The second day of 2011 ruined me. It’s taken me this long to be able to sit down and really describe what that day did to me. I scribbled notes in my journal so I wouldn’t forget, but even now as I think about it, my eyes start to fill.
It was our second day at the Noel Orphanage in Rwanda. The children had captured our hearts the first day we were there and we were so excited to spend a second day with them.
Noel is a special place. There are nearly 600 children there. A few of the older children are survivors of the genocide, other children were left or otherwise orphaned. It’s hard to describe a place where 600 fatherless children live as beautiful, but it was. You don’t expect to find laughter or smiles in that world, but having seen 600 smiles over those two days…I know it happens.
We spent the morning at mass and then had lunch with the director of the foundation that supports Noel. After lunch the children were going to sing for us. We gathered around a line of drums where a group of young men and boys were playing as we waited. They beat the drums so hard I felt the rhythm in my chest. Knowing that we were going to wait for a little while longer, I decided to try to track down one of the children I had met the day before. I would guess that he was about four years old, wearing a long sleeve orange shirt with pink pants and was simply a ham. He had climbed all over me to get his picture taken and refused to let go of my hand when we went walking around the yard. He had simply stolen my heart.
I walked along the building where the younger children were, peering into the windows to try to find him. A number of children ran toward the window and I decided to go in. I immediately looked for his face and realized that these children were much younger, about two years old. Ten toddlers swarmed me and I knelt down to say hello. One of the workers told me to stand (which I realized later was because with ten children who are being potty trained, sometimes accidents happen. Those accidents are merely wiped up. I was likely about to kneel in a little yellow puddle.) She got me a chair and had me sit. Immediately, the babies came, each wanting to be held. Some were insistently reaching for me to pick them up, others tried to climb into my lap (often hitting the child sitting with me), while others still sat back, crying.
My eyes started to fill as I recognized that these children are loved at Noel, but have to share one caregiver amongst 10 of them. They longed to be held. So one by one I held them. The caregiver, seeing my attention to the babies as an opportunity for her to get a break, left. All of a sudden, I had lots of little hands reaching to be picked up. I would pick up each child and sit them on my lap. I hugged them and kissed them and told them how much God loved them. In return, little brown arms would hold my neck so tight. They would look at my face and smile, some with tears still freshly icing their lashes.
And that’s when it happened.
My heart broke into a thousand pieces. I felt my eyes start to burn with fresh tears. With each new pair of arms grabbing my neck, I felt a new weight of sorrow. I could have stayed in that room for the rest of my life holding those children if it wasn’t for the overwhelming feeling that was growing with each passing second. I realized that these children would likely never live in a home. They would likely never get to be held and loved by a mom and dad. The more I realized this fact, the more I had to struggle to hold back my tears. I blinked and blinked and whispered how much I knew God loved them, looking desperately for the caregiver. Where did she go? Would she come back soon? I needed to leave because I was about to sob uncontrollably.
She finally returned and I thanked her for the opportunity to hold the babies and quickly left. I entered the room we were using to hold our stuff and began to sob. I felt the weight of the orphan problem and realized how big it is. God had given me the slightest experience of His broken heart, and it had overwhelmed my humanity. I finally allowed myself to cry.
It was that moment that I knew we had to prayerfully (not just casually) consider adoption. We can’t save every child (how I wish I could!), but if we’re able to make a home for one child, I would feel like we made the difference we were called to make.
So we’re walking this path until God tells us to stop. We feel called to international adoption and we know that some people will disagree with this decision. Overall, though, we’ve been blessed by how supportive everyone has been. We are very excited about this opportunity.