Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. -James 1:27
I remember, just like it was yesterday, the first time I walked out of the airport in Manila. It felt like what I imagined a celebrity to feel like when they first get out of their limo and walk the red carpet. There were at least a hundred people waiting behind a gate because for some reason they weren’t allowed to come into the airport. My thoughts of fame quickly dissolved as I continued walking to a shuttle and the loud noises of vehicles honking and cars almost colliding took all of my attention. It appeared as if no one knew any traffic laws, or maybe they just don’t exist there. I was told at certain times of the day a specific road would have cars traveling on it one way, and by the afternoon the cars were all traveling on the same road the opposite way.
I also remember it being hot and humid, and I was so excited to get to the final destination that it seemed like it took hours to drive there. There was so much traffic, so much honking, and men selling food and already opened water bottles on the side and middle of the road.
Finally the shuttle stopped and we reached Gentle Hands Orphanage. We were told to stay in the shuttle until the security guard came to let us out. Somehow I missed the memo on just how dangerous this place was, but the thoughts of anything bad happening quickly dissolved. This is the place where my life changed forever. The place where my eyes and heart opened up to a completely different culture; where lice was a normal thing to have, where fish was served with eyeballs, where stray cats were allowed to roam inside the orphanage, where I first learned how to play a card game called Sandwich, where I first saw raw meat hanging for sale at a farmer’s market, where I first tried Lumpia and couldn’t stop eating it, where I first laid eyes on a little girl who just had 20 worms pulled from her stomach, where I held children that had never learned boundaries with strangers, where I played play-doh for hours with a little blind girl, where I was taught how to hand wash clothes, where I met a woman who devoted her entire life to giving children a second chance, where I really learned that there is hope in love.
These children were unlike any I had ever seen or experienced. They were happy. They were thankful. They were open to meeting new people. They wanted, and deserved, attention and affection that they severely lacked. These children were resilient. They were children of God, and they knew it. They believed it. They worshipped him like their livelihood depended on it. They taught me more than I could ever of taught them. They made me laugh. They made me feel wanted. They made me want to never leave their side. After spending a few days completely immersed in their lives, we were told we were going to be leaving to go to Manila.
I don’t think anything could have prepared me for this day. Everyone kept saying we were going to an extremely poor area, but until you’ve actually witnessed an “extremely poor area”, words could never prepare you for it. I remember trash lined their “streets” and sewage flowed in between. The ground was their “floor”, and their houses were more like huts. We walked through their village and told everyone good morning and let them know we were there because they knew we would have food for them. Once they all gathered on what they called the basketball court, we handed out Ziploc bags filled with spaghetti. The children were so eager to eat they just sucked the noodles right out of the bag. We sang worship songs with them and colored. Then a line formed for everyone who had medical issues to be checked out by a nurse that we brought with us. That’s where I first saw the skinniest man I’ve ever laid eyes on.
He was sick, so incredibly sick. It was decided that he was going to be brought back to the orphanage with us, so he could get some much needed medical attention. This man was forty-five years old. He was married, had children, and his wife was pregnant. He was supposed to be the bread winner, the supporter, the protector, but instead he was lying in a bed for the first time in his entire life barely breathing. That night he passed away. I’ve never been so close to death. It was devastating to know his family lost everything.
There were so many highs and lows on this trip. It was definitely the best experience I have ever had. It taught me to love without boundaries or judgment, and to always have a grateful heart and a smile on my face no matter my circumstances because someone around me is probably going through something more difficult than I could ever imagine. It also taught me that there is hope in love.
*In case you feel it in your heart to give to Gentle Hands here is a link: