those who can research current best practices for the hurt child and social media experts who can help us get the word out for those without a voice.
There is much to be done and much to offer. The little girl who I shared those Oreos with a decade and half ago recently got married. At her wedding, my husband said as he gave her away, “Your branch is firmly grafted into our tree. You may now enjoy the blessings of a thousand generations.” Sometimes ‘God places the lonely in families’ with legal documents and last name changes. And sometimes those branches attach through commitment, involvement, sacrifice and sweat.