On our way out, we toured the rest of the orphanage. The first room we passed was lined with cribs and toddlers standing, swaying back and forth to self-soothe because there were not enough arms to hold and rock a child’s basic need for touch. My heart hurt.
And then we came to a playroom, sparse with shelved toys. Children swarmed around the caregiver like bees around the queen—until they saw us. One little girl, not more than five, ran up to me, wrapping her arms tight around my leg.
“Mama! Mama!” she cried desperate. The worker peeled her off and ushered her away.
They knew. The children knew. When adults came, children left, never to be seen again. And they knew the ones who came were mamas and papas coming to claim their little ones and those not claimed stayed behind and waited. They waited for the next set of parents to come, hoping, anxiously hoping, for their turn. My heart sank and I prayed right then for the little girl longing and crying . . .
“Lord, bring her parents soon!”
What effect does not being chosen have on a child? When they see adults come and children go, hand in hand or held in nurturing embrace, with brand new clothes and happy faces, do those left behind wonder why it was not them? Do they lose hope? Do they ever get a chance for love and a family and good food and clothes to call their own? Or are they looked over and left, time after time, till they turn six and are transferred to another orphanage for older children where their chances of ever being adopted are practically nil? This was our Anna. Our Anna was two months away from being transferred. For six years she had watched parents come and go. She had watched friends leave for a new life, a better life that she could only dream of, and it had never been her turn—for the first six years of her life. And then . . .
Her turn finally came. She whispered something in my ear, in Russian, which I couldn’t understand. I asked our translator who asked her to repeat what she had said.
“I have been waiting so long for you, Mama!'” That’s what he translated. All I could think of to say in response was, “I have been waiting so long for you too!”
She held my hand as we entered one large room with toddler beds pushed together so as not to waste any available space. Nap time. Drapes were pulled and the room was quiet. Beds were filled with children, some laying down, others sitting up and rocking themselves, none yet asleep. Anna let go of my hand and scurried over to one particular bed, leaning over to tell the girl looking at us that her parents finally came and that she would miss her and that she hoped her parents would come very, very soon. And I looked into the eyes of that child and I wished I could take all the children home because every child needs a mama and a papa and a forever family. Every child needs arms to hold them and rock them and love them. Every child needs good food and warm clothes and how did this happen to humanity? Children warehoused! Children with their most basic needs not met! Millions of children around the world left hungry and unloved and never claimed—never belonging—dying too early just from lack of love and nurture! And we were only taking two! Oh Lord! What can we pray under such weight of wrong? Reality crushed.
I watched as Anna stroked Elena’s head, slow and gentle, speaking soft, hopeful words I couldn’t understand. But Russian and English and any other tongue can’t convey what soothing tone and gentle touch tell. She said, “I love you!” And how does a child have enough to give like this when they have so little to begin with? I saw God’s grace right there in Anna. I saw how a child given so little could pull out of her meager reserves a word, a touch, a voice of comfort to give to one she knew had less at that moment. And all she could leave with her, the only thing she had to give, was faith and hope and love.
Sometimes when I think I’m doing such noble work in the world, giving from my abundance of time and money and talents, I think back on little Anna, still loving, still giving from her poverty and I think about how, even before we know God, God is with us providing and how, if we can somehow retain thankful spirits, there’s always a well within from which to draw and give love to another. There’s always a well—a way. Because we’re all made in God’s image, even if we don’t know. He is our life and breath and source of all good—the well that never runs dry . . .
The orphanage director followed us outside where a van waited. She was dressed in a long white clinic coat and her straight gray hair was pulled back in a bun. I could tell she was a lover of children. Her eyes oozed love and her smile came easy. She helped us load Anna and Zachary and as the van began to pull away, she waved, sun shining on her wrinkled face, hand brushing hair wisps away from her eyes, and she stayed waving until we could see her no more. How much love had she given over the years? How many children had she sent away waving? She asked us to send pictures and a letter when we got home to America. I promised I would . . .
Join me Monday for Part 3? A government snafu, a missed return flight, a car crash, a desperate trip to the American Consulate, calls to our state senator begging for intervention . . . nothing is too great an obstacle for God.