More years ago than I care to acknowledge, I stepped out of a taxi in front of a dilapidated rusted gate. Looking through the gate, toward a square building perched on a hill, I imagined being in an old-time horror film with bolts of lightning exploding across the sky. The concrete block building, with mildew and weeds growing up the sides, appeared as if it were in danger of crumbling away.
Through the gate and inside the building were orphaned and abandoned children hidden away and forgotten. This place was darker and more ominous than any orphanage I’d been to up to this point. The day was gray and cold. I could see my breath. I shivered from the cold and the heartbreaking conditions I knew waited for me inside.
Meeting the director of the orphanage, my friend and I were invited to take a tour. There were far too many horrifying sights to write about in this one blog post. I’ll focus on just one. Walking down a dark corridor, we entered the toddler’s ward. It took some time for my eyes to adjust. The room was filled to the four corners with shadow. Clouds of coal dust swirled in a small beam of light that emanated from a tiny window on one side of the room. Children were tied onto wooden chairs with a hole cut out of the middle and a bucket placed underneath. Their pants were down to their knees or around their ankles. They sat close to a coal burning stove to help keep the cold away. This is where they sat all day long.
Several other little ones wandered aimlessly around the room. Upon entering, they glanced toward us. Their eyes immediately opened wide and they scurried away in fear. Even with gentle coaxing, none of them dared to approach us. As I surveyed the room, I almost missed a lump something in one of the corners. On second glance, I realized it wasn’t a lump of cloth or a piece of furniture. It was a very small child cowering there. She hid in the deepest shadows. Covered with coal dust and dressed in rags, she snuggled in tight, pressing close against the crumbling walls on both sides of her tiny body. Sitting on the cold floor, she was folded into herself with arms wrapped tightly around her knees. Shivering, her head was down, buried inside her arms. She was small enough to be invisible. That’s what she hoped for. She desperately desired to blend into the walls.
No one could hurt her if they couldn’t see her.
As I approached, she lifted her head ever so slightly and peeked out at me. I knelt to her level. Breathing hard, her eyes darted from side to side. She had been discovered and there was nowhere to go. She was as far away as she could get. It hadn’t worked. Now she was trapped. Like a frightened baby bird afraid of being squashed. Her primal fear radiated from her haunted eyes.
This is what the absence of love looks like. It looks like absolute fear and darkness. It looks like torment.
Her fear took my breath away. I desperately wanted to scoop her up in my arms. To comfort her until the fear was gone. But I couldn’t. Her pain was too deep. My time was too short. Being ushered out of the room by the director, we made our way through the gate and back into the taxi. I left the orphanage that day with a depth of sadness that threatened to overwhelm me. I would be forever haunted by what I saw. I didn’t know it at the time of my visit, but I was not given the opportunity to return to this orphanage, to these children. It was a deep disappointment.
To help fill the void that was left, I volunteered at a foster home for abandoned children that opened on the compound where my family and I lived. This home was run by Trudy who traveled from afar to help these orphaned children find new homes and new families. Her work was hard yet beautiful. Volunteering at Trudy’s foster home, I arrived one afternoon as usual. Taking off my shoes at the door, I sat down on the floor to play with the children. As I surveyed the room, I gasped. She was there! The little one from the orphanage who hid in the corner. She had been rescued from that darkness and placed into this home of light.
Time passed and she received love and care in this home. It was as if she were reborn a new little person. Over time, she lost the terrible fear that had gripped her heart and burst from her eyes. Over time, she blossomed. She even found her smile. I remember the day she first smiled at me when I entered the home. Her soul had been renewed as she had been loved.
This is what love does. This is what love looks like. It heals and brings life.
There are many little ones in this world whose story ends without hope or love, too many contemplate for long without despair. Their stories need to be told to honor them. However, this little girl’s story was one of hope. She was rescued and then loved until a waiting family overseas was found to call her own.