Day 1 (Monday) at The 25th of May

Today was our first day at the orphanage. The sunshine and crisp autumn breezes couldn’t have been more welcoming. When we arrived, there were a few boys waiting in the driveway to bear hug us as soon as we stepped out of the van. After that big greeting, our team began to unload the van with some of the supplies we had purchased at the Vero-Jumbo (Macedonia’s version of Walmart), and made our way inside. It took about 30 seconds for the rest of the kids to hear us and rush us in the hallways. We were immediately bombarded with big cheesy grins, contagious laughter, heartfelt hugs and kisses on the cheeks. It was a bona fide reunion and our teammates who are experiencing these precious faces for the first time quickly realized just how little time it would take for everyone to warm up to one another.

We spent the remainder of the day in the backyard of the orphanage. Our team has been preparing for weeks to have activities ready to go for the children. Be it futbol, basketball, jumping rope, or making crafts, the children went freely from one station to the next. The day was so much fun and so full of joy.

Tonight, when we sat around the dinner table as a team, we shared with one another the highs and lows of our day. One of our team members, Meg, had a low that really hit me in the gut. She said her low was when we were all about to leave for the day and the mother in her just broke down thinking about leaving these precious angels, while they stayed at the orphanage for the night...which is their normal. It is heart wrenching to think about the loneliness of not having their parents there to love them to sleep, but to see how they are flourishing in spite of these very unideal circumstances proves that God is so very present in their lives, whether or not they’re even aware of that truth. And thankfully, they are being able to tangibly experience the love of Jesus through Elizabeth’s loyalty and care for them, along with the commitment of our short-term teams that visit them bi-annually.

As far as the high of the day, I’ll speak on my own. I don’t think I had really expected to see such major growth in each child after just one year since my last trip here. Obviously, they are little growing weeds at this age, but I just hadn’t really thought through that. To see how much each of these children have not only grown physically, but also emotionally and psychologically was such an awesome thing. The coolest comparative observation I have after today was in Osman. While there has not been much physical change for Osman (he was, and still is, the smallest little boy at the orphanage), the internal change is what’s worth mentioning. So here’s the analysis... Last year: He showed limited affection to others. He was very competitive, short-fused, and fairly introspective. I have a vivid memory of doing a dance-off, which is always one of their favorite games. The objective is to dance until the music is paused, at which point everyone freezes. The last one to freeze is called out and the game resumes until there is a winner. This particular time, I was judging the competition, and when Osman didn’t freeze quite as quickly as the others, I eliminated him. His quick-temper got the best of him, and he spit on me out of pure anger. I won’t ever forget the heartbreak I felt for him in that moment. He had so many frustrating emotions bottled up inside of that sweet little body, and I just prayed and prayed for him to feel and receive the love and peace that Jesus has for him. He was one child that I never was able to truly bond with over the week, but God just wrecked my heart for him. This year: Osman seems like a different child. I was so pleasantly surprised to have this same little boy pull me to the futbol goal with him for a one-on-one session. When I stubbed my toe on the ball, he paused to ask me if I was okay, with genuine concern and even apologizing because he thought that he had hurt me. This is not at all the same child I experienced last year. That child was so full of hurt, resentment, and bottled up frustration. This child today was one of trust, compassion, and love. Witnessing that transformation was so refreshing for me; a transformation possible only by the grace of God. This is a little boy who receives no parental guidance or direction, but God has positioned Elizabeth into a place where she is able to be such a beacon of light to these children. They are now being able to see and feel the real love of Jesus that is available to them.

Day 1 down....we are all completely stoked for tomorrow.

-Erin

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