Ages ago I sought the depths of my soul for “THE CAUSE” for which I was willing to shed blood, tears and years to help make a difference. I didn’t have to search far because I’ve always known I couldn’t bear the thought of a child growing up alone without parents. When the picture in my mind shows me a child feeling utterly alone without someone loving them, making them feel special and safe my throat grows tight, my teeth clench and I feel my eyes fill with tears. Then the doer in me jumps around and feels I have to get out of the cage of helplessness and make a change some how, for some one somewhere. Doing anything would be better than nothing.
The word orphan came to my mind immediately and I attached my assumed definitions to it rather than researching to find out what a true orphan’s life is like. Of course I pictured the sad, sick, dirty kids. I saw flies land on their faces yet the child remained motionless to swat at them. Their bellies were distended and their eyes were vacant. Many organizations seek sponsors using images of children such as these and it does haunt the heart.
I have given my whole life to raising our own five kids. Parenting is not an easy job and there are no guarantees my kids will stay out of trouble even with my ultimate effort. I imagine the dangers and disasters a child without parents might face. Really, I don’t want to imagine, and finally I just want to cry until I find the courage to do something about it.
My early impulses to do something about the condition of orphaned kids were to try and make them so happy by giving them so many beautiful things and experiences. In 2008 we went to the Dominican Republic for a spring break to work with orphaned kids. We just showed up with an organization and lived with them for a week. We collected, bought and hauled a dozen suitcases full of new things for these kids. When we arrived and unpacked them I was so excited and energized to share all we brought. The kids weren’t interested at all. The things were sorted and stored and that was that. I was immediately disappointed and deflated. How could it be they didn’t care to have these nice things? I liked all of my nice things and thought they would like to have some too. I was shocked when the staff celebrated in receiving many of the things they requested for us to bring. It turns out some of these items were for their personal use. I judged them and I wondered how could they be so selfish when these kids needed so much? I was getting my first initiation into orphan care. The kids at the place could have cared less if we were there with them or not. I brought crafts. Our kids played games with them. There were hours on the baskestball court with our boys. We didn’t speak Spanish so we always needed an interpreter. It turned out I learned more by observing them and reflecting on my expectations than they learned from me.
These kids were so accustomed to people coming to visit and play with them that we would have to really perform to get them to respond. I wasn’t the only one who wanted to shower them with gifts. They stocked a store with the items that were brought so that the kids had to earn them with good behavior. (This is a practice we use at Kirabo Seeds.) Rather than needing our gifts the children were inspirationally creative with what they could find. They liked to go to the junkyard once a week in the back of an old pickup. They would rummage for bits of this and that, bring it home and construct toys. They had built a car to ride in from junk with miss matched bike wheels, a wheel barrow body, an old steering wheel and all kinds of silly ornamentation. They would take sticks, plastic grocery bags and string to make kites that would fly all day long. Who knew the most valuable thing I could have brought them was string?
I was humiliated. I learned so much more from them than they learned from me. And that wasn’t what I expected at all. I wanted to save them, teach them, bless them, amaze them, and soak in their joy. Truth was I felt uneasy with all I had in my life, so to feel better I wanted others to enjoy gifts. But they didn’t care so much about my gifts. I left that trip wondering if I had left anything meaningful behind for those children.
That first toe dip into orphan care was a clear indication that orphans don’t need stuff as much as we want to give it to them. Why did I need to feel better about my abundant life by giving them objects? And why did I assume giving them my castoffs would be such a happy moment for them? The truth is that if an orphaned child has the opportunity for a pair of new shoes they’re going to have to last a long time so it’s best to give the sturdiest, newest and slightly too big pair because who knows when he will get another? Instead I use mine then pass them along thinking an orphaned child should be so glad to have something on their feet. I had a sobering moment and asked myself, “What would I buy if I had to wear the same shoes every day for two years?” Would I think, “I’m about to have to go barefoot all the time so anything will do.” No. I didn’t know anything about the impact of need.
I believed without much experience or research that an orphaned child would be so appreciative of any attention, any food, and any solution to their situation that they would lean into me and be profoundly thankful. Why couldn’t I see that if my “stuff” wasn’t making me happy then “stuff” wouldn’t make them ultimately happy either?
So is doing anything better than doing nothing? I’d say they are equally ineffective.
And if I’m going to do something how can I make a lasting impact?
Had I left anything meaningful behind for them?
These questions helped motivate me to make wise choices when establishing Kirabo Seeds.
I have since learned in the four years from running an orphanage that these kids are fighters and survivors. If they are hungry they will steal to eat. If they need something they will lie to get it. They will sell the pretty things we give them to buy things they need. They need a consistent commitment of unconditional love by people who will help them and love them. At Kirabo Seeds, this love flows from Jesus through all of us who reach out to the children and this love causes permanent, eternal change.
Discipline. They need adults who care to set boundaries and reward them when they go in the right direction and give them consequences when they turn the wrong way. They need endless days to string together where they go to bed without being hungry so they can learn to believe they don’t have to hoard food. They need immunizations so they have a chance to survive their first five years. They need protection, shelter, and an education. None of these things can be bought at Target.
I always believed a child needed one mother and one father to be secure and know they are in a family. Of course that’s ideal, biblical, and that’s why we adopted Kira, to give ourselves to her plus four crazy brothers. But then I experienced parenting in Africa and paid attention. Everyone in the extended family takes care of all the children. It’s common for kids to call all ladies of a certain age “mama” and others who are younger, “auntie” because they are all mamas and aunties. So to establish a home like Kirabo Seeds in Uganda works by having four aunties and two uncles to parent the children. And real parents are on their way in September when Darren and Mary Beth arrive to lead Kirabo Seeds. There’s a lot of love, hands, eyes, and laughter.
Do the children want the pretty things? Absolutely. But what happens when we shower them with gifts? They use it as status especially when it comes from America and they flaunt it to make themselves more important than the local kids who live with their mom and barely have enough to eat. We have to be careful not to elevate our kids too much or they’ll become haughty, spoiled, expectant, and unappreciative.
What’s the most important thing I think we should give a child in or near Kirabo Seeds? Their very own bible. If they have one possession and it’s a bible they will have memorized every page. That’s why we are continuing to collect children’s bibles to give to neighborhood children who participate in our outreaches. Contact me if you would like to donate bibles and we’ll make sure they get into the hands of children in Uganda. It’s the love of Jesus they need most of all and it begins with donating one children’s bible.