– by Michelle (volunteer September-October 2015)

What comes to your mind when you think of “orphans in Africa”? The faces of little “African” malnourished, hopeless, ill or even dying children with snotty noses? Children covered in dirt, wearing torn clothes, if any at all? Hopelessness? Poverty? Pity? Thankfulness that you enjoy a more “privileged” life? An urge to do something about this while simultaneously feeling suffocated by knowing that you cannot “save the world”? A feeling of insignificance when you realize that there is only so much you can do? I do not know about you, but I am guilty of all of these thoughts and associations.

From a very early age, I have had a heart for HIV/AIDS orphans in East Africa. But this dream of mine to one day meet the children I had been thinking about so often seemed too big to ever come true. There were too many obstacles, like sickness, relationships, fear, the comfortable life back home etc. that seemed to be holding me back from following my heart. But, the Lord had bigger plans for me and He won me over last summer. I had all these pictures or, if you prefer, “stereotypes” in my head of what Uganda and the children there would be like. I was on a mission, full of passion and vision to “help the poor, dying orphans”.

It was not until I held baby Agnes in my arms after a 2 hour bumpy car ride that my world was shaken. I had been working in a baby’s home for HIV/AIDS affected and infected, abandoned, neglected and/or dying and mostly orphaned children and was going to pick her up from the police station. Agnes was a beautiful three day-old babygirl who had been dumped in a pig’s den by her mother. This should have been her death sentence. But, through a miracle, the pigs did not even touch Agnes during the three days she layed there, still having her umbilical cord attached to her.

 

Agnes survived, despite the maggots that had been eating away on her. With loving care and many answered prayers, our babygirl soon thrived. She might not have been wanted by her earthly parents, but her daddy in heaven who had created her was jealous for her loved and fought for her.

After a few months, baby Agnes was adopted by one of the aunties at the baby’s home and got a second chance. Today, she is a bright-shining, happy, hopeful, joyful and playful 1.5 year-old. Although she carries scars, not only on her body from the maggots but also on her heart from the abandonment by her birth parents, I am convinced that she will grow up being a strong woman of God! She will grow up being a fighter for justice, life and peace and knowing that she is loved. She is a living testimony of God’s love and care for us. She has a name and she has a powerful voice.

Agnes shares a similar story like many other children in East Africa. She has fought for life and she has found healing and joy in the process. She will continue to overcome her past and will be a woman of great influence and authority. And she is not the only one. If we would dare to listen, if we would be brave enough to look behind the more comfortable veil of stereotypes and pity, we would find that children who have tragically lost their parents or who have been abandoned by them have powerful stories that do not start and end with, “I am an orphan. Pity me!” They are strong fighters full of bravery, zeal and vision. And yet they have tender and compassionate hearts for the people around them. They are world changers.

I am so blessed to have met 14 of them here at Karibu Nyumbani. Bianca, Shangwe, Emi, Neema, Devota, Daflosa, Patrick, Advent, Queenie, Emanuel, Gertrude, Sabina, Onesimo, Isaya were lovingly created by their heavenly Father who loves them and chose them from the very beginning. All of them have fought for life and love and have won. All of them have found a new home and have been adopted into a precious and growing family. Every one of them already has a powerful testimony to share. Every one of them knows that they are loved. Every one of them is on a precious walk toward healing and a brighter future.

Undeniably, these children have moments where they remember and the pain of their past seems too much to bear. They have moments where they break and burst into tears. Indeed, it is not always easy and a “bed of roses” for them. But at the end of the day, they are hopeful, joyfilled and simply amazing children. They play, they laugh, they dance and they sing, they fight, they giggle and they love, like any other child. They are not defined by being orphans, but by who God created them to be: loved, accepted, unique and wanted children of the Most High God who cares for them and who calls them by name, not by their past.