By Greg Pai
Inspired By Andrea Mani
Photo Credit: Andrea Mani
This is a time of the year where many feel lonely or empty. Especially those who have no family to speak of. Our hearts have to place orphans at the top of that list. What we learn from this story inspired by Andrea Mani, is that we are all orphans if we don’t connect with and depend on God.
Orphans have seemingly perfected that connection and dependence as a means of survival. In fact, they do not see themselves as orphans; They see themselves as God’s blessed children. Experiencing His abundant, unconditional love as no earthly parent could ever offer.
“You say I am an orphan,” the hearts of the unwanted cried out. “But, I say I am loved. Loved by He who made me.” Andrea Mani fell in love just moments after she arrived for what was six months of service. At a little known ministry in Jocotepec, Mexico, orphan children are changing everyone who comes in contact with them – One soul at a time.
The orphanage cares for twenty-one girls and one boy. “One boy!” you say. Well, eight-year old Chuy (pronounced “chewy”) is one of three siblings and when the orphanage converted over to an all girls institution a few years back, they didn’t have the heart to separate Chuy from his two sisters, one named Milagro (meaning Miracle in English). A victim of physical and emotional abuse, it was only by a miracle that 8-year old Chuy survived those earlier abusive years. Cigarette burns on his body and later, months of being mute, unable to speak. Inevitably, Andrea would take a special interest in Chuy as he faced the journey of healing ahead of him.
The other children learned not to depend on “man.” God was the provider of everything in their lives and that suited them just fine. It wasn’t long before the children challenged Andrea. “You won’t last two months,” they said. These children were used to people revolving in and out of their lives, often under duress or anxiety. Andrea not only endured, but also learned why others did not. When a person signs up for this kind of work, they do so assuming they are the “strength” coming to the aid of the “weak.” To the contrary, they quickly learn that the children become inspirational and essential to their own personal journey. Radically changing their heart and perspective. Maybe even feeling inadequate and unnecessary in the ways they expected to make an impact. This is when the process flips on its head and starts to become more of a self-examination of our own lives; a sometimes difficult awakening. However, necessary.
Most of these children came from situations too difficult to write about. Even called “rats” by those the heartless of the community. Some had mothers who were prostitutes while exploiting their children sexually for favor. Absolutely tragic. However, how would you know any of this by just looking at them? They are beautiful in every way. Inside and out, their hearts and smiles radiate. Yet, they have nothing. Or do they? Andrea expected overwhelming sensations of abandonment on her arrival. She did not expect what God was about to show her.
The children had a life about them that projected pure joy. Amazing as it may seem, the children had a ritual of occasionally going into town and donating their clothing to any one of four impoverished villages in the immediate area. Yes – you read that right. Even though their very limited wardrobes were precious to them, they believed that whatever they gave up would be replenished by God’s own hand. And guess what? They were never without. Somehow, newly donated clothes always found a way to their personal shelf (that’s a single shelf). Such faith. I suppose when we have nothing to lose and expect no earthly gain, we are capable of giving and doing our most selfless work in this life. These children are living proof. They see their glass not as a quarter full or three-quarters empty, but overflowing.
We have convinced ourselves that we are somehow more equipped or better off than they are. Hence, we neglect to ever seek or find the orphan in us.
What is orphan about these children. The dictionary says the noun form is defined as a child who has lost both parents. That is innocent enough. Interestingly, the adjective form is used to describe one who is abandoned. Quite a difference. Unfortunately, we have adopted the more negative connotation as the global definition. We have convinced ourselves that we are somehow more equipped or better off than they are. Hence, we neglect to ever seek or find the orphan in us. There is that “difficult awakening” thing again!
At some point, Andrea observed a young girl’s mother (a recovering prostitute) visit the orphanage expecting to take her little girl back home. However, with the best of intentions, the woman realized that her daughter was better off staying because she was unable to offer her the same stability and nurturing.
However, I believe that God speaks to us through His beloved orphans. I now see the love of God when I see an orphan. Not an abandoned soul; But a soul that’s whole!
As I documented this story, I struggled with internal conflict and confusion. I love God and He fills my life, but am I abandoned enough to really feel the fullness of His love? Many of us have family and good friends around us who bring us a great deal of joy and companionship. But what is it like to have no one but God? Please don’t get me wrong. Family is a blessed gift from God. A special treasure from above. However, I believe that God speaks to us through His beloved orphans. I now see the love of God when I see an orphan. Not an abandoned soul; But a soul that’s whole!