Last week, sitting on my couch, I was choking back tears as I read the update letter. I’ve stained many letters with my tears in the last year or so, but this one took it to a whole new level. Let me explain.
I never knew what people meant when they said “I left a piece of my heart” there…or “there’s a special place in my heart for such-and-such, or so-and-so” until 2009. That was the year that several members of our Grace Church leadership team headed to the Central African Republic to kick-off a partnership with four Hand-in-Hand partner churches/schools throughout the country. In addition to these church-to-church partnerships, there are hundreds of orphans in the capital city of Bangui who are supported through individual-to-individual sponsorships. They travel to an Orphan Welcome Center, daily, where they receive education, healthcare, food, clothing, and lots of love. Central African culture sees orphans absorbed into their extended families, but there’s often little or nothing to share with them other than a space on the floor of a one-room hut.
In preparation for the trip in 2009, my wife Renee and I had prayerfully agreed that we would sponsor an orphan. As our team arrived at the Orphan Welcome Center, I asked Barb Wooler, the program director, to help connect me with a child who was not yet sponsored. She promised to pick a special one for me. I didn’t know exactly what that meant…until she delivered. She pointed to a quiet little boy standing next to his friend, watching others play soccer in the yard. Before she could say much about him, I said “YES! He’s my guy”!
We walked over to him so that we could be introduced. He turned with his bashful eyes and looked at me. Barb crouched down and explained that I was Doug – and that Renee and I were going to be his sponsors. I held back tears as his face lit up with an expression of overwhelming joy that God had answered His prayer! My mere $30/month, less than a cup of coffee per day, was a priceless gift to him. Sealed with a hug our relationship began, and “Mardoche” (the Sango version of Mordecai) became a part of our family.
Though I only spent a few hours with him that week, our lives were eternally bonded. Renee and I took seriously our responsibility to provide and pray for Mardoche. His face filled the photo frames on our fridge and throughout our home.
I didn’t know if I’d ever get to see him again, but in 2011, we were invited back to visit our partnerships, and to visit the individually-sponsored orphans once again. My heart was pounding from the moment I woke up the day we were going to visit the Orphan Welcome Center. I couldn’t wait! Hundreds of orphans surrounded our vehicle as we entered the property. I looked through the crowds and didn’t see him.
For a second I thought, “maybe he’s grown up so much that I won’t recognize him”, but I was informed that he was in class. We were escorted to a large meeting room while the staff went to pull all of the Lititz-sponsored orphans from their classrooms. I had a big knot in my throat as I waited for what seemed to be an eternity, until finally, that precious face – a little more mature now – walked through the door. In his typical reserved and bashful fashion, he made his way over to me and gave me a gentle hug. Since I had last seen him, I knew he had taken two more years of French, so I began to speak with him in our new, common language.
Those moments were magical and will be cherished for the rest of my life. I must have hugged him 1,000 times (and taken 1,000 pictures) in that short time! And again, as I had to say goodbye, I considered the reality that I may never get to see him again, other than through an annual photo and update.
The truth of that reality has seemed to sink in a bit during the past year as the situation in the Central African Republic has continued to deteriorate. But last week the “letter they never wanted to send” arrived, announcing that the individual sponsorship program will be discontinued. It’s a complicated situation, but the bottom line is that the services that have been provided to our children can no longer be guaranteed. The services that we were helping to provide for Mardoche, can no longer be guaranteed. My. Heart. Sank.
“Why God?! Why did you provide this tangible way for the Church in America to DO SOMETHING, and then take it away? Why did you allow years of hard work to build an effective, long-term solution to the orphan crisis in the CAR only to see it vanish in a matter of months?” The questions flew around my mind and out of my mouth as the tears and snot ran down my face. This was an ugly cry, because I was angry. But then a question slipped out of my mouth that stopped me cold: “Why don’t you care about these kids”?!
It took only a split second for me to bite my tongue in horror; to realize the shame of my wrong thinking. And the Holy Spirit, in His ever-gracious and gentle way, began to whisper Truth to me: “Doug, my love is perfect, and I care for these kids far more than you ever could. I own the cattle on a thousand hills, and I can provide for these kids more tangibly and holistically than you will ever be able to. Doug, it’s not about you! And besides, you still have access to the most powerful tools available in the arsenal to address the orphan problem: prayer! I care about Mardoche! I can protect him! I can provide for him! But don’t your forget him! Keep bringing him to me in prayer and trust me!”
I have far more questions than answers, but I do know this: Mardoche is not mine. Neither are my own children. They belong to God…and though every fiber of my being wants to wrap my arms around them to protect them and to be their hero, they are far safer when I release them, completely, to the Lord. He is their Maker and their Sustainer. He is the Author of their lives, the Artist of their bodies, the Lover of their souls. With raw emotions, I prayed: God, with open arms, I give Mardoche to you. I trust You to care for him. I trust you to provide for Him. Please help him to know YOU as his one-and-only Hero…and use him for Your glory.