As I sit here staring at the screen I realize that it is very hard to put this last post together. I don’t know where to begin. So much has happened during this long, strange, glorious, frustrating, miraculous trip. It has been five months since we first started looking at the photos and short descriptions of the kids. Yet, when I look back on all of this it has been much longer than five months. My whole life has been a dress rehearsal for these few short weeks and what will happen as a result of this journey.
As far as the last day goes it went much better than expected. We had secretly stashed a card with a letter to our Daniela in her duffle bag. That was no small feat as she had packed away EVERYTHING we had given her (including a few empty candy wrappers). She had transferred all her music to her mp3 player and was listening to that on the ride to the airport. Upon arrival we met up with the other Latvian cherubs and their chaperones. Daniela immediately hooked up with her friends Kristine and Zhenya and started sharing stories, snacks and looking through photo albums. Kristine and Zhenya are two marvelous young ladies and we were blessed to make their acquaintance during this visit.
|Eileen and Inga|
|Inga and Dace|
There were three ladies who went above and beyond the call of duty with Daniela: Inga, Dace and Laima. All three women were chaperones, translators and life-savers for us and for Daniela. If anyone thinks this was a vacation for them they would be sadly mistaken. This was hard work! Through their help, and that of the other chaperones and staff at NHFC, we were able to develop a real relationship with Daniela. They helped make the miracle happen.
The biggest surprise of the day came from the most unsuspecting source … the little kids. Honestly, if it hadn’t been for their joy, laughter, curiosity and boldness I doubt I would have been able to hold it together. In the last post I shared about the palpable presence of God during our last night with Daniela. Well, that real presence of love was also at JFK. It was a privilege to be a witness to these precious last hours for all of these kids before they headed for home.
Love seemed to pour out of their very pores. For anyone who was paying attention, these kids were changed as a result of their experiences. They are aching for someone to accept them, love them, hug them, guide them and inspire them. They are the forgotten ones, the unseen, the outsiders – tucked away out of sight by the world. But not by us and not on this visit!!!!
For the past five weeks they were kings and queens. On this visit they were given hugs. During their time with us they were guided, inspired and loved for who they are – not outcasts, not throw-aways, not less-thans – our sons and daughters. They were shown unconditional love and acceptance perhaps for the first time in their lives. The results were astounding and real and tangible. The love of God was shown to these sons and daughters. I’m not talking about some esoteric, ethereal love; I’m talking about hugging them at night love, going swimming with them love, sitting around a campfire love, laughing with them love, crying with them love, holding them accountable love, being a parent love, welcoming them into our hearts and homes love.
It was by no means all lovey-dovey. There were plenty of gut-wrenching episodes, struggles with homesickness, behaviors problems and withdrawal from interaction. Many of our sons and daughters were paralyzed with fear and had built up very high walls for protection. But we parents would not give up on them. We kept at it and held firmly to the belief that love does conquer all, that consistent love will wear down those walls of fear, that God will get into those dark places and shine His light.
I think that of all the things I will take away from this grand experience the biggest one is this: the power of unconditional love can change the world. I have never really seen that in action until this summer. These kids taught me that when I have faith, when I trust that what I am doing is God’s work, when I am fearless in applying God’s love even in the darkest of places, when I am resolute in my commitment to God and these kids even when it would be much easier to quit, when I love God, love people and serve the world I will be rewarded ten thousand fold.
My reward came in a little package of a curious, bold, blond-haired kid named Sasha. He was fearless . He came right up to me as I was sitting down and plopped himself in my lap. He shared his gum with me and with Peter. He shared his granola bars with Peter. He reached up and gave me a kiss on the cheek and called me “Papa”. He told me he wanted to take pictures with my camera and I let him (he took some great pictures). He said, “Sasha likes french fries.” He played peek-a-boo with me. He had me from the first smile!!! For a few hours we bonded with Sasha and his friends, Artjoms and his friends, Daniela and her friends, Inga, Dace and Laima and the list goes on. One big happy family.
In the end that’s what we are …. one big happy family.
In closing, I do not know where this journey will take us but we know that this is not the end of our ministry for orphans. Thank you to all our friends and family who prayed for us and helped us emotionally, physically and spiritually. We could not have done this without you.