It only took a couple of hours before the stuff started seeping into my pores and dripping into my veins. It was a slow but constant drip, until it emptied itself into my body and into my heart. The dust and air and sweat of the place started mixing with my blood. Every time a child held my hand or told me he loved me, my heart attached to the place more strongly and the blood pumped more confidently through my veins.
I am still bound to this place that I visited for the first time three years ago. I carry La Casa de la Esperanza, an orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico with me all the time--when I make decisions, when I have conversations, when I pray. The children and workers that live there are like family. I come to see them year after year. I worry about them. I miss them. I watch them grow up through visits, pictures and emails exchanged. I love them deeply.
I have always wished that Berto and his brother Pablo could be mine. Every time I go, I rearrange my life in my head so I can bring them home with me, wipe tears when they skin their knees, help them with their homework, put them to bed at night, show them that I love them, become their family. As hard as it is for me to admit, they are better off at La Casa and I am committed to seeing them when I can. They are growing fast and well. They are good boys and they are well-loved by the workers at the orphanage and the other children who are their brothers and sisters.
La Casa de la Esperanza, House of Hope, is one of numerous orphanages in Tijuana, Mexico. Orphanages in Mexico are places to put children if they are being abused, neglected or their parents cannot care for them. Most of the children in this place have family members that visit them. Few are true orphans. All are hurting and need the love of Christ. The workers at La Casa teach the children Bible verses and pray with them. We partnered with their work by showing love, by praying with our family there and by talking about Jesus.
As the advisor to the orphanage team this year, I did my best to remind my teammates that we are the hands and feet of Christ, letting God use our bodies to show His love to the children. We prayed continually that we would leave only Christ behind. We all wanted the children to remember us, remember our names and remember our love. But we knew Christ's love is lasting. Christ's love will carry these kids through their lives--all they have to do is want it.
Going to school is a privilege at the orphanage. Most of the children come from intense poverty and cannot afford to go to school. When they come to La Casa, they are expected to work hard on their schoolwork and they are pushed to succeed. Each child has the opportunity to go to the local university, something that was unattainable before.
Angelina asked Mark to be her father a while back. He took that request seriously and seeks her out when he comes to visit, spending time with her, making sure she is getting good grades in school and listening to her mother. He also tells her about Jesus and His love for her. She is the oldest of five and her strength of character and determination have always set her apart. Juan José and José Juan, Daniela and little Diego also love him and come running when they see him walk up to their house.
This family moved out of the orphanage a few weeks before we came this year. Distraught and worried about these children, we found their house and reunited with them. It was hard to see. Things were not good. Angelina barely let Mark out of her sight and held onto his hand tightly, knowing that her visit with him was always too short. When we said goodbye, we knew all we could do for them was pray.
Antonio and Alejandra, husband and wife director team of La Casa, love to see us every year. While we always like doing work projects for them, they would prefer that we spend our time playing with the kids and loving them. The workers do not have as much time to play so when we come, they depend on us to help with that.
This year, we were able to complete both tasks--spend significant time with the kids and lay a brick patio. The kids will use this patio as a place to play in the shade and also as a waiting area for the bus before leaving for school.
While work is constant at La Casa, there is plenty of time for play. Thomas, Pedro and Ignacio show off their muscles while working on the patio. Work at La Casa isn't easy but Thomas and Ignacio are dedicated to the children and relentless in their work. They are admirable men.
Antonio and Alejandra never know what they are getting when a new child shows up at the orphanage, asking to stay. But they make sure each child gets three meals a day, clothes, a bed, plenty of love and Jesus.
Children take pride in their school uniforms. Shoes are laid out and polished before school every day. Boys' hair is combed and girls' hair is braided. Some of my teammates jumped in line to get their hair braided too while we were there.
Suzanna befriends two local superheroes, Diego and Edgar.
Blanca, Milagros, Rosa and Yara stop to play dress-up while helping clean out the almacen, a storage room for all the clothes that have been donated to the orphanage.
Christian listens to music before school.
The orphanage sits protected by its surrounding hills. Shacks pack themselves amongst each other while music blares from one of the many windows. These houses are a good reminder to the kids--they have a lot at the orphanage that they should be thankful for. When they have to eat food they don't like or do chores, the poverty that surrounds them serves as a reminder that they have been given much.
Dustin didn't want to leave Cynthia and Jessica at the end of the week. The twins love to play and laugh and don't like to eat during mealtimes. But the rules at the orphanage are the same for everyone. Cynthia and Jessica can't get out of their chairs until they finish all their food. Dustin liked coaxing them to eat, even spooning the food into their mouths to help speed up the process, promising to play with them when they finished.
Prayer blew through this place like a gentle breeze during our stay; it was constant and powerful. We didn't let up; we prayed with each other, with the kids and with the workers. It was powerful. God worked through prayer and we felt His presence when we talked to Him.
While much has scarred this little boy, he is loved here and taken care of. I worry about him when I'm not at the orphanage. But when I come to visit, he is full of mischief and gets in trouble often. He is loved. He has a warm bed to sleep in. During the day, he eats and goes to school. At night, workers help him with his homework. God is part of his life here and has His hand on this boy's life. I have committed to praying for him, and I won't stop.
The stuff that swirls in the air at the orphanage evaporated into each of our hearts during our short stay. We gave what we could at La Casa de la Esperanza. We loved with everything we had in us and cried when we left. We can't focus now that we are back because we think about the kids constantly. We miss them and will pray for them unceasingly now that we are gone.