This is a story written by our US Communications Director during her six months working with the long-term teams in the Middle East and Central Asia. After her time with those teams, she joined the US office staff.
I am in Central Asia for a total of three weeks and my first week is almost gone. My fellow interns and I have joined a pretty diverse house here. There are team members from a few different countries and they speak a total of 9 different languages. We don’t all have a common language, so there’s a lot of translating that happens. Somehow, it works.
While we’re here, we are helping with a ministry training program. The program participants recently graduated, so we will be continuing their ministries and meeting with potential candidates for next year’s program. So far we’ve made a garden for next year’s students (more to come on that in a later post), met with a few local pastors, gone on a youth retreat, and visited an orphanage to help out. We will also be hosting lunches for people at a church in the neighborhood and helping out two days a week at a homeless shelter.
But like I mentioned, we visited an orphanage the other day.
For the past few months, the ministry training students have been meeting with older teenagers in the orphanage to talk and play games with them. When we went, we met the older students, played a few games, and helped them practice their English and Chinese (one of the interns speaks Cantonese). After about an hour with the teenagers, we went to see some of the younger kids.
As soon as we walked into the room, thirty toddlers rushed to us. Most of them had their heads shaved.
They grabbed our hands and hugged us and motioned for us to pick them up. Some picked up babies and brought them over for us to hold. There was one woman in the room to care for all of them. I sat down to play with children and a few of them immediately coughed in my face. Two girls braided and unbraided my hair, some little boys brought toys over to show me, other children laid across my lap or touched my nose ring, asking what it was in Russian. I pretended that the dinosaur toys were giving them kisses, I held their hands, I gave them high-fives, I held them on my lap and tried to get them to share stuffed animals.
And I was overwhelmed.
Before coming to Central Asia, I would babysit 3-5 times per week. I’m used to working with kids. But the thing is, I’m used to working with privileged white kids. Like, have their own iPad and iPhone and go on family vacations to Paris kids. Naturally, there was some contrast between the children I nanny for and the children I saw in the orphanage.
But it was more than that. I’ve always wanted to adopt children. Since I was in middle school, I’ve considered adopting and have felt sure that I would adopt children. I want to adopt children not just because it’s constantly mentioned throughout scripture, but because every child should have a loving, safe home.
Sitting in the midst of thirty wild toddlers, pulling at me and craving attention, running around almost anonymous with their buzz-cut hair, I was overwhelmed. My heart broke. Because I was in one room of one orphanage of one city of one country of one continent. There are millions of children like the ones I briefly saw and any efforts I make, while significant on a personal level, will do virtually nothing on a global scale.
My whole experience kind of fits a stereotype. People romanticize about serving overseas all the time and they just love Africa or Asia, they have such a heart for a vast, diverse region of the world, and all they want out of life is to go take care of poor little brown children and get a new profile picture and be a wonderful, righteous white savior.
I’m exaggerating (a little), but you get the point.
I understand that stereotype now. Not the white savior new profile picture part, but the fierce desire to care for children who are starved for attention, compassion, and love. Millions of children all over the world who are made in God’s image and who deserve to be cherished and cared for.
Before I traveled here, our international director shared this passage with me and a few others:
But [Jesus] looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written:
“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone’?
Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.
Jesus is the stone spoken of, correct? So why do both options spoken of end in a negative outcome? If you fall on the stone, you’ll break. If it falls on you, you will be crushed.
Our international director went on to explain that we will meet overwhelming need wherever we go in the world. We will see staggering poverty, starving families, abused women, abandoned children. We will witness grief, aggression, unfairness, and brokenness beyond comprehension. This will break us.
If we rely on ourselves to right injustice in the world, we will be crushed beyond repair. However, if we rely on God, He will meet us in our brokenness, grief, and despair and use us to work for the good of something greater, something that will outlast us.
As I left the orphanage, shocked by the need I saw there, I thought of this. These children are loved by God, and it is not my job to save them all. I will help how I can and trust that God will instill justice in the world in a complex way that I cannot truly comprehend.
It is heartbreaking to see injustice in the world, and it should be. My heart should ache when I see people in pain. But I am not crushed into perpetual hopelessness, cynicism, or inaction because although I have been broken, I have fallen on a strong foundation. I will be put together, over and over again, as God changes this world into something beautiful.