The kids were dirty; the food was terrible; the showers (when we had running water) were freezing; there was not one restroom with toilet paper in it; I got really sick one summer; I got a staff infection another summer—but somehow, it was a little bit of heaven on earth to me.
I loved holding their grimey hands. I loved sitting at their orphanage tables with them, even if we were eating mystery meat (and a mysterious porridge that seriously resembled Elmer’s glue). I loved running around and playing games with them.
But most of all, I loved getting eye-to-eye with them, giving them my full attention, and hearing their stories.
I can’t ever forget those stories.
These orphans across the ocean weren’t merely social issues and statistics. They became my friends.
I saw the scarred arms of a teen who’d tried to take her own life. I held the skinny, malnourished frame of a ten-year-old who was otherwise rarely, or maybe never, embraced. I felt the clinging grip of a twelve-year-old girl who’d wrapped herself around me, sobbing, asking me to please not leave.
These children changed me. And I knew I wanted to spend my life serving them. I wanted to move to Africa. Or Eastern Europe. Or really, any far off land.
Wherever I ended up living, there was just one condition I required that place to meet: There had to be orphans there. And in my thinking at that time, I thought working with orphans required a move across the ocean.
So imagine my confusion and wrestle when I felt God clearly telling me to put down roots in Kansas City, Missouri. I actually rebutted with, “But Lord, what about the orphans??”
But God knew what He was doing, of course.
He wanted to broaden my vision.
My mind’s picture of “orphan” was that of a child in a dusty village, in a crowded orphanage, or on the street in a third-world nation.
But I was missing something.