More years ago than I care to acknowledge, I stepped out of a taxi in front of an old dilapidated rusted gate. Looking through the gate toward a building sitting 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 down.
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. The day was gray and so cold I could see my breath. I shivered from the cold and the heartbreaking conditions that awaited.
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 so filled with shadow to the four corners. 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 them warm. 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 as if they were deer caught in the headlights of a car. They scurried away in fear. Even with gentle coaxing, none of them dared to approach us. As I surveyed the room, I barely noticed a lump in one of the corners of the room. 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, to become invisible. 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 peaked momentarily at me. I knelt to get on her same 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 extreme 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 a taxi. I left the orphanage that day with a depth of sadness inside that threatened to overwhelm me. I would be forever haunted by what I had seen.
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 great 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 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 as I saw the little one from the orphanage who had hid in the corner. She was there! She had been rescued from that place of 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 shone 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 to think about without despair. Their stories need to be told to honor them. However, her story was one of hope. She was rescued and then loved until she found a waiting family overseas to call her own.