One specific child impacted me in a way I was not prepared for. His name was Zablon and he had only been at the orphanage a few months. He was noticeably timid, shy, and pulled back. We were the first team he had ever met-- and maybe the first mzungus (white people) he had ever had contact with. This child, though unsure at first, was constantly by my side early on. Whether I was at the school, down at the field, or sitting with the kids at supper time, Zablon was there. I remember vividly one night we were tucking in the younger kiddos. We would go from bed to bed, tuck them in tight, whisper Nakupenda Sana (I love you so much), and pray with them. On this particular night I decided to go to the boy's dorm. Many of the children that have stolen my heart at Fiwagoh are little boys, so I chose to go over there and spend some extra time with them before they went to sleep. After hugging a few of the boys I walked up to the bed of Zablon. His head was down, his covers were up around his face, and he was pretty still (not like the other crazies running around the room). I tucked him in, whispered I loved him, and tried to look at him. He wouldn't budge-- and in fact-- he put effort into not letting me see him. I giggled and said, "Hey-- Z… why won't you look at me?" and that was when I saw them… tears. A lot of tears. All over his sweater, his mattress, his covers, and now my hand. Becoming worried I asked him, "Baby, what's wrong?" He said something that was unrecognizable due to the heavy crying that had taken over his body. "What? Say that again-- I couldn't hear you!"…. "I don't have a mom and dad. They are dead. I am all alone."
Silence. Stillness. I felt like I was watching this interaction in slow motion- with all the wildness going on around me- and was at a loss for words. I know many of these kiddos are orphans. I can comprehend that most of them have gone through difficult situations and circumstances…. but this. True, excruciating pain… coming from a 10 year old little boy who was broken. He was hurting. His heart longed for comfort, rescue… and all I had were words. I scooped him up to me and did the only things I knew to do in a moment like that…. I prayed over him and wept with him. I wept for the hurt he was experiencing. I wept for the mom and dad that he missed. I wept for the loneliness he felt in a sea of children. I wept for the fear that- I can only imagine- would come with moving to a new city, home, and environment where you know nothing or no one. Everyone was leaving to go to the next dorm but I wanted to stay. However, I left. I reminded him I loved him, kissed his forehead and cheeks, and walked out of the dorm.
The lump that was in my throat was suffocating. I wanted to run away. Run from this hurt. Run from this pain. Run from this responsibility that was so weighty. But I couldn't. I walked to the girl's dorm… hugged and kissed many of them-- not lingering long enough to think-- and eventually left the other hugs and kisses to my team members and walked upstairs. I smiled and hugged older kids along the way… walked into my room… and fell to the ground. The weight of this sorrow completely took over my body and I couldn't escape. I wept in a way I had never wept before. Every emotion flooded out of me and my body was inconsolable. My leader walked in to ask me something and I unleashed all of those frustrations and emotions on her… "I don't understand this. Why is this happening? How is this fair? It's too overwhelming… it's too big! What can be done?" She reminded me that when dealing with orphan care it is hard. When dealing with orphan care, it hurts. And when dealing with orphan care… we have to look at a smaller picture because if not we will get too overwhelmed and defeated. I cried myself to sleep that night… thinking of the little boy, just down stairs, that had done the same.
The next days became opportunities for intentional words of affirmation. Encouraging friendships, pointing out good qualities, and reminding Zablon of gospel truth. He is not alone (Joshua 1:9 "Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."), He has a Father (Psalm 68:5 "A father to the fatherless…"), and that he was loved (John 3:16 "For God so loved the world-- For God so loved ZABLON-- that He gave His only Son; that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life!"). We looked at the stars-- the most beautiful display of stars I have ever seen-- and I reminded him that when he looked at the stars and he was feeling sad, or lonely, to remember that just like we can't even begin to count the thousands of stars in the sky…. that is how it is with God's promises for our life. We cannot even begin to imagine how much He has in store for us and our lives. Again, we prayed and I still had a hard time believing what I was saying. This child had been through more pain and abandonment in his life than I have ever experienced (I found out later that week that he never knew his dad and that his mom had taken Z to Nairobi, dropped him off on the street a couple years before, and left him. Abandoned him. Just walked away…a good samaritan found him, had mercy on him, and took him home. She grew to love him and care for him-- but her children got jealous and began abusing Zablon until a neighbor took him out of that situation). He was hurt over and over again and I couldn't help but feel that next day I would be adding to that rejection. I would be leaving him… would he understand? Would he comprehend why I had to leave? Or would he feel that once again someone had let him down. After I took him to his room, I went back out and prayed. I prayed for answers. I prayed for the Lord to reveal His plan. I urged the Lord to show me what small way to help these millions of orphans as one single woman from Texas-- with a teacher's paycheck.
As I was talking over some things with my leader later that night she mentioned she had just received a new list of the kiddos that needed sponsorship-- and Zablon was on there. "I want him!" I heard myself saying… it was such a beautiful revealing of God saying… "here's how you can help. Start with just one!" That next morning I got to explain that I would be his sponsor. I would pay for him to get to stay there, have food, go to school, have a uniform, and stay healthy. I would get to write him letters, send him pictures, and stay in contact with him from thousands of miles away. I would get to continue to be involved in his life and remind him of how loved he was even though I was leaving." He smiled bigger than I had ever seen him smile on that trip… and it had nothing to do with me. I truly believe the Lord allowed me-- messy, sinful, screwed up me-- to be a reflection of His love for Z. He allowed me to be apart of this beautiful story of redemption.
I look at these kiddo's pictures daily. I miss them. I love them-- more than I have ever loved anyone. And yet, I can rest easy because I know that God is continuing to spur them on and draw them closer to Him. He is writing their stories and preparing their hearts for great Kingdom work. He doesn't need me… but I am so humbled He has chosen to allow me to be a small part.
Zablon and Stephanie
Z and the boys (and me) being silly.
The day I told Zablon I was going to sponsor him (the last day always looks the roughest bc of all the crying)
My sweet boy