Psalms 10:17-18 (ESV)There are no good stories behind how one becomes an orphan. However, there is something extra repulsive when a child becomes an orphan by the hand of man's hate.
17 O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear 18 to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.
This is the story throughout Liberia and in particular in the Fairfield Baptist Mission orphanage in Liberia. Every child in this orphanage is a war orphan. This was a war of hate which is often the root of most wars. However, as I listened to the people talk about the war, it was clear that in this war, there was no side on the side of justice.
My third night at the orphanage (still on my own) I hung out on the back porch with the teenage boys. One of them had a cell phone. Cell phones are abundant in Liberia. One may not have bread on the table but still have a cell phone. Nobody was making any calls. My guess is that there are rarely any minutes available on this phone. We were all sitting around listening to the musical ring tones like you might expect to see a bunch of teenagers doing in the US sitting around a boom box.
They were laughing, singing, dancing and making fun of each other like teenage boys do. I decided that I would share some American music with them so I pulled out my iPod and let them listen to Toby Mac. I did not have speakers so the boys took turns listening on the headphones. Toby Mac was a big hit. However, the bigger hit was the pictures on my iPod.
As we huddled around sharing the headphones, we browsed through my family pictures. These boys were all excited to see pictures of my kids and my wife. There was not a sense of sadness of seeing pictures of a family they did not have. I sensed more a presence of hope. A hope that there was a world beyond the orphanage where there were moms and dads and families.
A young man named Prince told me that he did not have a mom and dad. He told me that the president killed them both. I knew he meant in the war of hate, the government soldiers killed his parents. I have no idea why, but why does not matter when a 10-year old boy has his parents killed by his government.
Prince is 15 now and has been without a mom or dad for 5 years. He told me that night, that now I was his dad since he did not have one. I was his dad, why? Because I had shared some music and pictures? No, because I was there which meant to him, I must care.
Prince did not ask to come home with me. He only asked me for some flip flops. His had busted. There is a real sense of needs versus wants when you visit a country buried in poverty. "I have an American visiting and he wants to know what he can do for me. I'll ask for my hearts desire, a new pair of flip flops." Is that the request I would get from a typical teenage boy in America?
Moses was with us as we looked at the pictures. Being the celebrity that had actually been to America, he started to tell the other boys how great America was and how bad Liberia was. This did not go over well with Maude and she rightly admonished him that he should not talk that way about his country, a country she has chosen to stay in to care for children like himself.
Moses does not like to be corrected (do you know any other thirteen year olds like that?). His emotions that he had been keeping in came out. He wept in the midst of his friends for most of the rest of the night. It was heart wrenching.
The good news is that the next day we had a successful visit with a lawyer in Monrovia. There is a Liberian family in our church in Cypress that wants to adopt Moses. This lawyer was fairly confident that he would be able to get the paperwork through a system that had been bogged down to this point as Liberia investigates child trafficking problems.
One of the reasons he was confident in our success was the legitimacy earned by bringing Moses back when his medical visa expired. While Moses does not understand why we had to take him back (he asked my why I did not just call the President and explain his situation) it pays to honor God by following the laws of the land.
Pastor Anthony and I correspond each week. He says he is praying with Moses and helping Moses to understand and learn patience waiting on God. This is a hard lesson for us grown-ups. It has to seem like an impossible task to a 13-year old boy.
We met Princess my last day at the orphanage. We were eating with the kids in their lunch hall (a dark mud-brick building with two long tables for 70 kids). A 9-year old girl came over to Pastor Bill. Unlike all of the other children here, Princess was not wearing a smile. As soon as she came over, Pastor Bill began to cry (I can't even write this without tears). He explained to us that she had seen rebel soldiers kill her parents. In fact, she witnessed a rebel soldier slice her dad's throat from behind. Princess was 4 at the time.
The boys and girls in this orphanage are well fed thanks to Christian Aid. However, Christian Aid can only supply food for 50 children as Liberian law only allows 50 orphans per orphanage. There are 75 orphans being cared for by the Fairfield Baptist Mission in Liberia. Nonetheless, all the children are fed.
The needs are great. At one level, the needs seem too great and too overwhelming. However, when you ask the children what they need the answers are simple. A matchbox car, a baby doll, but really a request that someone knows they exist. I can't tell you how many of these kids wanted to make sure I knew their name and wanted to know my name, my wife's name and my children's names. They want to be connected.
Our church is working with an organization called BrightPoint to do just that. Our goal is to match up every child in the orphanage with a family sponsor in our church. A family that they can call their own. A family that will know their name, pray for them and write them. They want a mom and dad because "man who is of the earth" stole theirs . We hope that together with Bright Point, God can use us to bring them that desire of their heart.
If you or your church want to get involved and reach out to the fatherless and the oppressed you can do it. Check out organizations like BrightPoint and Children's HopeChest. There is really no reason to ignore the fatherless, whether in Africa or your own backyard.
However, I must warn you. Once you open up your heart to hear what is on God's heart, your life cannot ever be the same again. There is no telling what God will have you do.
My journey is now leading me back to Africa once more. This time, Ethiopia, where God has a fatherless child that he has prepared for our home, to change our lives forever. Read more over at Hipp is my middle name.