As I look down at the little ones in my arms I am slowly learning the stories that they have come with. They are so young to have experienced so much. On the one hand I am grateful they are too young to remember everything that happened to them, on the other, their soul is so tender that the wiles of man can still be seen in their eyes. These are not ordinary children.
The lucky ones come to us from an hospital, which does not always mean they have been protected from the cruelty of sinful man, but they have had a blanket and their nappy changed most of the time. Depending on which hospital they come from, they are put in isolation for a month before they are allowed to be near the other children – they could be an innocent yet dangerous weapon in the orphanage. Most of those we receive from the hospital are premature, our youngest since I’ve been here was born at 24 weeks. The hospital by law must keep them until they are 1.6 kg, about 3.5 pounds, so Nikiwe was born May 22nd but is just now been released (around the time she should have been born). We now have three premi’s whom we keep in a fairly quiet and dark room fondly called “The Nest”. But, like I said, these are the lucky ones.
The “Fledglings” are our next group. Joleen is going to be a looker. She has a beautiful round face, alert eyes, and lips that form a perfect circle when she’s ready for her bottle. The comic feature about her is her ears, which are as large as mine. My prayer is that she will be a good listener one day and I think she will be because she has a sweet and encouraging spirit within her soft eyes and sweet smile. If you look closely, though, you find that she too has a story to tell those who will listen. It begins with two small and scarcely noticeable scratches beneath her right eye. They are the only pictures left to tell her tale. She went from the cold womb of a mother in childbirth to the warm womb of a black bag in a rubbish heap. Her heated crying hailed the pitiless jaws and claws of wild dogs, from whose mauling she now carries her two little scars. A good samaritan heard the near silent cry, cast off the offenders, and delivered the newborn Joleen into our arms.
We move up to our third group, the “Grubs”. Laura, upon first glance, is a normal looking little one, but if your eye wanders to her ears (from which she has received the endearing nickname “Pixie”) they are badly deformed, though not by the Divine Hand that formed her. Her hands, her arms, her toes, her legs and her ears look as though they’ve been put through fire. “Quite the opposite”, Doctor now says, “these are not burns, these scars are from frostbite”. Though we knew she was abandoned in a field during wintertime, we had not expected that such harsh damage had been caused by the same frosty dew that waters the thirsty African ground in the dry winter months.
Aptly named, the “Creepy Crawlers” are all around 1-1 1/2 years old. Lerato can be quite fussy but when she laughs, her giggle is priceless. She always wants to be fed at the same time as the two boys, and will scream until she gets fed. Though her whole story is unknown, she is the result of a rape. Her mother was 14 when she was raped by her step-father. And yet, somehow, in the midst of the foulness of man, God is able to bring forth life – a life that is now learning to walk and talk.
Beyond the walls of our dear “Nursery” there is the family that began it. They reside in nearby homes, between the mother and two daughters they have adopted 20 children. These are all older now, the youngest is 3, the oldest 17, but they too have a tale to tell. Tommy just entered his thirteen year in a life who’s days are numbered. He is on his last cocktail of HIV meds. His mother took him with her as she went to a bar to kill his father’s girlfriend. The police came in, took the parents, and Tommy was left out back, forgotten and alone except for the dogs who took him as their own. He ate their feces and whatever else they would bring him. When he was brought to this home he spilled his food from his bowl and lapped it up. God can, and does, use any of His creation to carry out His will, whether it be birds in the desert or dogs in an alley, He will spare whom He will. And today Tommy is a robust and cheery kid with the God-given motivation to fight the good fight till his end.
A few stories I have now told, more than thirty remain to be found. I hear them from the tongues of those much older, more capable of handling such things, but some of them remember, some of them just seem to know. I often wonder if one day they’ll be told their stories, if in ten years their new parents will sit them down and have the “talk”. Or do you let things like this lie? If they are not one day told, then they may be happier. But what if one or even a few are strong enough to change the lives of others, to reach out to the unloved, to punish the wrongs, because they’ve been saved from such a fate? One thing is for certain: for now they must only know one thing, which is certainly strong enough to move the mountains of the Devil’s outcroppings here in South Africa: The Love of Christ.