Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Contemplating Calling: Spending time with Orphans

This summer I find myself wearing many different hats here in Haiti. My most important hat – similar to when I am at home in the U.S. – is to be a mother to Giada and Meilani and wife to Ericlee. I also have found myself playing hostess to various short-term mission teams and visitors to our Mission complex here in Pignon. At times, we are guest speakers, traveling to various churches and parts of the ministry with the goal of praying for the people and offering a word of encouragement. More recently, Ericlee and I have worked together to evaluate different parts of the ministry and provide feedback as well as help brainstorm new projects that will allow our Haitian leaders to help their own people.

One hat I find most challenging to wear and yet most rewarding is being an auntie to the children who live next door in The Bridge Christian Children’s Home. In the last nine weeks, these 18 children (5 orphans and the director’s 3 girls) have crawled inside my heart.

They are family to us.

As I anticipated coming to Haiti for the last year, I found myself most looking forward to seeing the children again. Every night my 5-year-old Meilani would remind our family to pray for the orphans. She, too, looked forward to being with them and infected her sister with the same excitement.

The children of Haiti first captured my heart 10 years ago when I first came to Haiti on a short-term mission team with Ericlee and friends from our church. We hung out for a week with the kids, teaching them Track & Field skills. One week is all it took for me. I still remember getting on the airplane to go home and waving out the window to the kids. With tears streaming down my face, I knew I would be back.

Of course, at the time I had no idea how God would weave the threads of my life together to bring me to Haiti for a longer-term stint. I had no idea then that I would marry Ericlee or how God would grow our hearts together for returning to this place as a couple to serve almost yearly as short-term missionaries and now to serve for a year through Christian Friendship Ministries.

For me, it’s always been about the kids. My heart beats especially for the orphans of this country. When we started raising funds for The Bridge Christian Children’s Home orphanage three years ago, I had the privilege and hard job of interviewing the children who would be invited to live here. I talked to them and wrote bios about each one to share with our church and friends back home. Their stories haunted me. I was determined to share their need with others.

We celebrated in 2009 as the orphanage went up and God sent sponsors along the way to help give these children a chance at a new life. As they lived in the orphanage, I began to see a transformation in them. They became a family. Last summer, we were a part of the team that put on the first Vacation Bible School just for these children. I saw in these kids such a change in spirit, energy and even in their physical appearance.

Now that I am living in Haiti and observing orphan care on a daily basis, I’m starting to see it all in a different light. The longer I stay in Haiti, the more I talk to people, read about and visit other orphanages, I realize that orphan care is very complicated. There are thousands of kids in Haiti who are considered “orphans” but they fall into many categories.

Some may have been separated from or abandoned by their families after the earthquake. Others have lost one parent through disease or hardship. Others are simply living in such material poverty that their parents have begged the local orphanage director or pastor (and there are hundreds of orphanages across the land) to take their children. These parents know that the orphanage can provide food, education and shelter they cannot so they would rather give them up. I wonder if erecting more orphanages each year is really helping Haiti.

If the kids do enter an orphanage, there is the issue of how to properly care for these children in an orphanage setting. The other day Ericlee and I met a young pastor who just opened an orphanage here. I asked him how many children he was raising. He said 14 right now but he had plans to welcome 150 in his facility one day. I was dumbfounded. My stomach churned at the thought of 150 kids living in one single facility. I found myself asking if this was some kind of status symbol? Was it big business? How could 150 kids possibly be cared for properly and loved in one facility?

Meanwhile, adoption from Haiti is also complicated. There are scores of children who are true orphans (fatherless and motherless) but they are trapped in a system of rules and regulations or deemed unadoptable by many standard families because they are “special needs.” We have heard the adoption process takes an average of two years because of all the red tape.

The more I am here the more convicted I feel that I am called to advocate and care for God’s children in any way I can. The letter of James speaks of the definition of faith in this way, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). James also reminds us that faith is not just an intellectual belief, but also a faith that works. Of course, this theme of caring for the fatherless or loving on orphans is throughout the Bible.

I recently finished a book called ADOPTED FOR LIFE by Russell D. Moore. Don’t be deceived by the title; this is not just a book for families who want to adopt. This book is for all of us, reminding us that we are all adopted into the family of God. We need to understand our own adoption and then be on the forefront of supporting the care of orphans close to home and around the world.

Moore writes, “Who better than those who know Christ to welcome the all-too-often unwanted and discarded among the world’s orphans? After all, our God himself gathers together ‘the lame’ and ‘those who have been driven away’ and makes ‘a strong nation’ of those who were ‘cast off’ (Micah 4:6-7).

I believe the best option for children who are truly orphaned (without parents) is adoption into a loving, caring family. In November of 2009, Ericlee and I started to process of adopting from Haiti. We prayed and investigated some Christian agencies and we started filling out applications. We quickly discovered that the laws in Haiti for adopting are somewhat convoluted. As of today, a couple cannot adopt a child unless they have been married 10 years and only if they have two (or less) biological children. I have heard that a child with special needs (very loosely defined) can be adopted by a family with more biological children. Our third baby is due this November but we are still hoping to adopt from Haiti in the future if God allows.

In the meantime, I see my calling is to be an advocate for the best care of these children here in The Bridge Christian Children’s Home as well as the 15 kids in an orphanage at our St. Raphael location. Last week we completed an extensive evaluation of the orphanage and met with the staff. These kids are well-cared for but there is always room for improvement. Later this year, we will be helping with a project for a new building for those kids in St. Raphael who are now packed into two tiny school rooms-turned bedrooms.

This summer the kids in The Bridge Christian Children’s Home have become not so much “poor orphans” in my mind. They have become “real kids.” My girls step outside our back door every morning and welcome them into our yard as friends – even family.

I have learned the sound of their voices before I even see them. I know which boys I can trust to help water the garden and dig out the weeds. I know which girls are the most responsible in caring for my own girls. I know that one boy may appear quiet but has quite a streak of mischief. I know the girl who is the frailest and most likely to play on her own if we don’t draw her into a game. Ericlee could tell you which boy is a soccer star and which girl can do the most pull-ups. We could tell you the one who may be a pastor one day, the one who has talent as an artist, the one who could be an athlete if given the chance. They are each one lovable and unique.

These kids love Jesus. I have seen them pray together, recite verses and sing together. Any time the church doors are open they put on their best clothes and scamper over there to sit in the front row. And our girls are always eager to join their friends.

At the very least, my goal is to hug each one of them every day I am here in Haiti. I hope I can do more.

I hope you can join me. You might consider sponsoring one of them or one of the children in the new facility in St. Raphael. You might research organizations (ie. Compassion, World Vision, The ApParent Project) that help rebuild communities so parents who live in material poverty can find jobs and care for their own kids. You might consider how you can be a part of supporting adoption in your own community. You might financially or prayerfully support a family who is adopting. You might babysit for them when they need a break or bring them a meal during their adoption process. You might start an adoption fund through your church or a community organization. You might use your platform as a pastor or teacher sharing about the plight of orphans. You might start teaching your own kids about the diversity of God’s family and our own adoption into His Kingdom.

You might consider adopting a child yourself.

As we speak one of my best friends is arriving in Moscow with her husband for a court appointment to adopt a second little girl from Russia. She has taught me that caring for the world’s orphans is never easy. In fact, it is complicated and messy at times, but it is one of the highest callings.

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