“It will change your life!” Those words were said to me repeatedly before I went on my first mission trip. So many times that, although I smiled on the outside, I inwardly rolled my eyes and cringed when I heard it. I knew the trip would change my life. That was a no-brainer. But, realizing how much it would change my life? Let’s put it this way: I’m a little stubborn about learning some things.
One of the places we saw on the trip was a local orphanage. I had been told what to expect. For which I’m grateful, because otherwise, I would have gone in with a skewed image of what an orphanage should look like.
As soon as we pulled through the gate, kids were surrounding our van. The plan was to set up games, play, hand out toys and toiletries, and love them. I watched as others from the mission team played with each of the kids. They let kids hang on them like a jungle gym. They handed out toys and toiletries. And they simply implemented the biggest part of our plan—they loved them. My plan though, because I’m not a kid person, was to be the photographer. That plan quickly changed.
Her name was Anabel. She had a big smile and brown eyes. She grabbed my hand, and for the majority of the time we were there, never left my side or let go of my hand. She taught me Spanish as I taught her English, we took selfies on my camera, and we walked around the perimeter of the orphanage like it was the ancient city of Jericho.
When we were leaving, all the rest of the kids were still playing with their new games. Anabel, however, walked me to the van and hugged me goodbye. Then she walked around to the side of the van where I was sitting and put her hand through the window to hold my hand again. She held onto my hand until we finally pulled away.
There were eight of us on that trip. Seven were crying as we left the orphanage. They called me heartless because I was the one who didn’t cry. But, that night after everyone else was asleep, I cried. I cried myself to sleep, actually, remembering the stories of why some of the children were in the orphanage, wishing they were in homes like I had, with parents like I had. And even though I knew I couldn’t save them all, I wanted to. Mostly, I wanted them to know what love is.
A year later, I was blessed to return to the orphanage. Anabel was still there. I showed her the picture of us she took the year before. An adorable smile flashed across her face and she hugged me with all the might within her.