Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Ethiopia Chronicles-Visit to an Orphanage

Having just re-read what I've written, I recognise that I have rambled, the sentence structure isn't great, some of the spelling is probably less than perfect, and it isn't eloquent. But, I'm not going to try to fix it. This was what has been on my heart and in my head, and I think I'm just going to have to be content that I've finally gotten it written down. I hope you'll overlook the poor writing and instead look at the content. So, here it is:

Thursday arrived, and I was excited. Rosie seemed to be doing great with me overall, and we were due to spend the morning at Kids' Care Orphanage, lunch out at a pizza restaurant, and then on to Gelgela Orphanage before a visit to the Lepers Hospital. But really, the excitement was all about the orphanage.

I love kids. Spend any time around me, and you'll figure that out. I always have. I think I got it from my Grandma. We had heard great things about the orphanages from previous families who had travelled, and I was excited to go and love on all of the kids. And, to be completely truthful, I was a little nervous. How could I go to Ethiopia and only bring home one child in need of a home? It was a question I had been asking myself and Gareth for months. I knew all of the reasons why we couldn't/shouldn't try to right now, and I knew the timing wasn't right, but I wondered if my mind and my heart would both manage to deal with that when confronted up front and personally when surrounded by children without a forever family.

After a quick breakfast in our room, we grabbed our suitcases of donations and headed for the bus. After a short drive, we turned down a narrow street and our bus stopped in front of some silver gates.

The gates were opened for us, and we headed in. There in the courtyard were dozens of children, the youngest looking about 3 and the oldest looking around 12 or 13. They were all waiting for us, and everyone (our group) included looked shy and nervous. We said hi, and some of them waved, but no one moved. So after a couple of awkward seconds, I walked about halfway towards them, and then knelt down and asked the nearest little boy if he knew "High 5". With a big smile on his face he came over, gave me 5, and then there was a rush of little kids anxious to give 5s, get hugs, and tell their names. Several of the little girls gave 5s and then wrapped their arms around me, desperate for hugs.

Some of the other families had their candy out, and the whole courtyard was a beehive of activity with children getting candy, wanting hugs, and excited to have their pictures taken so that they could look at themselves.

This little girl in the red dress attached herself to us very early on. She really wanted to just sit and be hugged, but poor Rosie was very nervous at the orphanage and really was upset when I began to love on the other kids. So, it was a difficult balancing act, trying to reassure Rosie that she was not going to be left again, and that Mommy could love on the other children without loving her any less.

After awhile, some of the nannies began bringing smaller children out one at a time from one of the buildings, so that they could have a piece of candy. This building housed the babies and youngest toddlers, and there was a sign on it saying that photographs weren't allowed inside (this is part of Ethiopia's way of protecting the privacy of young children who are adoptable).

I made my way to the entry and was greeted by the sight of a little girl who obviously has some serious handicaps. She was very thin, her dress hung on her, and her hair hadn't all grown in quite right. She was shaking and spasming and obviously very agitated by being able to hear all of the noise outside but not being able to get to it. Her face was looking around, but her eyes weren't focusing on anything in particular. Rosie was very insecure and didn't want to be put down, so I just knelt there in the entryway and began to talk to the little girl. At the sound of my voice she began scooting herself across the floor until she got next to me. Then, her little hands reached out and felt until she found my leg. When she found my leg, she patted her hands up until she found my arms, and then traced my arm up to my shoulder and began trying to pull herself up. I couldn't take it anymore and set Rosie down right next to me with a promise that I wouldn't leave her, and pulled the little girl into my arms. She was so thin with a face that seemed ancient in comparison to her body. Her face had several bad sores on it. Her eyes did not focus and I realized that she was almost certainly blind. Her little hands were patting my body and then felt there way up to my face. She found my face and began to caress it with her hands. She pulled my head down until she could lay her forehead against mine, and then the spasming stopped as her body relaxed. She just wanted to be held. So I held her and whispered to her, as Rosie began to get more and more upset. Eventually, I found myself squatting on the floor so that I could put one arm around Rosie and keep this little one in my arms while I whispered to them both. Then, pulling Rosie up in my other arm, I managed to walk around the small room that held the youngest toddlers. Through that room there was a small closet where 3 more little ones sat, all crying. There were no toys, no soft blankets or cushions, just a plain floor where they sat. I tried talking to them to soothe them, but they weren't content with just being talked to.

My Mom came through and said I needed to go to the next room to see the babies. She was crying and obviously upset. So, I headed next door. There were a row of babies all laid together in the cribs. They were tiny and so cute. Then, turning to look at the row behind me, I saw the source of her tears. In one of the cribs was the tiniest little one I had ever seen outside of a NICU. The huge eyes and ears and the ancient look to the face betrayed the fact that this was not a newborn, but rather an older baby who was suffering the awful effects of starvation. An IV was running through his scalp in an effort to save his life. The nanny pulled back the blanket, and his tiny legs were no bigger around then one of my fingers. His little bottom was bare as they sought to deal with the terrible diaper rash, and his bottom was smaller than the palm of my hand.

About this time Rosie began to come completely unglued saying that she needed the potty,and so I reluctantly tried to pry the little girl I had been holding off of me. She wouldn't be let go, so I found my Mom and asked her to hold her.

I ran Rosie to the potty and then went to visit the rest of the older children, who were in their "cafeteria" singing for our group.

Then, the staff prepared a beautiful coffee ceremony for us while Aster, the beautiful lady who runs the orphanage shared with us about the program they have begun for some of the boys still on the street and showed us the shirts they were selling to try to help fund this program.

Having bought some shirts, I turned around when my Mom began to call me from across the courtyard. She was crying, and said that they wouldn't stop crying if she tried to put them down. She had one of the little girls from the toddler room in her right arm and the little girl I had been holding earlier in the other She was agitated and spasming again as her face desperately turned trying to hear the sounds in the courtyard. I began to talk to her, and her face turned to me and locked in on my position. When Mom got next to me her arms came out until she found my body. Finding my face again, she pulled it down to hers. And with Rosie still in one arm, I took her with my other, as her head found my shoulder and again she relaxed and quit spasming. She just laid there, stroking my face

with her hands and this time, I could not stop the tears.

I held her and cried until it was time to leave. Walking with her up to the entryway of the building she lived in, I squatted down so that I could leave her. The problem was, I didn't want to. I knew that even if I wanted to I couldn't take her away with me, but she obviously wanted nothing more than to be loved and held. As I knelt in the entry way stroking her and crying one of the nannies came to the door and put her hands on my head and begged me not to cry. But how could I not? This little girl is one of the "fortunate" ones. She will not starve to death on the streets. But, neither will she have access to the medical care and therapy that she obviously needs to be able to reach her full potential. Just a brief time with her showed that she needs excellent nutrition, a team of therapists, and medical and sight evaluations by a team of Dr.s that she will almost certainly never find in Ethiopia. But more than that, she needs the love of a family. I couldn't take her away with me, and I had no idea if I would ever be able to afford the expense of another international adoption. I was certain that if we ever did again, it wouldn't be in time for this little one. And given her needs, the chances of another family adopting her is almost none.

Now, don't get me wrong. Kids' Care Orphanage is an amazing place. The staff that I met there are among the most beautiful people I have ever met. There are a team of nannies caring for the children and others who sew and do crafts in an attempt to raise the money needed to feed and care for that many kids. The children who find themselves there are indeed the fortunate ones.

They are fed, clothed, have basic medical treatment, schooling and are loved by the staff. But, the statistics remain the same. Only approximately 40% of the children we met will be adopted. And that is wrong. Children need families. God set up families as his ideal plan for society. Children need the love of a mother and a father.

Now, I'm going to provide a disclaimer here. If you don't want me to make it personal, then you should stop reading now. I'm about to get very personal. Everyone who happens to visit my blog

is welcome to keep reading, but the rest of this is for my fellow Christians. Anyone else is welcome to read, it's just that this portion of the post isn't addressed to you. If you do read it, then there will probably be some of you who will happily use it to point out just how true and what hypocrites we Christians are. And unfortunately, many times you'd be right. But the truth is, we (me included) aren't perfect. We screw it up, get it wrong, ignore it, and mess up just like the rest of the world. The difference: we're forgiven. And, with God's grace, we should be growing and changing. Now, on to the point where I probably step on some toes.

Since we began our adoption journey, I've heard just about every excuse in the book about why people can't adopt. Mostly, from other Christians. I've never asked why, it's just something that's offered. It usually goes something like this: That's so great. You're doing such a wonderful thing. I'm glad God has called you to do this. It's just not something I've been called to do. Then, the reasons why: I'm too old, I have a job, I don't have enough money, I've already got a houseful of kids, I've heard about somebody who had a really bad adoption experience, I'm not sure my husband would want to, and on and on. From elder boards I have heard the excuse that if we allow this ministry, then what other ministries are we going to open ourselves up to.

And truthfully, I'm tired of hearing all of the reasons why people can't adopt. I've heard them all for over a year now, and until now I've just nodded my head. But, I can't anymore. Maybe that was the best thing that came out of my visit to the orphanage that Thursday. I know some people think we're a little "weird" for adopting. I've had people assume I'm infertile, that I'm afraid of being pregnant, that I just want to avoid labor, and a whole host of other reasons why I might have chosen to adopt as opposed to having a baby the "real" way. I've had strangers and friends ask me why? when they find out that we're adopting. And, I'm no longer afraid of being considered weird or of stepping on a few toes. Not intentionally, but if risking stepping on a few toes means that someone else might consider adoption, it's a risk I'm willing to take.

Here's why we chose to adopt: James 1:27 -Pure and Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

In light of James 1: 27, the answer to the question why adopt is, why not?

I wonder, why are our churches so good at emphasising the keeping yourself pure and spotless and so bad at noticing the first half of the verse? Why does the church no longer recognise its' God-given responsibility to care for widows and orphans? Could it be that today's church finds itself largely irrelevant because the world no longer sees in us the love that is to be our trademark? I think so.

Mahatma Gandhi has a saying that should cause every Christian to think twice and evaluate his life. He is quoted as saying: I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. They are so little like your Christ.

I never thought I would find myself quoting Gandhi, but I think he has a very valid point. Not that Christianity will ever be accepted by everyone. The Bible tells us that. But, the truths in God's Word might be a whole lot more appealing if those outside the church saw those of us inside the church truly seeking to live out the entirety of the Gospel. That's how we become relevant. Not the relevancy of ignoring the absolute truths and compromising what the Bible has to say about sin and death and hell and all of the other things that our post-modern society finds offensive, but the relevancy that comes through showing what the love of Christ in our lives and over-flowing into our actions looks like.

Want to show a watching world why Christianity is different? Show them God's plan for the widow and orphan put into action. I was asked last year by a non-Christian why if God is real and our God is love would He allow suffering, especially by orphans. At the time, I had no answer that could make him happy. But since then, I have wondered if one day when we stand before God and someone finally asks him why He didn't provide families for the lonely as He had promised (Psalm 68:6), if there won't be many of us who will be ashamed when His answer is, "But I did. It was yours. You were my plan for the lonely".

Want to find an effective way to share the love of Christ with a needy child? Adopt one and show them what love is, then you have an open window to show them the love of God.

Want to show the world that Christianity is relevant? Live it out in its' entirety.

Want to experience love in a way that you never have? Consider adoption.

Want to understand your adoption in Christ in a newer deeper way? Try adopting yourself. This past year has given me an understanding of what it means to be adopted by God in a way I never thought possible. And it's still happening. As Rosie bonds with our family and I am given opportunity to pursue her with my love, to love her when she's unlovable, and to watch her grow into our family, I can see a living picture in front of my eyes of what my adoption by God looks like. I am amazed by the love of a God who would pursue a relationship with me.

Now, I'm not saying that everyone has to adopt a child. That would be great, and I wish everyone could and would, but I also recognise that there are legitimate reasons why some people can't and maybe even shouldn't. Adopting out of a sense of duty or just because you feel sorry for orphans isn't enough. Adoption isn't easy. Even after all of the paperwork and waiting is done, it isn't necessarily going to be easy. If you do it, you need to be convinced that this is God's plan for your family. And so, I challenge you. Have you seriously considered whether this could be God's plan for your family? If not, then you should pray about it. Ask God to reveal His will to you and then set out to seriously explore whether He might want you to be a forever family for a waiting child. If the answer is yes, there are literally thousands of children both here in the States and all over the world, who are waiting for a family, waiting to be loved.

If not, there are still a multitude of ways that you can actively set out to obey James 1:27. I hope to highlight some of those ways in future posts.

Have I stepped on your toes? I hope not, but if I have, then forgive me, but I hope you'll use it as a catalyst to explore whether you can honestly say you are living out James 1:27 in its' entirety. If you aren't, I hope you'll take a serious look at adoption and pop back over the next several weeks to explore other ways of caring for widows and orphans.


  1. i think the little girl at KC you were describing is on the WC list for AWAA. thanks for sharing this....

  2. Unfortunately, that is another little girl with sight difficulties. She has been on the WC list for quite a while. In the meantime, we are trying to figure out if there is the option to sponsor the little girl at KC in order to meet some of her physical and medical needs.

  3. Amen Sarah!! with love, Karen Wistrom (I know the sweet little girl you held at KC - I held her for most of my visit too. She has been on my heart ever since.)

  4. We've been feeling a desire to adopt for a long time....but after meeting Rosie today, we both came home and sat in the van for a minute, talking about how much we really want to adopt. I feel almost a yearning in my's been heavy on my mind and heart all afternoon. I'm so blessed to have gotten to meet that little girl with such an infectious smile....Thank you for this post. I just have to say, "Amen!" Any advice on how to even get started? For the longest time, we've thought, "Oh, we have to wait until we're more settled, financially; we have to wait until this or that...." I'm not so sure it should wait anymore.

  5. Ya know, one more thought before I go....maybe this is the ministry God wants us involved in. Why not adoption as a ministry? Maybe that's my calling as a mother. Hmmmm.....

  6. Thank you for sharing about your visit. Your honesty and openness is refreshing. Keep stepping on toes (in love). Jesus was known for doing that too!