You read MM's post, right? If not, you're not allowed to read this!
As we toured the orphanage on Sunday, our hearts were broken. At the news of Lionel (see why you need to read!), 10 of us were in tears - 8 visiting Americans, Dick, and Mary Margaret. We huddled together outside the malnutrition ward, holding hands, sobbing, and praying for that sweet boy. His health means so much more than just his life, which is precious and immeasurably valuable. Lionel also represents trust and partnership with a part of the countryside where Dick has not been able to minister much. To lose Lionel is not only to lose a child that is deeply loved - it is to lose the trust of an entire community. An entire part of Dick's ministry hangs in the balance as that little boy fights for his life.
And every one of us understood that somehow.
We hadn't even finished the tour and our hearts were broken.
I needed that time. I needed to see Hermano Pedro as hard as it gets. I needed to know what it means to Dick and Mary Margaret and the others who give of themselves day in and day out for these children who have no other voice.
I needed to be broken.
When I last visited Guatemala, I saw parts of the country that are barely passable by vehicle. I was in regions so remote that the "buildings" were made of corn stalks and entire families lived in houses smaller than my dining room. Until that moment with Lionel, I saw in these kids a good life.
Here at Hermano Pedro they had walls and beds and clothes and wheelchairs. They got three meals a day and were well cared for. They probably wouldn't have had any of that in those tiny little villages.
But with Lionel's sudden seizures, I came to realize that life here is still very hard. To take a handicapped child out of their home and bring them to a hospital might do more for his body, but it does other things, too. It creates fear and doubt in his village. It puts pressure on the hospital to succeed at "curing" him. It makes more work for the nursing staff. It changes the balance of power/service that Dick is always walking.
As I wept for Lionel, the scales fell from my eyes.
We became a team in that time. No longer were we three groups of people meeting at an orphanage to minister to kids. We were "the team from the US," and we were there for the kids.
Monday was a better day.
As I've said before, we were told not to take pictures at Hermano Pedro, so you won't get to see as many kids as I'd like to show you. But I want to introduce you to a few of them and share their stories as well as I know them.
These are God's children, and they live their lives at Hermano Pedro. 280 residents. 6 wards. About 65-ish kids in the children's ward. At the most count, we counted 9 nurses. For 65 kids with serious disabilities. The workload on these women is immense.
What that means for the kids is that they get very little personal time. They are out of their cribs (even the oldest ones sleep in cribs) at 7:00 a.m. and back in them at 4:00 p.m. for the night. Their diapers are changed on schedule, which means if they're wet or dirty at any other time, they're likely not to get changed. Everyone is fed the same things at the same times in the same ways. Kids who can easily drink from a cup are given a bottle because everyone gets a bottle, for example. Everyone's teeth are brushed at the same time with a very regimented system. It just has to work that way.
So when teams come in, Dick asks that they do nothing but love the kids. His words to us were, "I know you're going to want to spread yourself out and spend as much time with as many kids as possible because you're going to feel bad leaving some out. The better way is to find one or two kids to invest yourself in over the week and pour everything you've got into them."
Elmer was "my child" on Monday when we went out for lunch. he is 5 years old and nothing but sass! The boy is hilarious, but he doesn't know he's funny. As I pushed his wheelchair to the restaurant, I tried to tease him by making his chair do funny things and the like. Elmer was not a fan. Camperos is very serious business when you live your life inside the same 4 walls all the time.
When we got to the restaurant, this 5 year old boy ate like there was no tomorrow! He finished an entire kids' meal, ate some of Byron's meal, and did everything but lick the cup for the ranch dressing. It was one of the few times he actually used words with me. More often than not, Elmer resorts to whining sort of yells. He knows words and is able to use them, but they're unnecessary at Hermano Pedro, so he just doesn't use them much. But at Campero, he would make it quite clear exactly what he wanted.
Elmer has more mobility than some of the residents at Hermano Pedro. Dick takes all of the kids into the play area after lunch and gives them time to play on the slides and things. I was absolutely amazed at their mobility! This child who is confined to a wheelchair all day long, every day, climbed the stairs by himself (on his belly), and maneuvered the slides, even the great big one. I couldn't believe what I was seeing!
Meet Miriam or "MiMi."
MiMi is 28 years old and lives in the children's ward at Hermano Pedro. Like all the other "kids," she goes to her crib at 4:00 p.m. every night. She has a very sweet personality, despite the fact that she's basically nonverbal. Sunday night I had the opportunity to feed her dinner. Looking into her crib, assisting her with a spoon, I cried again.
Here in a crib in the third world, being fed by a stranger, was a woman my age. In another place, her life might be completely different. She might have been on this trip with us. And all I could hear in that moment was, "I was hungry and you gave me something to eat."
There is something profound about sharing a table. Even a table in a crib where the two parties have no way to communicate with one another.
Byron would be a stunt pilot if he had the body for it, I have no doubt. No matter how hard you toss him, swing him, tickle him, or push him down a slide, he wants more. He laughs and has the most contagious smile of anyone I've ever known. This boy has such limited mobility that Dick re-engineered his power chair so he could steer it with his head.
Dick told us to find a few kids at the orphanage who really touched our hearts and spend as much time with them as we could.
And I did.
While we were on our tour on Sunday, the last room we entered was where I found my peace. I knew I could do this and that that one child who was to touch my heart was in that room. It didn't take me 30 seconds to find her. She was three cribs in, on my left. As we walked down the aisle and Dick was talking about a few kids on the right, I saw her.
Ariyana is the child on your left in this picture. She is three years old. I picked her up the very second I was given permission, and I barely put her down. The hardest thing I've ever done was to close that crib on Tuesday. Every time she would hear my voice say her name, she would turn her head and flash the biggest smile. I think on Tuesday she somehow understood that I wasn't coming back. Because as I closed her crib and reached in to touch her hand one more time, I said her name and she looked at me, but she didn't smile. It broke my heart. As I walked away from the orphanage that day, I was glad it was raining so the tears were hidden.
Not a day has gone by since I returned that I haven't missed her. My heart aches for that smile, for the chance to take her differently formed body into my arms and push her - to challenge her to do more than anyone at Hermano Pedro expects. I have checked my e-mail every chance I get in hopes that one of my teammates has a picture of her to share with me.
She captured my heart.
I will never be the same again.
I am in love with a three year old differently abled little girl in Antigua, Guatemala.
I want to hear her story.
I want her to tell me where she has been and how she ended up at Hermano Pedro.
I want to hear the sound of her voice.
I want to comfort her when she cries.
I just want to be near her.
These are just a few of the kids who are spending their lives at Hermano Pedro. They are precious, amazing creations with very different abilities than my own.
God, continue to teach me from these lives and the others. Teach me again and again of your mystery and your power through the stories of Antigua. Shape me as a minister and as a person for having known these children. Love them in my absence - send them other arms and other smiles to comfort them. Thank you for allowing me to walk with them for just a few days. Amen.