Orphan Care in Guatemala-Loving When It’s Hard
Anyone can love when it’s easy; but, it’s how we respond when things are hard, that truly demonstrates the heart of God.
It’s an exciting time to be serving orphans. More and more we are seeing an awakening happening amongst Christians worldwide as an understanding comes about in churches of our Biblical imperative, clearly laid out in James 1:27, that caring for the orphaned is a true demonstration of our religion. This is causing many believers to get personally involved in helping, serving or volunteering with orphans, whether at home through foster care and adoption or abroad serving orphaned and vulnerable children in developing countries.
I have seen many people find themselves driven by a Godly love for children languishing in orphanages who then decide that they personally want to do something about it. Frequently they step up, move to a foreign country, work in an orphanage, hug the kids, love on them, play with them, talk to them and enjoy life with them. Everything is delightful…when it’s easy.
Laughing and having fun playing with young kids is wonderful, bringing joy into their lives is important and putting a smile on their face is a beautiful thing to do! But one thing I have learned about orphan care, is that children who come from broken places, are well…broken.
I have seen that it’s not the “love” we feel for the orphaned or vulnerable child when things are easy that counts! It’s the love we show for them when things are hard that makes the difference. Doing so is a reflection of the Gospel. We, who were broken and lost, were redeemed and restored through Christ to God.
Over our time serving as missionaries in Guatemala, my wife and I have gotten to know many, many children. We have seen the perpetual cycle of well-intentioned people come visit orphanages, fall in love with the idea of orphan care, return to serve the kids, believe themselves to be committed to them, and yet, when the brokenness of abuse and trauma these children have experienced comes bubbling up, amplified by the fact that many orphanages and government institutions in developing countries don’t tackle these difficult things in the kids’ lives, they are woefully unprepared to deal with them.
When this happens, often times the children are cut loose, and, instead of providing help, support, prayer and encouragement to them in a moment of great need, it’s almost as if the institutions where these children have lived a large portion of their childhood would rather have them disappear than break the narrative of what a great job the organization is doing.
Some of this can perhaps be traced back to the tension we find in that the running of an institution is inherently at odds with meeting the individualized needs of a child. It’s why so many responsible organizations working in orphan care, work hard to find alternative means of care for children before placing them in an orphanage, or, when placing them in an orphanage is the only viable option, they attempt to create an environment based on family style care where the personalized needs of the child can be met.
Sadly, serving with excellence is hard. It’s much easier to manage the children as if they are widgets, organizing them into groups, having them sit at their assigned tables with their “caregivers”. All done “in love” of course and often under the assumption that “a well-run institution will mean the kids are well taken care of.” For a time, this can seem to work; at least when the children are young and relatively compliant. But as we all know, children don’t stay children-they grow into teenagers.
Even parents of children in relatively “normal” families have teenagers who act out. My wife and I are dealing with this very issue amongst one of our six children. Yet for some reason, when children in an orphanage act out, people who have loved and cared for that child when it was easy, are shocked and surprised! Often times they throw their hands up in the air and say “Well, they made their choices. We did what we could for them, but they acted out and now they have to go”. Sometimes that’s true. You do have to maintain order when you are running an institution, but it’s not so much that the kid has to leave, as to how they leave.
An organization may have a finite scope, but as followers of Christ working to serve the orphaned and vulnerable as He would, we are called to try and demonstrate the infinite scope of God’s love.
We find in 1 Corinthians 13 that it’s not the feelings of love for the orphaned, the photos we post on facebook with the smiling child or the proclamations in our newsletters and twitter about how we are serving the fatherless, but it is the actions we take when it is hard, that prove our love.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” You see, it’s not institutions, plans or programs that love people; it’s people that love people.
Loving when it’s hard means that even if we don’t have the power to help them with everything in their lives, that we still help them with some things and love them in some way, even if that love looks different for each one depending on their situation.
For us personally, it has meant buying them food when they are hungry, helping them with clothing when they are destitute, and, most importantly, providing community and staying in touch with them. Often times it’s the personal things like a phone call, a text message, praying with them, celebrating holidays, baking a cake for their baby’s birthday, even if that baby came about in ways that are less than ideal.
I’ve come to realize more and more that it’s not the time I spend “loving” the kids in the orphanage when it’s easy, it’s the time that I spend loving them afterwards when it’s hard that counts most.
It’s hard to get a call at 12:30 in the morning because they got locked out of their house and are afraid to sleep on the street. It’s hard to give them a ride late at night when they need to get somewhere. It’s hard to scrounge up the money they need to pay their school fees when they have lost their job unexpectedly. It’s hard to help them transport their stuff when they have to move. It’s harder still when they make poor choices, lose their job, have nowhere to stay and need to crash on your couch for a few weeks.
Yet, it’s not as hard as the lengths that Christ went to for us.
I was once asked when we stop helping these kids and I responded, "When Christ stops helping, loving and caring for us." We have to be willing to leave the 99 to go and look for the sheep that was lost.
I’m more and more convinced as the years go by, that it’s not the programs, classes and work I do in an orphanage that matters, it’s the love I demonstrate when they are in desperate need that makes the difference.
God needs more people to serve the orphaned and vulnerable, but he needs them to persevere through the good times when it’s easy to love them, through to hard times when it’s not, remembering always "that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." That love, true Biblical love is demonstrated by the laying down of our lives for our brethren.