Last January, the Lord planted a seed in Kathaleen Holmes’ heart about leading a mission trip from Highland Baptist Church to the Malnutrition Center in San Juan, Guatemala with the Orphan’s Heart Ministries. Orphan’s Heart is an international childcare program that was established by the Florida Baptist Children’s Homes in 2008. Their work focuses on providing for the physical and spiritual needs of orphaned and disadvantaged children in the developing world. The core strategy of Orphan’s Heart focuses on sending short-term mission teams to what they consider to be priority locations. They primarily work alongside locals and help them improve the level of care for the children they serve. Orphan’s Heart works to improve the safety and security of the children and helps improve conditions to foster better health and sanitation.
The first time I saw the promotional video from the Florida Baptist Children’s Home about the ministry need at the Malnutrition Center in Guatelmala, I wept for the children and the horrible conditions in which they were living. Children are brought to the center extremely malnourished and close to death. Many are only able to be fed by a dropper when they first arrive. They long to be held, rocked, and loved. The need is great and the workers and resources are few. The image of the babies lying alone in their cribs for endless hours was haunting and I found myself thinking of nothing else. The second time I watched the video with our entire congregation, and I found myself weeping for an entirely different reason. I wept with tears of repentance as I felt incredibly ashamed of the indulgent lifestyle that we participate in here in America. Although I have always considered myself a thankful person, I suddenly realized that my level of thanks in no way met my level of blessings. I found myself drawn to Isaiah 6:8 “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’ ”
Many hearts were touched in the same way and answered the call after the promotional video and invitation for missions were shared. After months of prayer, planning, and fundraising, we sent a team of 28 to Guatemala on Friday, October 7th . Our mission while we were there was to spend a week assisting in the care of the 78 children at the Malnutrition Center, working on repairs at the Center, constructing a home for a family in need, and passing out Bibles. We thought we had adequately prepared ourselves physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Little did we know that no amount of preparation could have possibly prepared us for what we were about to experience. I thought I knew what we were walking into. I thought I understood the mission that was set before us. But I soon found out that I had grossly underestimated what the Lord had asked us to do. Although they say “a picture is worth a thousand words”, I have found that it still does not affect your heart in the same way as actually being there and allowing all of your God given SENSES to take in the situation. SMELLING the pungent aroma of the center when we first arrived made me shudder in fear that I may not be able to stomach the assignment that the Lord had given us. SEEING with my own eyes a room full of babies in cribs with their arms raised in hopes of being held brought tears to my eyes. HEARING the sounds of the children crying or banging their heads on the hard floor in an effort to draw someone’s attention was almost more than I could bear. FEELING your own arms wrapped around two or three children at a time and realizing the privilege it is to know that the Lord chose your arms to share His love brought me to my knees.
There are stories that need to be shared that range from heart breaking, to heart warming, to just flat humorous.
· We witnessed an 8 year old boy who only weighs a mere 27 lbs; both of my own biological children weighed more than that by their first birthday.
· There were two and three year old children who are so developmentally delayed due to their malnourishment that they are still unable to crawl or walk and are wearing clothes made for a 6 month old baby.
· Although the children are fed 5 times a day, we saw children with swollen, distended tummies hiding food in fear of being without once again.
· We watched a school age boy escape from the classroom area to the nursery where he picked up, embraced, and kissed a little girl. He hugged her over and over then placed her down on the mat and raked all the surrounding toys around her before being ‘caught’ by his teacher. We later found out that the little girl was his younger sister.
· We laughed as the Spanish speaking Guatemalan children repeated familiar English phrases like “That’s Okay!”, “Uh-Oh Spagettio!”, and “Be Careful!” that they have picked up from the missionary teams that have visited.
· I sat mesmerized as I watched the Guatemalan nannies who are only paid an annual salary of $3500 but are responsible for solely taking care of 12 or more children at a time. Some of these lovely ladies have worked at the Malnutrition Center for 28 years! I have never been so privileged to meet such hard working people with such a humble spirit.
· I witnessed babies who were able to feed themselves sharing their food with the babies who were waiting to be spoon fed by an adult. Babies in America do not do that. I believe these precious souls at the Malnutrition Center can remember and empathize with what it feels like to be hungry in a way that we simply cannot comprehend.
· We saw a three generation family ecstatic to receive the home we built in a matter of 8 hours with only 10 men. A home that is no bigger than the shed in my own backyard. A home that has no running water or electricity and only a cement floor, but it is considered a beautiful blessing and refuge for this family.
· I watched women walk for miles carrying their dirty laundry in a bundle on their heads to the community wash center which looked more like a large horse trough filled with murky water. I repented for the times I have grumbled in my own spirit because I simply couldn’t ‘keep up’ with the pile of laundry from my children’s various ball, dance, cheer, and karate activities.
· I prayed for our safety as we drove on the chaotic roads that have no traffic lights and no regard for the traffic signs. I laughed when our interpreter said she had heard rumors that in America we actually stop at intersections even if no one is coming! Who knew our driving practices seem as ridiculous to them as theirs does to us?
· While we were there, a little boy named Marvin died in the arms of his family as they were trying to make it to the center for formula to make him strong enough so he could have surgery for a cleft pallet.
· I marveled as I watched fellow church members that I have worshiped alongside for the past 4 years step far outside their comfort zone and serve in ways I never imagined.
· Although I initially cringed at some of the necessary practices of the center such as the fast and furious way that the babies are bathed or the endless hours that they are left in a lonely crib, I soon realized how much better this situation is than the home life that many children come from. Our men that worked on the construction team met a family who had to keep their baby in a bucket in order to prevent it from drowning in the water and mud that flood their home during the rainy season. This is a country where there are no government assisted programs that provide food when you are hungry or money when you are unemployed. It is simple: If you do not work, you do not eat. Crime is high because people who are starving, or watching their loved ones literally starve, will do whatever they have to do to get food. I found myself suddenly re-evaluating all my deep rooted opinions about government assistance and illegal immigration.
We all cried as we left the center on our final day. The sound of grown men singing old hymns to the babies that they rocked in their arms will always echo in my heart. The keen awareness settled in that we may never see these precious souls again on this side of heaven. I have to cling to the hope that they felt the love of Jesus through our arms. I have to believe that we gave them enough love to last a lifetime as we tried to squeeze as much joy and laughter into one short week. Although the beginning of my journey found my heart drawn to the call in Isaiah, I now find myself drawn to the biblical mandate in James 1:27 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
That is my prayer: to accept the challenge to take care of the widows and orphans, to make an eternal difference in the life another, to love as He first loved us. There are many opportunites to serve. I ask that you consider partnering with this amazing ministry and joining the Lord in what He is doing in the lives of His people http://orphansheart.org/help We left as a team on a mission hoping to be a blessing to those in need. I think I can speak for everyone in our group when I say that I am certain that we RECEIVED a much greater blessing than we ever were able to GIVE! Please also consider joining us at Highland Baptist Church this Sunday evening at 6:00pm as our entire Mission Team shares testimonies of our experience with our congregation and community.
“For more than 100 years the Florida Baptist Children’s Homes has been working to serve abused, neglected and orphaned children in Florida and now we are also reaching out to serve children in the developing world. Together we can be witnesses of the love of Jesus Christ to the least of these here in Florida and to the ends of the earth.” ~Orphan’s Heart Ministries