When we pulled up the dirty driveway, I saw lines of brightly colored laundry hanging all over, and dusty buildings, one after another. As the orphanage director gave us a tour of the orphanage, I was shocked to see how huge it was. He told us that there were 813 children in that orphanage.
As we walked along, Peruvian orphans would peek out behind doorways and through windows, trying to get a glimpse of the Americans. Soon, it was time for us to get to work. After all, we were there to help them. We had two options that morning - make the older kids breakfast or go to the baby house and change diapers.
I was not to be fooled by the "diaper description". I knew babies meant a lot more than diapers - they also meant cute and cuddly. So of course I chose to visit the baby house.
When we got there, they were just waking up and getting the kids ready for the day. They took the children up to the "bath room" for lack of better words. What I saw there made me cry.
The room was freezing, as it was winter in Peru when we went. On the left side of the room was a very large table that was backed against the wall. Across from it were piles of clothes stacked up to the ceiling. On the other side of the room, there were plastic mats leading all the way to a sort of enclosed area that had a tub of water and a hard bar of soap in it. When the children walked in, they were roughly stripped of their clothes. Their diapers were removed, not changed, and they screamed as the freezing bathwater hit their skin and their faces were scrubbed hard with soap. They were then dried off with a towel, and sent to sit, shivering and naked, on the table until someone could come and dress them. It was painful to watch.
Now, it was a little crazy for the workers, I think, because us Americans were there. I remember there being a swirl of chaos, not knowing what was going on exactly, until I saw her. A little girl with pigtails, a pink shirt, and crossed eyes limped into the room. She had trouble walking and seeing, that was obvious. I kept my eyes on her as she slowly made her way to the room, until I reached out and caught her when she fell.
I think she was scared of me at first, but she finally crawled up into my arms, put her head against my shoulder, and refused to let go. She wouldn't even let me move position. She cried as one of the orphanage workers took her away to be bathed. I cried too. I watched them scrub her and strip her of her diaper. The other teenagers on the trip were grabbing kids and going down to the main room. Not me. I was waiting for my little girl. The one with the limp and the crossed eyes.
As an orphanage worker brushed her hair and put it back into pigtails, I used my limited Spanish vocabulary to ask what the girl's name was and how old she was. Her name was Carmensita, which means Little Carmen. She was six years old. Most of the kids in the baby house were four or under. I knew why they had kept her back. And it made me mad.
We played together all morning, and when it was time for breakfast, I sat down in a little chair and motioned for her to come sit next to me. But she walked over to a high chair and started climbing up into it. A wave of fury built up in me. They still had her in a high chair!? Just because she couldn't see or walk very well!? I sat and ate breakfast with her.
Afterward, I held her in my arms against a wall, and she asked me to sing. I didn't know any songs in Spanish, so I just sang "Jesus Loves Me." She fell asleep on me. I held her there for over an hour.
Later, I asked the pastor of our church about Peruvian adoption, having spoken to my parents, who were willing to adopt her. He said it took a while, but it was possible. I told him about Carmensita. "Oh, no," he said, looking sad. "All of those children are unadoptable. Their parents didn't give up legal rights, or they just don't have them."
I felt like I had been punched. Not adoptable? My heart felt like it had ripped in half. I loved Carmensita. I loved her like she was my sister.
She would never come home.
So what could I do? I did the only thing I could do. I sent her money so she could get her eyes examined and see if she needed surgery. Maybe we could get her a visa. I sent her Christmas presents with a Spanish children's bible, letting her know how much I loved her and how much Jesus loved her.
Because I realized something. I couldn't save her, but Jesus could. And I pray every night, every morning, and every time in between that she knows how much Jesus loves her.