I thought we were going to an orphanage. I thought we were going somewhere that would be similar to places where I’ve lived & worked in the past, so I packed accordingly. I imagined children running around joyful, like children always do. I imagined there would be a sidewalk or a cement driveway or somewhere we could fill with chalk drawings, so I brought lots & lots of chalk. I imagined there would be teenage girls, harder to connect with due to the language barrier, so I brought nail polish… thinking manicures could be a fun way to connect. I packed my backpack full of toys and off we went to play with some kids.
I asked a lot of questions while we drove there; I’m well aware that it’s not good for children in an orphanage to be receiving a constant influx of random guests who cuddle them & then leave, so I wanted a better understanding of why we were going there. What I learned shocked me. The “orphanage” we were visiting isn’t really an orphanage at all… it’s a front, a scam, for the three men who run it to receive money from well-meaning foreigners. They receive funds & donations from foreigners (who think their money is going towards helping the children) and then they use that money for themselves, and sell donations in order to have even more money… for themselves.
What makes the situation worse is that while these men profit off these children, they’re not being well cared for, not even close. Most of the young children weren’t wearing underwear or pants. There was no food or water to be seen. There was no Mom. No women. Just three men, who don’t even live there… at night they lock the children inside the walls and LEAVE THEM THERE ALONE. No power, no toys, no water, no blankets, no adults. The structure they live in doesn’t even have a roof over all of it. I can’t even.
The kids showed us around their house, they showed us around the two bedrooms where the 20-something of them sleep. We brought a lot of toys to play with them but many of them mostly just wanted our water. Our water. Some of the kids had distended bellies from being so malnourished. There was joy, as there always is with children… but there were also kids who wouldn’t smile, who have maybe forgotten how?
I had brought nail polish for the teenage girls but there weren’t any. This devastated me further because in an orphanage the older girls typically take on a mother role for the younger ones… but there was no one. This darling was the oldest girl, she was sweet sweet so sweet and I could tell someone had loved her well at some point in her life.
Where do these children come from? I wondered. Certainly social services would never bring them here. Here’s the thing: imagine you are a loving Momma struggling to provide for your children, they are hungry and you can’t feed them, they need an education but you can’t afford to send them to school, and you are praying for God to provide. One day a man shows up in his nice car and his nice clothes and his expensive watch, and he tells you that he runs a children’s home, funded by foreigners, where your child will be fed & will receive an education. “I can give them a better life, a future.” he says. It seems like God has answered your prayers. Hallelujah. You hug & kiss your children goodbye.. thinking your miracle has arrived. This type of trafficking happens all over the world, but I never thought I would see it with my own eyes.
I tried to use the chalk with the children but it wasn’t really a success. The little one with me tried to eat it. Her name is “Little Mouse.” I picked her up at one point and then she would not let me put her down… it’s universal it seems, the way toddlers do that thing with their legs where they act like they’ve forgotten how to stand until you just give up on ever setting them down.
I was holding Little Mouse when the man in charge came to talk to me. He asked me what I do for a job and I told him about Mexico, saying: “We have the same job.” But I was giving him a death glare as I said it, I don’t know if I’d ever been so angry with someone. “But you suck at it.” is what I wanted to add, but I didn’t. Maybe I should have. One of the women on our team was drawing on a chalkboard with one of the boys… she drew a person with a smile on their face and the boy drew a person next to hers with a different face. This picture says so much.
I asked our guide, “What about the police?” The police have been called, it seems. But when they arrive the man in charge gives them some money for their silence and those children continue on being enslaved & exploited. One of the little girls, Darlene, was drawing on the chalkboard, showing off her alphabet-writing skills. Someone taught that little girl to read and it wasn’t the man in charge. Those children have families at home missing their babies but thanking God for giving them a better life. Meanwhile it’s 11:05 pm and I can’t stop thinking about how dark it is where they are, and how alone they must feel.
The whole situation felt hopeless… if the police won’t stop these men then who will? But later on, while we were talking through the day as a group we were reminded of that passage in Isaiah that says,
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter–when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh & blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.“
Then your light will break forth like the dawn. The thing about a sunrise is that the sun starts to rise while it’s still dark. And at first there’s just a hint of light, an essence of hope. I was so angry at the way those children are being so neglected & exploited, and I am still so angry. But I know the situation isn’t hopeless, as awful at it was. The fact that we were there in itself shows that God is at work… His light has begun to enter into the deepest, darkest, crevice that I’ve ever seen. And I believe His light will continue to break forth and rise like the dawn.
Little Mouse prayed for us before we left. She lifted her tiny hands up into the air and proclaimed, “Aleluia!”
I’m sharing this story because y’all need to help me pray. Typically I wouldn’t put the faces and names of children I barely even know online but these children have been hidden long enough. These children need to be remembered and prayed for. They deserve our battle cries.
Something we can do besides pray for these children is to help prevent these situations from occurring in the first place, and one of the best ways I can think of to do that is to sponsor a child. There is so much I love about Heartline Ministries, they are doing SUCH BEAUTIFUL WORK in Haiti and it was an honor to be able to glimpse into their world. I’m especially in love with their Maternity Center but they do so much more, including child sponsorships to send kids to school. When we help alleviate a bit of the poverty that so many families in the world face, we are also helping to prevent these families from facing the kind of desperation that has led to these children being trafficked. We are not helpless, and this situation is not hopeless.