Arms of Promise

by

I don’t know what I expected when I first heard we would be visiting an orphanage. Perhaps some imagined vision of beds neatly lined up in a row with a single child sitting on each, or the exact opposite, a large field with plenty of space for children to run around on. It certainly wasn’t the small courtyard with a hundred and fifty eager faces beaming at us as we walked in, extending their hands and asking us our names. It wasn’t the feeling of wanting to run to the nearest door, slam it behind me, and sink to the floor. It wasn’t using my camera as a buffer between interactions, a way to protect my suddenly very shy face.

It was in the midst of my mental and emotional moment of confusion that the divine command to love came to mind, of Jesus entering this place and ruffling each child’s hair, crouching down to come face to face with each of them and listen. My fear of disjointed conversation began to fade, and I began to pay attention.

Past the courtyard, a dusty, enclosed soccer field opened up, graffiti lining its walls. Children who had spent their lives memorizing the enclosure crawled along the beams and poles meant to be hoops and support structures, their hands and feet having memorized every crevice and nook. The camel colored dust made small tornadoes as footballs zigzagged across the field, boys yelling at one another and pushing each other to play. Across the walls, brightly colored graffiti made the space feel known and loved, as though this was where these children were reminded that joy existed, and the color of that joy had permanently pressed itself into the stucco paint.

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The orange tree in the center of the courtyard felt like a loving mother, her arms blanketing the unspeakable heartbreak and tragedy that filled this place, replacing it with safety and warmth. Boys laughed and played, their feet enthusiastically drumming the earth where hundreds of other stories had been told. This was a place of the deepest kind of sorrow, and simultaneously, the greatest kind of hope.

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