I have a confession. When I was a little girl, I wanted to be Little Orphan Annie. I went around my house dancing and spinning with my arms outstretched singing about the sun coming out tomorrow and dreaming of having red curls. To be honest, I kinda still do that sometimes. And then there was Anne of Greene Gables. Again, red hair. She was spunky and bold and viewed life through the lens of a hopeless romantic mixed with an idealistic dreamer. She saw the good in everything and had a Fight in her that weighed more than she did soaking wet. And she was an orphan. Hearing about an orphanage that our church sponsored a few hours away was the closest I came to hearing about orphans. Or even understanding them. I was raised in the country roads of Kentucky where things were safe, and warm, and people knew each other. And there weren't such things as real live orphans.
Until I grew up.
The first orphanage I visited was in Haiti. I had already been to Africa twice - but not to an orphanage. Not until Haiti. It was a strange feeling for so many children to be lined against the wall in small rooms with so few to love them. Crib after crib. Baby after baby. Almost like a hospital. Except this wasn't a hospital. This was their home. One room was for the infants. One room was for the 2 years olds. One room was for the 3 years olds. But it wasn't until they could walk that they went outside. With so few caregivers per child, one on one attention was scarce. Touches were even scarcer. I have always said that everyone needs someone. Some. ONE. who thinks they are the greatest thing ever. These children just needed someone to think of them. Period.
It was a few years before I visited another orphanage. Not until Congo. Before we could get out of the van, the girls began running to us. As if we were their long lost mothers. As if they already knew us. They didn't know us at all. But they knew we would love them. That's what they knew. That's what they wanted. Needed. The highlight of that day was teaching some of the girls not only to blow bubbles, but to chase them. To dance in them. The low point? Going to the next orphanage. All boys. Right before I left, there were three boys who came up to me. One pointed to the other:
"He is a child solider" I looked at him. His eyes were harsh.
"I am his brother" I looked at this young boy. He had a way about him. His English was better than the rest, but not very good. He was charming - but afraid. The three pulled me off to the side. Stammering, the child soldier's brother began to explain that they were orphaned. That they needed food. The older boys (one his brother), kept stopping him mid sentence. Pushing him at one point. "No - you are doing it wrong" The younger brother kept looking up and kept looking down.
"We want you.... we want you.... to be our..... father. To be our father."
Blank Stare. Me. Them.
"No, you are doing it wrong!" His brother said.
Frantic to make everything ok. Just for that one moment. "No, it's ok" I said. "He's doing fine. It's ok "
I finally understood. The younger brother was the spokesperson for the older two. His job was to try to convince me to take them back. To take them. To be their mother. It was like they had rehearsed it for just the right moment. For such a time as this. And they felt he was messing it up. I couldn't stop thinking: "They asked me to be their mother"
What do you do with that? What do you do when one child solider and his younger brother and their friend who have been orphaned from war asks you to be their "father". Wanting to ask you to be their "mother" - but not knowing the right word to use. What do you say to a group of orphans when the only reason they are orphaned at all is because they were forced to kill their own parents? What category do you put that in your head? In your heart? There is none.
There are things I wonder. Thoughts that go through my mind. One of which is why God mentions taking care of the orphans and widows over 40 times in the bible. Why are orphans His heartcry? So many who are wounded in the world. So much pain. But why those who have been orphaned? Why? Because they are the most alone. They are the most easily forgotten. They feel the deepest sense of emptiness. No one to protect or lean into. What does it feel like? To be orphaned? Can you put a name to the feeling of belonging to no one? Can words even begin to describe the feeling of being lost? But they do belong to someone. They do belong. They belong to you and to me and to God. And if they belong to God, then they belong to all of us.
I looked at them and the van was leaving. The team was yelling at me to come. I was caught in the middle of two worlds. I gathered them together. Put my hand on their heads and prayed for them. And then.....
And they were left - alone. For that reason, and so many others, I went back to Congo. And I will go back again. Every child should belong to someone. Even if it is a house mother of 14 children in a village home. They should belong.
We should all belong. Somewhere. To Someone.